It’s the halfway point for our fourth annual #AlcoholFreeFor40 Challenge, and for many, the toughest part is over: The first weekend without alcohol, the first dinner date without a cocktail, and of course, St. Patrick’s Day, sans booze.
The feedback from our 700-plus AFF40 crew has been overwhelmingly positive.
The challenge is simple: Give up all alcohol from Ash Wednesday until Easter. We host the challenge right after Mardi Gras, but folks can challenge themselves at time to abstain and see the results. Find out how here.Alcohol Free for 40 challenge 2019: Take a health break after Mardi GrasNew Year’s resolutions can be difficult to keep during Carnival, so join us on Ash Wednesday for the 2019 challenge.
“I have noticed in the last year or so that my body hasn’t been responding well when I drink alcohol, so I had been cutting a bit already. But eliminating it completely from my system now, I feel so much better. I notice my skin looks less inflamed and I have less GI upset – plus I am just more organized and on top of my life in general.”
Within a week, many noticed a difference in their skin and eyes: “Way less puffy, especially under my eyes.” “My skin is glowing, and just generally looks much brighter and more radiant.”
Energy and mood are better, too: “I wake up in a better mood and have more sustained energy throughout the day.” “I love that I feel more even-tempered, more balanced.”
Sleep has been the wild card for a lot our AFF40 participants. Many realized that they’d been relying on alcohol to help them fall asleep, and felt restless for the first few nights without it. But after a few days, most noticed an improvement – many are also dreaming more, reflecting an improvement in sleep quality: “I’m amazed by how well I’ve been sleeping.” “I’ve been dreaming so vividly – it’s like watching a movie!” “I definitely feel much more rested when I wake up in the morning.”
It hasn’t all been easy-breezy, though. As one participant shared, “I thought the first week was going to be the easiest, but it was the opposite. The first week was very hard, with restless sleep, not seeing results right away, wondering if it was worth it. But now in the second week, I’m definitely sleeping well through the night, getting sooo much accomplished throughout the day because I’m up fresh and early! I’ve even lost a few pounds, without other significant changes to my diet and exercise routine.”
Many have expressed that giving up alcohol has left them struggling with options for stress release and dealing with the stuff that often swirls through our heads after a busy day.
What replaces liquor?
This brings us to replacement behaviors, an essential element in the success of going alcohol-free. What are you replacing cocktail hour (or hours) with, what are you doing differently during those challenging times, those “witching” hours? The answer is different for everyone.
Mocktails can help, and fortunately, many local bars and restaurant restaurants will accommodate. Commander’s Palace, SoBou and Reginelli’s even offer Eat Fit-approved mocktails. Local brands, like El Guapo Bitters and Big Easy Bucha, have provided plenty of recipes as well, including tasty ones you’ll find below.
The AFF40 crew has brought up how “delicious and diverse” the world of non-alcoholic drinks can be. Many are reaching for herbal teas (including infused teas like locally owned Citronola), others are loving kombucha – it’s bubbly, ale-like flavor makes an excellent substitute for beer, wine, champagne or even bourbon.
Physical movement has also been a common thread of success, with evening walks, shooting hoops with kids, meeting friends for a workout instead of a cocktail, all playing a role in filling that wine window of time with healthful behaviors that help us unwind.
Others have taken the time to read more or dive into household or creative projects they didn’t have time – or make time – for, before.
Several questions have come up multiple times, so I’m addressing these here for readers who aren’t part of our #AlcoholFreeFor40 Facebook group.
Supplements for Sugar, Carb and Alcohol Cravings
I typically recommend a few supplements for blood sugar control in diabetes and pre-diabetes, including these three below. Some people also find these helpful for reducing cravings for sugar and alcohol.
· Apple Cider Vinegar | 1 to 2 ounces in 6 to 8 ounces water or tea. First thing in the morning and/or also before each main meal. Can add lemon juice, flavored herbal tea, even flavored sparkling water for flavor.
