Everyone agrees that excessive drinking is a serious health issue, but we sometimes justify regular drinking with the rationale that a drink a day is good for our hearts. Turns out, however, that the negative health consequences of alcohol at any level likely outweigh any benefit.
We know. It’s not what you want to hear, but a 2018 report in the Lancet medical journal reviewed studies that included 28 million people and found that even just one drink a day was linked to a higher risk of health issues, such as breast, colon, rectal and throat cancer. Two drinks daily significantly upped the risk of oral cancers, traffic injuries and violence-related injuries.
The report’s researchers note that the health risks associated with alcohol rise rapidly the more we drink.
For three years, we have issued an annual Alcohol Free for 40 Challenge that starts on Ash Wednesday.
The challenge is simple: Give up all alcohol from Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on March 6, until Easter, April 21.
This year, we are kicking off the challenge with a free party on Thursday (March 7) at Ochsner Fitness Center’s FUEL Café + Market at 1200 S. Clearview Parkway in Metairie. (See more details below.)
Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune archive
WHY DO IT?
If you take this challenge, you can expect a variety of benefits, but here are five that are nearly universal:
Look better. You’ll feel less bloated in the belly, hands and face and you’ll find that your skin looks healthier. We can’t guarantee that you’ll glow, but don’t be surprised if people start to ask what you’re doing differently.
Feel better. With deeper sleep, better hydration and less inflammation, there’s no way you won’t feel significantly better on the #AlcoholFreeFor40 challenge, especially if you take the extra step of drastically cutting back on white carbs, including sugar.
Save $$. Even a moderate drinker might spend hundreds of dollars a month on booze. This online tool by Finder.com calculates your “liquidity” to determine your true savings (www.finder.com/sobriety-savings).
Significant weight loss. Yes, less bloating and less puffiness, but participants also report significant weight loss – shedding real body fat. One caveat: Do not replace booze with sweets, a trap we’ve found some past participants fall into. This is why we’ve launched #AlcoholFreefor40 2.0 this year, adding in the option to commit to cutting out processed carbs and sugar.
Develop healthier habits. Many participants report sustained changes in their drinking habits after participating. As part of the challenge, we encourage participants to gather baseline health metrics with their health care provider, or to sign up for our annual pre-challenge metrics for $25 at our #AlcoholFreeFor40 kickoff event at Ochsner Fitness Center’s FUEL Café + Market on March 7 (See more details below).
And Lynn’s Fire Tonic Virgin Mary cocktail. (Photo by Alexandra Harvey and Bailey Doctor)
KICK IT UP TO AFF40 2.0
We added the 2.0 to our #AlcoholFreeFor40 challenge because one of the common themes we’ve heard for the last few years is that people are turning to sugar in place of alcohol. Those who do this haven’t experienced nearly the same level of health improvement and reward for going alcohol-free.
So, here are eight steps to help curb your cravings for both alcohol and sweets.
Eat frequently. Try not to go longer than four or five hours without eating, to maintain optimal blood sugar and insulin levels.
Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep influences hormones that regulate appetite and blood sugar levels, which can intensify a sweet tooth. Most of us need at least seven hours a night; getting less can sabotage even our best efforts.
Eliminate all types of added sugar. Steer clear of the obvious added sugars and white carbs, since these foods lead to even more cravings. Avoid even natural added sugar, including honey, agave, coconut sugar, turbinado and organic cane juice. Find more tips on reducing sugar intake here.
Get more protein. And fat, too. Instead of obsessing over what you can’t have, focus on what you can have. Incorporating protein and healthful fats at meals and in snacks throughout the day can help to curb cravings.
Move it. Exercise provides an endorphin release that can help us to feel calmer almost immediately; that not only helps to buffer carb cravings but also can help to curb cravings for alcohol.
Drink up. Water, that is, or any nonalcoholic beverage. When we’re dehydrated, we get sluggish, and often look to carbs for a pick-me-up. For optimal hydration, aim for half of your body weight in ounces of fluid (Example: If you weigh 150 pounds, aim for at least 75 ounces of fluid each day.)
