The art of sidestepping booze for a month

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Nearly 6000 Kiwis are attempting to get through July without booze.

They are the official entrants in Dry July and are mixing booze avoidance with raising money for cancer victims.

But many more Kiwis are likely to be coat-tailing on the scheme at home, and making a private deal to cut out the alcohol and see how much better that makes them feel.

For both groups, saying no when you really want a drink is going to be hard.
Make it to August 1 and the prize is likely to include some or all of: a clear head, less weight, more money, better sleep, less snoring and more energy.

However, it takes effort and strategies to win a prize pack that good.

Here are some expert tips to help you stay on course.

Aussie psychologist Sarah Gibson says the drinking habit is hard to break because it makes you feel so good.

Willpower alone isn’t the way to do it. Instead, she says try the mindfulness approach.

“Recognise that the urge to have a drink is simply a combination of thoughts, bodily sensations and feelings, not an order that must be followed on autopilot. The urge itself may feel uncomfortable, but it cannot harm you in any way.

“Accept the urge to drink when it turns up. Rather than judging the urge as bad, simply notice it as it arises and acknowledge it. Make room for it. This is not the same as wanting or embracing the urge. It’s just letting it be.

“Observe it as you would a passing car, or leaves on a stream. Breathe into and around the uncomfortable bodily sensations that accompany the urge, imagining that part of your body ‘expanding’ around the sensation.”

What should happen is the urge weakens from being accepted but not acted on or fought against.

Naturopath and nutritionist Jess Blair echoes this when she says not to obsess over not having alcohol.

“Change your mindset. You’re not being deprived, nor are you missing out. You’ve made a conscious choice to do right by your body (and liver) and it’s no big deal.”

She says going booze-free with a friend might help and it’s smart to plan around non-alcohol drinks.

Blair also says to think of the gains.

“The hardest perceived part of Dry July is actually breaking your habit of reaching for that glass of wine while you’re cooking dinner, or ordering your favourite drink when you sit down at your local.

“When the going gets tough, think about how much you’ve saved in dollars, how happy your liver is, the better sleep you’re getting at night, the mental clarity you’re achieving.”

Nutritionist Claire Turnbull says while a single month off alcohol won’t make a huge long-term difference to health, two real benefits are the body gets a healthy break, and it gives a chance to evaluate drinking habits (and maybe change them).

She says better sleep is common.

“While alcohol can feel like it ‘knocks you out’ and helps you fall asleep, it affects the quality of your sleep so you’re not sleeping as deeply. It takes an hour to process one unit of alcohol, so if you’re having half a bottle of wine or more in the evening you’ll obviously still have some to process while you’re asleep.”

Booze can also add a lot of extra calories to the day.

Turnbull says Dry July can be positive longer term if the lessons learned carry on and less alcohol is drunk in following months.

One danger is turning to sweet treats to replace the booze – especially if drinking is a way to try and manage stress.

And of course a celebration booze binge in August would also be crazy.

Turnbull says look at other things to do to have fun or wind down. Going for a walk with friends, playing a sport, taking a yoga class, listening to music, doing something creative, can all change and lift a mood.

Originally published:

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