Bishop's Stortford specialist dietician Alex Ballard on how to reduce your drinking and enjoy a healthier lifestyle
Alex Ballard, who lives in Bishop's Stortford and works as a specialist dietician in West Essex, writes about how to take small steps towards a healthier lifestyle...
While some have used pub closures as an opportunity to curb boozy habits, others are popping corks and pouring measures more than ever.
The day that publicans locked their doors some of us converted our efforts from stockpiling baked bean tins into beer cans. With alcohol aisles decimated, kitchen cupboards, garage fridges and alcohol cabinets were left bursting at the brim.
A recent survey has revealed that around one in five drinkers have increased the frequency and heaviness of their drinking sessions since social restrictions began.
But can you blame us? The concoction of lockdown boredom and postcard weather makes for the perfect cocktail. For most it is not necessary to ditch alcohol entirely; however a few adjustments may help prevent recent changes becoming lifelong habits.
Health guidelines recommend that adults should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, which should be spread evenly over at least three days.
Heavy and prolonged drinking can increase the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease and can detrimentally impact mental health. Those that can ‘handle their drink’ may be skipping headaches but they are not immune to the longer-term consequences.
Although it is increasingly available on labels, we do not tend to associate our chosen tipple with its unit value. As a rough guide, a single measure of a spirit provides 1 unit, 125ml flute of bubbly contains 1.5 units, 175ml glass of plonk will add up to 2.3 units and a pint of beer or cider could be around 2.3-2.6 units.
Therefore, even those sipping at only one drink per day could potentially be clocking up more than the recommended amount. Dry January or Sober October may be a helpful annual detox, but introducing some alcohol-free days or midweek alcohol limits is vital.
The temptation may be to save up all of our units and cash them in over the weekend; however the risk factors from binge drinking (more than four units at any one time) can be just as dangerous. Of course there may be rare occasions where this advice takes a back seat. Instead, enjoy safely and give your body at least a 48-hour break from booze afterwards.
Try tricking your eyes with smaller quantities of alcohol. Opt for dinkier glasses with lots of ice, introduce spritzers and reach for bottles rather than pints. Additionally, ditch the doubles for singles and invest in a proper measure to avoid free-hand, hefty home pouring.
Consider purchasing a good quality, air-tight bottle stop so that wine can keep for more than one sitting. If avoiding temptation is hard once your favourite bottle is open, keep it out of sight, switch to buying single-serve bottles or freeze leftovers into ice cube trays for cooking.
Additionally, the strengths of various brands can have huge variations, so glancing at the %ABV and trying out lower-strength options could be a simple switch. Light or alcohol-free alternatives can be a helpful addition for some.
During prolonged drinking sessions, try to alternate between alcoholic and soft drinks. Consider setting limits before arriving at an event or elect out of rounds to determine your own pace. Volunteering as the designated driver will also help your health and potentially win you some brownie points amongst loved ones.
For many of us, alcoholic drinks go hand in hand with an appetising snack. Restaurants, pubs and bars are not necessarily just being friendly when they serve drinks alongside complimentary salted nuts or crisps. Salty snacks will trigger thirst, turning sips into gulps and one drink into two, three or four. Instead, look at labels to choose lower-salt snack options.
It is also easy to forget about sneaky ‘liquid calories’. One pint of beer has a similar calorie content to a sausage roll, a pint of cider likens to a doughnut and a glass of champagne equals a chocolate biscuit. Cocktails can be the biggest culprits with added sugar, syrups and fruit juice; for example a Long Island iced tea may contain up to 780 calories per glass. Try to use no-added-sugar or slimline mixers where possible and also be mindful about what you crave to eat during and after drinking.
But let’s keep that glass half full and enjoy the sparkling straws, fancy glasses and rosemary-infused mixers whether you are cutting back or cutting out alcohol entirely. If you would like advice about alcohol cessation, please discuss this with your GP practice.
You can follow Alex on Instagram @alextalksdiet.