The Drylathon has just passed us and will be in full swing again in January; a challenge set by Cancer Research UK.

For those who may think I am talking about a process of airing clothes; the Dryathlon is a month long challenge set that asks people not to drink alcohol for a month. In theory this sounds good. No alcohol for a month will give the body, the liver especially, a good month to recover. Participants may actually start to feel they don’t miss it that much and perhaps cut down or give up completely. There are other benefits; potential weight loss, better sleeping, saving money and perhaps feeling generally better.

These are all very positive outcomes for a process that will be raising money for charity. However, should the focus be on a month-long dry period or should the focus be more on healthy drinking habits?

We have written posts such as quick fixes aren’t quick and don’t be scared of sugar; we as humans want that quick fix. It’s all about the now (which in some mindful cases is great) but in terms of health it’s not. It’s perhaps very easy to cut something out for a month, whether it be alcohol, sugar or carbohydrates. But ultimately as soon as that month is over will the excessive habits return? What is missing is education on healthy living and safe drinking. This is available on all the relevant websites but are people reading this and taking the advice provided?  A month long dry spell followed by a month long set of weekends of binge drinking is a complete waste of time. This may happen for many people: I’ve had a month off that toxin. I “deserve” that blow out afterwards and in the future months. But health-wise it’s not great. Binge drinking is a very real problem in the UK as is general excessive drinking. It’s not just the health risks associated which include various cancers including stomach mouth and throat, raised blood pressure and depression; it’s also the social issues such as domestic violence that are influenced by alcohol.

This fab infographic from Drink Aware illustrates the various ways alcohol affects your body.

Alcohol and the body infographic 2_sharpened

How Much Alcohol Should I Drink? *****

As the infographic shows:

  • Men should be consuming no more than 21 units a week, 3-4 units a day and having alcohol-free days each week.
  • Women should be consuming no more than 14 units a week, 2-3 units a day and also having alcohol-free days each week.

What is a Unit?

  • One 25ml measure of a standard spirit
  • 1/2 a pint of a standard strength ale or lager
  • 1/3 of a pint of a stronger ale or lager
  • 125mls of wine

It’s not just the alcohol we should be concerned with. The calories in alcohol are often forgotten and can contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Drink Aware is a fantastic website and not only does it help you to calculate how many alcohol units you are consuming over the week, it also equates that to calories and how much exercise you would need to do to burn those calories off.

Putting this to the Test

Hands up who likes a glass of wine on a Saturday evening? *Sarah waves excitedly*. I do, and often that wine gets finished over the next couple of days, if I have no one to share it with.

I put these details into the Drink Aware website. I would be consuming 9.8 units of alcohol over 3 days. This is not too bad as would be within my 14 units but is slightly over 3 units a day. Also I have not a break in 3 days.However, I would have consumed 712kcals, which equates to 2.4 burgers and 71 minutes of running! Quite a bit for just a few drinks. Definite food for thought!

In the UK, 9 million people drink more than the recommended daily limits (alcoholconcern.org.uk) and is in the top 3 causitive factors for disease and death, alongside smoking and obesity. Shockingly each year alcohol costs each taxpayer £120.

Dietitians talk a lot about moderation. Ultimately it is sustainable. It is well know that we should be sticking to safe drinking habits, ensuring the body has a couple of alcohol free days a week for the liver to rest. But a challenge called “safe drinking for a month” really isn’t that sexy is it?

I wouldn’t bother with the Dryathlon if you know you will revert back to old habits afterwards. Instead set yourself a challenge to get educated. Find out more about the alcohol content of your favourite drinks and challenge yourself to stick to safe drinking for a month. You may find this is a lot easier to stick to long-term and is better for your health. You can still make that nice donation to charity as well.

*****Update: In January 2016 the alcohol guidelines for the UK were updated and BOTH men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. The 14 units should be spread over the week with a few alcohol free days.