Add apple cider vinegar daily. Taking 1 ounce (two tablespoons) of apple cider vinegar before meals has been shown to help to stabilize blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) levels, a marker for how well blood sugar is controlled.
Add one or a few supplements: Berberine (500 mg, two to three times daily) has been shown to be effective in regulating glucose metabolism. Alpha lipoic acid (600 to 1800 mg daily) may help to improve insulin sensitivity. And chromium picolinate (200 to 1,000 mcg daily) might help to improve fasting blood sugar, insulin levels and insulin sensitivity. Note: Supplements can interact with certain medications and lab tests, so always check with your physician and pharmacist before beginning any supplement program.
#AFF4040 SIPPING TOOLKIT
Keep these five key items on hand to make sipping and snacking easier during the #AlcoholFreeFor40 challenge.
· Kombucha. Lightly carbonated and rich in probiotics, kombucha alone can be a cocktail replacer, or use it as a mixer in mocktails.
· Herbal tea. From fruity to spicy to floral, it’s an easy (and calorie-free, sugar-free) way to add flavor to mocktails.
· Bitters. Local brand El Guapo has a variety of zero-alcohol bitters that add a cocktail flavor to drinks.
· Herbs. Muddled, infused into tea or just used for garnish, fresh herbs add that extra something to make mocktails seem special.
· Plant-based no-calorie sweetener like Swerve or Truvia can be added by the teaspoon or packet, or use them to make a simple syrup.
FIND YOUR METRICS
Our #AlcoholFreeFor40 kick-off event on Thursday is free and open to everyone. Even if you can’t make it to the event, you can still join the challenge.
· Record your weight.
· Take a close-up photo of your face so that you can see the details of your eyes and skin.
· Ask your doctor to run the following lab tests. Some of these are indicators of overall health; others are specific markers of inflammation, liver health, and alcohol toxicity. CBC (Complete Blood Count), CMP (Comprehensive Metabolic Panel), Lipid Panel, GGT (Gamma glutamyl transferase), Vitamin B12 and Folate Panel, hs-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein) and ESR (sedimentation rate)
Or, just go alcohol-free and keep a journal of your progress.
Join the #AlcoholFreeFor40 group on Facebook. There, you can send messages and ask questions, follow the journey of others, and share your own experiences, challenges, successes, mocktail recipes and photos. Go there now to see messages from past participants.
ALCOHOL FREE FOR 40 KICKOFF EVENT DETAILS
What: The event is free for anyone to attend and will feature Ochsner Eat Fit-approvedmocktails and small bites provided by FUEL Café + Market, Big Easy Bucha, Andi Lynn’s, CitroNOLA, Dasani Sparkling and Swerve Sweetener.
When: Thursday March 7, from 4 to 8 p.m. (Post-challenge labs Wednesday April 17, from 4 to 7 p.m.)
Where: Ochsner Fitness Center’s FUEL Café + Market at 1200 S. Clearview Parkway in Metairie.
Labs: Those who have registered can get pre-challenge lab tests and blood pressure and body composition measurements, as well as pre-challenge close-up photos. $25 per person (a value of more than $200); Sign up via Eventbrite.
Details: Stop by to meet others who are taking the #AlcoholFreeFor40 challenge. Those who have registered can take advantage of the specials that our Ochsner Fitness Center team is offering participants:
- 40 for $40: A 40-day Alcohol Free For 40 fitness center membership for $40. Regular fees would be $110.
- 10 percent off FUEL Café + Market at Ochsner Fitness Center for the duration of the Challenge.
- Small group training: 12 sessions for $390 for AFF40 participants. The regular fee is $420.
- 10 percent off one-on-one personal training.
- Discounted one-on-one nutrition counseling packages
Lab work: Advance registration is required to have your labs checked at our opening event. Availability for lab screening is limited to the first 200 attendees who register through Eventbrite.com.
Those taking part are asked to make a blood donation at the time of blood draws. This partnership with the blood bank is how Ochsner is able to keep the lab cost down. For those who are cannot donate blood for medical or other reasons, however, Ochsner’s Corporate Wellness team will be onsite for blood draws.
Questions? Send an email to me directly if you’d like, at EatingRight@nola.com. All personal information will be kept confidential.