Dry as a Bone

PacMed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist weighs in on how to recover from holiday indulgence.

Holiday festivities are among some of the best for dietary indulgences. A shining beacon beams with desserts aplenty — frosted, sugared, and sprinkled delights that have become synonymous with the season. Yet, another indulgence lurks behind the layered cakes and latticed pies — colorful, inebriating concoctions almost as tantalizing as the cookies hoovered into mouths everywhere: alcohol. This adults-only vice serves as a temptation to many, leading to a sugar-booze coma by the time January rolls around. Thankfully, Pacific Medical Centers’ Christy Goff, RDN, CD, is here to give insight on Dry January (or what’s left of January), and how to kick spirits to the curb. Until next December, anyway.

What are some of the negative consequences of overindulging in alcoholic beverages?

Alcohol is a toxin to the body and therefore there can be a few consequences of overindulging. First, alcohol takes priority in the body to breakdown and excrete as soon as it enters the body. This puts a hold on the digestion of food calories for later digestion or stored into fat cells, leading to an increased risk for weight gain and fatty-liver disease over time.

Secondly, people tend to overeat once they’ve had a bit of alcohol and especially if they have an empty stomach. Alcohol, surprisingly, contains seven calories per gram rather than the four calories per gram that carbohydrates and proteins contain. This again leads to excess calorie consumption overall.

Lastly, alcohol can impact your sleep. While alcohol does tend to have a sedative effect on the body and can help people fall asleep, sleep studies suggest that after the initial rest phase, the breakdown of alcohol interferes with your restorative REM phase of sleep. People then tend to feel more restless in the second half of the night and this can lead to problems like focus and concentration, memory recall and overall energy the next day.

What can people expect to experience once they eliminate alcohol from their diet and lifestyle?

Providers at Pacific Medical Centers have noticed various changes from patients once they eliminate alcohol from their systems. Overall, once alcohol is removed from the diet, it is expected that a person will experience better sleep, more energy, and sometimes weight loss and positive changes in mood. When eliminating a large amount of alcohol long-term, it can lower one’s risk for chronic diseases like dementia, heart disease and many forms of cancer. One additional benefit is that you will certainly save money by abstaining from alcohol.

For individuals who may be struggling to cut out alcohol cold turkey, do you have suggestions for easing into the process of abstaining?

Some suggestions for easing into Dry January would be to add a seltzer water or glass of water in between alcoholic beverages. This will not only keep you hydrated but will keep your hands busy in between drinks.

Another tip would be to track the times of the day that drinking seems most plentiful and see if you can wait an hour before starting intake and/or finish drinking at a set time. Also, check your alcohol content on your favorite beverages and see if you can find something similar with a lower alcohol percentage. Lastly, find a support person or counselor to help you work through barriers to change and to assist with sticking to your goals. If you’re looking to explore options, Pacific Medical Centers has a wide range of professionals on their Primary Care and Behavioral Medicine teams.

What else would you like readers to know about Dry January and alcohol consumption in general?

Dry January is a great place to start observing the effects that alcohol has on your life. It can help challenge your automatic habits with new ideas and activities to calm your stress and celebrate your successes. It’s also a great way to challenge the cultural norms of society by taking a step back from the traditional places where we consume alcohol. Overall, this practice can leave you feeling more in control of how you want to live and feel. And if January or a month feels too rushed or challenging, start with a day or a week.

Christy Goff, RDN, CD, is a member of the Living Well Alliance team at PacMed.