Is Dry January actually good for your health?
Following a month of celebratory bubbles and excessive drinking, many people may want to go on an alcohol detox to give their body a much-needed break. It’s obvious to see why Dry January is so popular, and chances are you’ve been trying to cut down. So as Dry January comes to an end, we wondered if going completely ‘dry’ is really a good idea?
It’s important to know what changes to anticipate to your body when you get off the booze and go completely cold turkey, even if you’ve missed the boat on Dry January and just want to go alcohol-free to help boost your weight loss.
Dr. Preethi Daniel from London Doctors Clinic walks us through the pros and cons of Dry January and what to expect…
What changes should you expect in the first few weeks of going dry?
- Day 1: You may find it difficult to fall asleep initially if you were a regular moderate drinker.
- Day 3: Some people may experience hangover like symptoms, potentially from lack of hydration.
- Day 5: You may start craving the sugar that you are no longer getting from alcohol. You will, however, feel sharper and notice an improvement in your concentration.
- Day 7: Your sleep will improve significantly, with an improved pattern and more consistency but you may start experiencing more and more vivid dreams.
- Day 10+: Your mood will increase and you will start feeling less sluggish and more energised.
The benefits of giving up alcohol
- To detox
After Christmas and New Year’s collectively, all of that drinking can take its toll on your liver, however, taking a break can provide it with some much-needed rest and recovery. If your liver has been slightly impacted, it generally takes around four to six weeks for it to return to normal, meaning Dry January can be the perfect detox time.
- Much improved sleep
One of the first things that you may notice when you begin to cut out alcohol is that your sleeping pattern will drastically improve and you will notice an increase in your energy levels. While many people find that alcohol can help them fall into a deeper sleep faster, this sleep is less restful and less time is spent in a ‘deep’ slumber. On the other hand, the days when you don’t drink can lead to a night of much better sleep, making it much easier to wake up in the mornings with less grogginess. Something that is surely beneficial in the dreaded back to work season!
- Improved appearance
That’s right, consuming less alcohol can have a positive effect on your appearance. Alcohol has an effect on the body that makes you need to visit the bathroom more often; this can lead to dehydration. This has a knock-on effect on your skin and eyes, causing them to look dry, dull and lifeless. Going dry can have a positive effect – your skin should look more refreshed and your eyes will appear brighter. A reduced intake means that more calories are entering the body from food, rather than drink, which means that you have a potentially higher vitamin intake. This can help your skin look healthier and more youthful.
In addition, in a recent study it was seen that participants of a one month break from alcohol lost on average 1-2kg of weight without significant changes to diet and exercise.
- Immune system boost
Alcohol has the potential to suppress your immune system, which could make you more susceptible to the cold and flu and reduce your ability to fight off illness. This could prevent you from catching the office cold as you return to work.
The cons of giving up alcohol
If you are a regular moderate to heavy drinker and suddenly stop drinking alcohol, you may experience negative effects to your health. This is due to withdrawal symptoms from alcohol dependency. Some symptoms you may experience are; restlessness, tremors, hallucinations, nausea, insomnia, sweating, anxiety and depression. If you experience any of these symptoms the best course of action is to seek medical help, a doctor will be able to advise the best course of action to avoid these symptoms. In some cases, going completely dry may not be recommended.
Is it worth doing just for a month?
While taking a month off from consuming alcohol can have its positive effects, returning to drinking heavily for the remainder of the year can potentially reverse the positive impact you have made on your body. The government recommends having two alcohol-free days per week, and this can actually be more beneficial than just having a month off and can gradually reduce reliance on alcohol.
Dry January is often seen as a way for many to revisit their relationship with alcohol, with the objective of reducing their overall intake in the long term to help them feel better, rather than a quick fix. It also can help make you feel good if you’re doing it for charity!
Many find that after a month away from drinking they have a reduced tolerance to alcohol, so it is worth bearing this in mind when it comes to your first drink so that you don’t overdo it.
How to do go dry healthily?
While there are many benefits to participating in Dry January, if your body is used to alcohol, you may experience some withdrawal symptoms. Usually, these subside after the first couple of days, here are a few ways to ensure that you feel your best:
- Stay hydrated
Many people may experience ‘hangover’ like symptoms for a few days after giving up alcohol. This is generally due to lack of hydration and therefore one of the best courses of action is to keep yourself topped up with plenty of fluids. Before going to bed, it is worth having a glass of water, and this will keep you feeling fresh the following morning!
- Don’t scrimp at mealtimes
It is also important to eat healthy and regular meals. Alcohol contains a very high number of calories, so when you stop drinking you are not only cutting your alcohol consumption but also sugar and calories. This may leave you with cravings, so it is important to have regular nutritious meals as well as snacks to keep you fuller for longer, so you don’t find yourself opening another box of chocolates!
- Stock up on alternatives
Keeping a variety of different drinks could also be a beneficial way to motivate yourself to keep away from alcohol. It is also worth drinking lots of lemon-infused drinks, lemon has a detoxifying effect on the body and can help start cleaning out the liver sooner.
- Clear your surroundings
If there is no alcohol around the house, you are less likely to consume any. If you have lots of drinks around the house you could ask a friend or family member to look after them for you so you feel less tempted.
- Keep busy
The first few days may be the most difficult, so it is best to find ways to fill your time; make use of that gym membership, head out to the cinema! Try to do something to take your mind off of Dry January, the less you think about it, the easier it’ll become!
As with many things, it is easier to keep motivated if you have someone else doing Dry January with you. Encourage friends and family to participate with you and you will keep each other on the right track, and it will feel more fun and less like a chore!
Dr. Preethi Daniel Clinical director at the walk-in GP clinic, London Doctors Clinic part of the Doctors Clinic Group