I love a good mental or physical challenge.
That was my main motivation for doing dry January. I was also hoping that avoiding alcohol would help give me insight into what my clients feel like when they start changing their habits.
For reference, before dry January, I would have maybe 1/2-1 drink during the week and 2-4 drinks over the weekend – so about 3-5 drinks per week.
Weeks 1 & 2
I was still at home for the holidays with my family and my husband had Covid so these first two weeks felt like a bit of “cheat” because there was less temptation to drink. But I do think this is similar to how many people feel when first making a change. The first week or two is easy because motivation is high. There’s all the excitement of doing something new and different.
This isn’t to say that it was effortless not to drink these two weeks. I definitely leaned on replacement beverages the most heavily these weeks to distract myself. There was lots of tea and Spindrift in the evenings and weekends. It can be hard to go from having a drink to having nothing or from having ice cream every night to having nothing. Instead, try to make a smart swap.
Another key strategy I used was constantly reminding myself of the benefits of what I was doing. Moderate alcohol consumption is fine for most people, but no one would call alcohol a “health food”. So I reminded myself how I was not having reduced sleep quality, dehydrated or interruptions in my fat burning thanks to avoiding alcohol.
The first weekend back in Calgary was the real test. Going out to dinner on Friday night after a busy week was definitely a test of my will to keep going. I noticed that started to rationalize with myself a bit, “I’m just doing this for fun, but do I really need to do it? I abstained for two weeks, maybe that’s good enough. Nothing really happens if I give up now.”
I think right after the two week mark is where you really need an accountability partner or coach. If I just had to handle these thoughts inside my head without telling someone else about them, I would have gone a little crazy. My husband doing dry January with me helped me feel like I wasn’t alone and I had someone to “commiserate” with.
I also reminded myself that this was the first real test of being tempted and so it’s normal to have those falters in motivation. I tried to observe my motivation and thoughts from an objective place and be amused by them. Instead of feeling bad that you’re having temptations, view it as interesting. Assess what could be increasing your temptations (stress, environment, day of the week, etc).
It got easier! There really seems to be something about staying away from something for a few weeks that helps you reset and forget about it. During week 4 I thought I was really going to be tempted to drink on the weekend, especially during a stressful Sunday football game. I actually, found myself saying no easily because I knew the end was so close. Knowing that the finish line was so close and I had made it so many days already, the last few days really didn’t feel like a challenge.
It’s scary to make a change when you feel like that change is doing to be indefinite. Start with a timeframe that feels like a little bit of a challenge (not too easy or too hard). Set a reward or a punishment for the end of that timeframe. I have a bottle of wine that I’ve been really looking forward to drinking in February and having to wait for it makes it extra special. I often tell my clients to motivate themselves with a new workout outfit or a massage (if you’re up for it the research shows that loss aversion is more powerful than rewards).
After Week 4
It’s only February 1st so I can’t predict what will happen in the future, but I do think that after dry January I will drink less overall, especially at home. I love going to a brewery with a fun vibe or having a unique cocktail at a restaurant, but at home I don’t really care if I’m having a beer or a kombucha.
It’s hard to pinpoint weight changes to one specific thing, but I am consistently hovering down about two pounds and I think the decrease in calories from alcohol could be contributing to that.
For me, the greatest benefit from dry January was my perceived sleep improvements. I usually sleep great anyways, but I know that alcohol affects our quality of sleep and I can only imagine I got more restful sleep all of January. I enjoyed feeling fully hydrated all the time because nothing was competing with my hydration levels.
Have you done a dry January? Is there something you feel like you should take a break from but need some accountability or support?