When I began this challenge to go 100 days dry without alcohol, I didn’t expect there to be an unseen villain lurking just off camera. But there he was – the Candy Man.
After giving up booze for an extended period of time, I found the first major obstacle I faced was sugar cravings. And the best way to combat those – I now realise – is not to go cold turkey on them. I discovered that a seriously low mood inevitably follows, and a human brain only has so much willpower.
So it was on day 56 – nearly two months after quitting alcohol, and more than two weeks after completely removing processed unrefined sugar from my diet – that I found myself sipping a cocktail.
Call it a temporary lapse in willpower, call it a one off, call it a blip, but when I spoke to Juliet Hodges, a behaviour change adviser at Bupa the following day, she called it ‘human’.
“Your key mistake was trying to give up sugar as well as alcohol,” said Juliet. “When we decide to make a major lifestyle change, it takes a lot of effort to interrupt an automatic behaviour and replace it with a new one. Making not one but two big changes requires a huge amount of effort and is a major struggle to keep up consistently.”
“Your low mood as a result of cutting out alcohol and sugar is also likely to have put extra strain on your willpower. Studies have shown that people are better able to stick to their self-improvement goal when they are in a happy mood and believe their willpower is unlimited. This is a mindset that could be affected by low mood and having taken on so much.”
In other words, I’d over-reached and crashed. By trying to eliminate alcohol and grapple with the sugar cravings that were a bi-product of sobriety, I’d managed to fail at both. Tellingly, it was a sugary cocktail that finally broke my resolve.
So what now? How would I overcome this glitch and get back on track for the final 44 days of the challenge?
“The most important thing you can do now is view the slip-up with self-compassion,” said Juliet. “As well as being helpful for improving wellbeing, self-compassion is crucial to helping us achieve our goals. People who treat themselves with kindness and understanding when they face setbacks, rather than frustration and self-criticism, are more resilient and likely to achieve their goals overall.
“Learning from experience, rather than beating yourself up about it, is far more constructive.
“It’s also important to focus on the main goal of the challenge: cutting out alcohol, not sugar. Reintroducing sugar and saying yes to dessert for the remaining days will ultimately make it easier to achieve that goal, even if it means the full health benefits of being teetotal aren’t realised. Another way to enhance mood naturally is through exercise, so potentially stepping up workouts now could be helpful too.”
So there we have it: extra sessions at Third Space Soho with Cathy Brown, the former European boxing champion turned personal trainer who’s coaching me. Followed by extra pudding. Who’d have thought giving up alcohol would lead me to this twin strategy: dumbbells and dessert.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #100DaysDry to join the challenge or suggest your sobriety tips