I've given up alcohol and sweets before. But I've only ever done it for Lent, and the whole sacrificing for the sake of your religion makes the task much easier. This time I chose a random month, October, when the idea of sipping hot toddies while snacking on cookies next to a fireplace was at the forefront of my mind.
I knew giving these two vices up would be super challenging this time of year (hello Halloween!). But I had put on a few pounds thanks to subpar eating and stress-related snacking—I'm talking a bag of mini Reese’s peanut butter cups at a time—and I was feeling lethargic. And it was making my daily life, including my workouts, that much harder. That's a frustrating feeling for anyone, but as a fitness editor, I really can't afford to not feel good while working out. It’s basically my job.
So on October 1, I quit cold turkey. My goal: No alcohol or sweets for 31 days, which ultimately turned into 40 days (more on the surprising reason why later). From the peer pressure to cravings, here’s everything I learned from my adventure in abstinence.
There is no scaling back
Cutting out alcohol and sweets is like pulling off a Band-Aid or jumping into a cold pool. There is no easing into it; you just have to jump right in. It's much easier said than done, of course, especially when on day one you find yourself in the midst of a coworker’s baby shower, complete with Champagne and mini-cupcakes. Throwing back drinks when I have to go back to my desk afterward is not really my idea of a good time, so there was no temptation there. But those cupcakes were definitely calling me. A coworker said to me, "Oh it won't matter, they're so small." To which I replied, "It's day one."
I can’t lie, I was tempted, but instead of giving in, I just left the party early. Here’s why: cheating, even if it’s just an itty-bitty cupcake, is still cheating— and the only one who was going to lose (or not lose, as in inches) was me.
Peer pressure is (still) real
Whenever you go against the norm, people are going to have something to say. In my case, the norm is a couple of cocktails at brunch, a glass of wine after a crazy-hard work day or an event with an open bar filled with top-shelf liquor. So, when a friend was in town and a couple of us went out to dinner— post-workout of course—wine and sweets were a plenty. After multiple times of declining both and explaining why I had sworn off alcohol and sweets, my friends still felt the need to press me to have just one sip or one bite. These convos went a little bit like this:
Her: “This wine is amazing, taste it.”
Me: “No thanks.”
Her: “Why not? Taste it. It’s really good.”
Me: “No, really I'm good.”
Her: “What’s wrong with you?”
Me: “Nothing, I’m just not drinking.”
Her: “Oh come on, it doesn’t matter.”
But yes, it did matter to me. Honestly, I felt like I was in one of those "Just Say No" after-school specials. More than that, I felt that my friends were being really inconsiderate. Lesson learned: If your habits aren’t in line with your friends there is going to be a little friction.
You've got to learn how to fake it
One of the more interesting lessons from my little experiment is that it's much more socially acceptable to skip a piece of cake than it is to not have a drink in your hand. I guess because so much socializing happens with the help of alcohol, being the lone non-drinker means being a pariah. I eventually started to side-step Q's by quietly ordering a seltzer and cranberry with lime, which just so happens to look like a vodka and cranberry. There comes a point when you are tired of telling everyone that you aren’t drinking.
It’s pretty sad that I had to go to these lengths to make my pause from drinking manageable, but in the end, I think it gave those around me some sort of peace of mind. And it worked for me too: not having to explain myself each and every time helped me stay the course, which brings me to my next point...
No booze and no sugar really does a body good
I am so glad I did stick with it. While there are plenty of studies that tout the benefit of a daily glass of red wine or a square of dark chocolate, the truth is I felt so much better without any of that stuff. I was so much more alert: that sluggish feeling during and after my workouts I mentioned earlier was gone, and I was getting some of the best sleep of my life.
You won’t miss it (after about a week)
Given the timing and the lack of religious motivation, I fully expected these 31 days to be torturous. I thought I'd spend every day marking my calendar and praying for the day I'd get to treat myself again. But honestly, after a few days, I stopped missing it.
After the initial adjustment of the first week, I was no longer walking to the vending machine or my corner store for my 3pm must-have-sweets-now break. It was honestly awesome to not feel that need. Plus, going sans sweet and spirits whittled down my middle. Oh, and I suddenly had more money in my pockets. Seriously, those cocktails and cronuts add up.
That's why, on November 1, instead of diving head first into a vat of chocolate and a fifth of whiskey like everyone predicted, I did nothing. I just wasn’t interested. In fact, I didn’t have a sip or a sweet until nine days later. The best part: when I finally did imbibe (with a glass of Prosecco with a splash of St. Germain, thank you very much), I felt happy to be "back" in time for the holidays—but most importantly, I felt totally in control.