· Alpha lipoic acid| 600 mg daily divided into 2 to 3 doses
· Chromium picolinate| 400-800 mcg daily, in divided doses.
Note: If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes and/or are on medications for blood sugar control, check with your physician first. Try adding just one at a time, checking blood sugars for three days or so before adding the next. If you see that blood sugar levels are running low, talk with your healthcare team to adjust dosage as needed.
Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but it’s been proven to interfere with the quality of deep sleep and can cause restlessness. Still, many Alcohol Free For 40 participants realized they had been relying on alcohol to help them fall asleep, and struggled for the first few days.
We did a NOLA.com 28-day Sleep Revolution Challenge a few years back; here’s a summary of seven ways to get better sleep.28-day Sleep Revolution Challenge: Life-changing effects of better sleepThe 28-day Sleep Revolution Challenge centered on Arianna Huffington’s best seller “The Sleep Revolution” will make every goal and New Years Resolution a bit easier to achieve.
Lifestyle: Changes to daily routine
Ease up on caffeine. Caffeine can linger in our system for six to eight hours or more, so that afternoon pick-me-up can be causing us problems when it’s bedtime. While the exact timing is different for each of us, our “caffeine cutoff” should begin well before evening.
Herbal sleep remedies. Supplementing with 160 mg valerian extractplus 80 mg lemon balm, two to three times daily, may improve quality and quantity of sleep. Passionflower – as supplement or tea – may improve symptoms of anxiety; one cup of passionflower tea before bed has been shown to improve sleep quality.
Bedroom: Create a sleep sanctuary
Unplug. Not only do electronics stimulate our brain, making it easier to procrastinate sleep, the blue glow also inhibits our body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin. As a rule, put away all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Make it dark. Light suppresses our production of melatonin, so it’s important to turn down the lights and make our environment quiet and dark. Use low-wattage bulbs in your bedroom. Invest in good shades or black-out curtains. Consider sleeping with an eye mask.
Keep it cool. The ideal sleeping temperature for most people is 65 degrees. Temps above 75 or below 54 degrees can disrupt our sleep.
Declutter. Create a peaceful space. Organize your nightstand, and add relaxing elements: a meaningful photograph, a candle or a pretty lamp with low light.
Refreshing and light, essentially the only carbs or calories in this mocktail are from the fresh fruit garnish itself.
Summer Berry Basil Sipper by El Guapo Bitters
Makes 1 serving
1 local strawberry
3 fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon El Guapo Summer Berries bitters
1 tablespoon orange blossom or rose water
1/2 cup ice cubes
4 ounces club soda
2 strawberry halves, skewered, and basil leaves for garnish
In cocktail shaker, muddle 3-4 strawberry slices and 3 basil leaves with El Guapo Summer Berries bitters and orange blossom or rose water. Add ice and shake until well chilled, straining into highball glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and garnish with a skewered strawberry half and basil leaf.
Per serving: 10 calories, 0 fat, 0 saturated fat, 5 mg sodium, 2.5 grams carbohydrate, <1 gram fiber, 1 gram sugar (0 added sugar), 0 protein
Melon Magic Fauxjito by Big Easy Bucha
Makes 1 serving
4 ounces watermelon kombucha
4 ounces seltzer or club soda
2 lime wedges
Sprig of fresh mint
Muddle lime wedge and mint sprigs in a mixing tin. Add club soda. Strain mixture into a chilled cocktail glass filled with ice. Top with Big Easy Bucha Watermelon Kombucha. Garnish with lime wheel.
Per serving: 50 calories, 0 fat, 0 saturated fat, 7 mg sodium, 13 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 3 grams sugar (0 added sugar), 0.5 grams protein
If you haven’t already, join the #AlchoholFreeFor40 Facebook group, we’ll be sharing mocktail recipes + other tips over the coming weeks. As always, feel free to email me directly at EatingRight@nola.com with any feedback, challenges and victories (all personal information will be kept confidential); I’m honored to be a part of this journey with you all!