It was December 2016 when I first heard of Drynuary, short for “Dry January,” which refers to the practice of abstaining from alcohol during the first month of the year as a strategy for reestablishing control and giving the body a break from excessive consumption during the holiday period. It seemed like a good idea in late December, and then I remembered the idea just as I was raising a glass of Champagne at a New Year’s Day brunch…and reluctantly set down the glass, untasted. There were times during the month when I felt as if I were marching through a vast desert, but I made it to the end without a drop of alcohol, and the experiment was deemed a success.
The next year, Drynuary started a week early, as a couple of glasses of wine at a holiday party left me feeling very poorly (although it might have been a handful of cookies that was really to blame). Drynuary 2018 was also a success, but I resumed drinking afterwards, having become at some point a fan of local craft IPAs, while I continued to enjoy an occasional sip of Scotch or Tequila.
I’d decided to take some time off from the corporate world during 2018, and it was now possible to have a beer at lunch — something new — and sometimes I’d indulge in a second drink at dinner. Alcohol consumption began to rise, and not always with good outcomes: two drinks at a hotel in Mammoth Lakes left me literally staggering (possibly due to the 8,000-foot elevation), while a single beer after working on the trails back at home in New York left me groggy and unfocused (possibly I was somewhat dehydrated). I had never made a conscious decision that more alcohol was in my best interest, and therefore the question was raised, who was in control — me, or the adult beverage industrial-marketing complex?
So it was time for another experiment, which I coined Dry-ember, short for Dry September. As part of this experiment, while banning alcohol for the month, I’d relax some of the restrictions against sugar and processed carbs that are part of my normal diet, the strategy being not to fight battles on two fronts simultaneously….
As I tooled up for Dry-ember, I decided to clarify some of my dietary procedures. Over the years, I’d cut out a lot of sugar and processed carbs over concerns about long-term health implications and also because these foods often left me feeling bloated and tired. To be sure, the concern wasn’t that sugar or processed carbs were poisonous, of which even tiny amounts could prove injurious — in other words, the goal wasn’t to treat sugar like a nerve agent (a tiny speck of which on the skin can prove fatal) or like toxins that accumulate in the body over time (such as lead or mercury). Rather, the “risk model” for sugar would suggest that it’s the glycemic load that matters: too much sugar digested too quickly is what is thought to lead to inflammation, insulin surges, swings in blood sugar levels, obesity, and the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and possibly brain disorders.
Accordingly, I redefined my anti-sugar/processed carb posture using three tiers:
Honestly, as someone with a very strong sweet tooth, I’m rarely at Tier I. And given my current health profile, it’s not clear that maintaining a Tier I posture would be worth the cost. Accordingly, with the initiation of Dry-ember, I downgraded my anti-sugar/carb posture from Tier II to Tier III, which would allow me to eat whatever I wanted — this was meant to give me flexibility in substituting items to make up for alcoholic drinks — but there was the provision that I was supposed to manage myself to a stable energy level — something that wouldn’t be possible gorging on sweets.
And so Dry-ember was kicked off, and actually a week early. Initially, the permission to eat whatever I want did cause some problems, as predictably the sweet tooth got slightly out of control. According to the new procedures, the following “Tier III Failures” were documented in my training log:
- 8/31/2018: after a healthy omelet for brunch, a handful of dark chocolate covered almonds together with an espresso, left me feeling a little tired and hungry later in the afternoon
- 9/7/2018: slice of pizza for lunch, felt gross afterwards
- 9/10/2018: chocolate croissant for breakfast left me feeling sleepy in the early afternoon
- 9/11/2018: bagel with cream cheese and lox for breakfast at 8:30 AM, hungry by 11:30 AM
- 9/12/2018: hotel lunch at a conference including potatoes, slice of bread, and desert left me too drowsy to stay alert during a presentation and then fell asleep later that afternoon on a bus ride
- 9/22/2018: got very hungry during a hike (was supposed to be part of a 24-hour fast). Attributed to dark chocolate covered almonds the night before
- 9/23/2018: fried calamari, avocado toast, lemonade, and candy bar for lunch left me feeling drowsy in the afternoon
Overall these transgressions were pretty minor, and here’s what’s really interesting: I never craved a drop of alcohol during the entire month. What that means, I think, is that the reason I was drinking more beer was mainly because of the carbs.
On those hot days when a run or hike left me feeling thirsty, substituting lemonade for beer left me perfectly satisfied — in fact, I never even thought about the beer.
Then, as the temperature cooled, I started to tire of the sweet taste of lemonade, so I got in the habit of sipping a small glass of unsweetened lime juice. Sipping this interesting liquid had the same effect on me as sipping Scotch or Tequila as a reward after a hard day’s work: putting me into a more relaxed and contemplative mood. A fleeting sense of relaxation was the only positive I could ever associate with alcohol. I’d long wondered why alcohol should be necessary to relax, and it turned out it wasn’t.
Going forward, I’m not going to enact a lifetime ban on alcohol, as that would be an unnecessarily severe and costly action given my current risk profile, although it would arguably be in my best interest to do so (from a health perspective, there being no possible reason I can imagine that alcohol would do a person any good). But as I sit here, I feel no interest in consuming alcohol. Rather, I’ve decided to raise my anti-sugar/carb posture back to Tier II and to put the Do Not Eat list down on paper.
And after that, off to the gym.