Maybe you've decided to take a break from booze to observe Dry January. Maybe you just want to make some changes to your diet in the new year. Perhaps you've even been compelled to explore the world of non-alcoholic beer. Whatever your reason, there's no downside to taking a break from alcohol. Drinking less won't suddenly make you look or feel dramatically better at the end of the month, as I discovered. But it can be a healthy habit worth cultivating, especially for those of us in middle age whose metabolisms are slowing down — even if the way we eat and drink hasn't.
First, the basics: I'm 47 years old, 6 feet tall, and weigh about 185 pounds. I eat fairly well (though I have a weakness for cereal and chocolate) and exercise three days a week at the gym. Like a lot of guys my age, my weight and my cholesterol levels have slowly been creeping up since I hit my 40s, but all in all, my doctor tells me I'm in pretty good health for my age.
But I do drink. Not to excess — that stopped being fun back in college. But over the past few years, my partner and I had developed a habit of enjoying a bottle of wine with dinner a couple nights a week or the occasional drink after work. Was I drinking too much, I asked my doctor. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, my alcohol consumption could be described as "moderate" — no more than two drinks per day or 14 per week. Still, if drinking was something I was that concerned about, cutting back was definitely something my doctor said he'd endorse.
There's never a "good" time to go dry, though one could argue the holidays — with their endless parties, eating, and drinking — are not the easiest time to do so. And that first week was tough, especially with a stressful work schedule and preparing for Christmas, family visits, and gift-giving galore. I'd be lying if I said I didn't find myself craving a drink, and I was definitely a little more irritable than usual. Those feelings ebbed after a week or two, and I had to admit that it was nice not to experience that bloated feeling I'd get after drinking a beer or two. (Also nice: the extra money in my bank account that otherwise would have been spent on that booze.) I'm usually a good sleeper, so I can't say that the quality of my nightly rest was noticeably better, nor did I experience any dramatic burst of energy during the day. But by the end of my dry December, I was certain that I'd see some kind of positive physical result internally.
I had blood drawn on Dec. 3 to check my glucose, liver enzyme, and cholesterol levels. The results were more or less in line with what my physical had shown earlier in 2019: borderline high cholesterol, blood glucose normal but edging toward pre-diabetic, and normal liver enzymes. All fairly typical for an American male my age. One month later, I had the test repeated and weighed myself again to compare results. To my surprise, my weight hadn't budged, even with the extra holiday treats I repeatedly failed to avoid snacking on.
However, my blood glucose levels had passed the point considered pre-diabetic. Did I have cause to be concerned? I scheduled a visit with my general practitioner for some additional insight. As it turns out, one month really isn't enough time to produce a dramatic difference in my blood chemistry, my doctor told me. True, my glucose levels did show a slight rise of a couple milligrams per deciliter, enough to put me over the pre-diabetic threshold. But any number of factors could have caused that minor uptick, regardless of whether I'd decided to go dry for a month. Only an A1C blood test (which can analyze the past three months of your glucose levels) in conjunction with results from my past annual physicals would determine whether I truly needed to be concerned, my doctor added. He made a note to add that test to my upcoming physical.
In the meantime, he said, cutting back a little on carbs in the meantime was a good idea for a middle-aged guy like me. That could mean drinking less or cutting it out entirely — if that was something I wanted to continue doing — but it also means cutting back on my habitual snacking, something I'd never given much thought to in the past. Once the bloodwork results were in, I decided to go out and celebrate by splitting a bottle of wine with dinner. As I raised a glass to toast my partner and my month-long dry spell, I made the vow so many of us make at the new year: to get in better shape.
We'll see whether I hold to that resolution or not.