My name is Jonathan and I am not an alcoholic.
Like millions of other Britons, however, I drink more than I perhaps should.
Earlier this year, the government reduced its recommended weekly alcohol intake to just 14 units, for both men and women. That’s six pints of standard lager or six 175ml glasses of wine. Like many other men in their twenties and thirties, I drink considerably more than that. Up to five times more in my case.
Working in the media, alcohol is a big part of my job: it’s a social lubricant, a stress reliever, it can even be a source of inspiration. Or is that just what I, and plenty of others, tell myself to avoid the truth?
So what would happen if I gave up alcohol for a prolonged period of time? Say 100 days? What if I lived my life completely as normal, only removing that one simple factor? What kind of changes would occur, not only in my day-to-day life, but also in terms of my body, both inside and out?
To answer that question, I needed a precise snapshot of the current state of my health. And after a round of detailed tests, that picture was terrifying.
The results showed that, unbeknownst to me, I already had dangerously high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and even moderate liver fibrosis (scarring).
The bad news didn’t stop there. High levels of deep fat were choking my internal organs, while my abdominal fat was so high that it had bounced my BMI (body mass index) clean into the “obese” bracket. I was two stone overweight for my height and, just to add insult to injury, I had high oestrogen levels: the road straight to man-boobs.
Could all of these problems be resolved by one magic bullet: simply giving up alcohol? To find out, I needed to make sure I could successfully remove booze for 100 days. And that’s where Juliet Hodges, a Behaviour Change Adviser at Bupa, comes in.
“Obviously willpower is going to be critical,” says Juliet, one of a hand-picked team of Bupa experts who will be monitoring the challenge. “The good news is that you can think of it as a muscle, and you can strengthen it with practice.
“The key is to interrupt your automatic brain: your habitual actions. Having a drink at certain times or in certain situations becomes habit, and you need to shake up the part of your brain that deals with that: your prefrontal cortex. Little things like opening doors with your non-dominant hand for a couple of weeks can jar it out of autopilot, and help build your willpower.”
“Another good technique for overcoming temptation is urge surfing,” adds Juliet. “Urges will pass, whether you give into them or not. Instead of trying to suppress one when it appears, really feel it. Pay attention to the kind of sensations it causes in your body and consciously ride it out, rather than trying to get rid of it. If you’re able to confront it head on and deal with it, you’re much less likely to give into temptation when it strikes.”
Temptation will be rife. According to Bupa research, over half of all Britons (53%) consume more alcohol in the month of December – precisely when my challenge begins. I have the entire festive period to navigate teetotal, from Christmas parties through to New Year’s Eve. And that’s just the start. Can I undo 20 years of drinking in 100 days? Let’s see…
Jonathan will be back on the blog in a few weeks’ time to update us on his progress during his 100-day dry journey. Next time we will take a deeper look into the effect that alcohol has on the body with our Bupa liver and kidney specialist, Oscar Martin.