100 days dry: it’s a wrap

Health and Lifestyle Editor
07 June 2017

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This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

Most people know that drinking too much alcohol can lead to lots of health problems. Which is why the government-recommended weekly alcohol intake for men and women is just 14 units. Even a few tipples here and there can cause side-effects like waking up with a dry mouth and headache – but can giving up wine, spirits and similar beverages lead to a happier, healthier lifestyle?

Award-winning freelance journalist and former Senior Editor of Men’s Health magazine, Jonathan Thompson, decided to see for himself. He cut alcohol from his life completely for 100 days and monitored his progress through a variety of tests and one of our extensive health assessments.

The 100 days dry challenge

Jonathan’s challenge began on 1 December 2016 at the start of the festive period – a particularly difficult time of year to give up alcohol. In the three-and-a-half-months that followed, Jonathan endured everything from sugar cravings to temporary weight gain, but despite these struggles, did he manage to improve his overall health?

Starting point

Before going teetotal, Jonathan underwent a selection of tests with rather worrying results. Not only did he have high cholesterol and blood pressure, but he even had moderate liver fibrosis (scarring). He was two stones overweight for his height with a body mass index (BMI) bordering on obese. He also had high oestrogen levels, one of the main causes of the dreaded ‘man boobs’.

The overall picture of Jonathan’s health looked rather bleak – but did the challenge lead to any significant health changes?

The results

After 100 days without alcohol, Jonathan underwent our Health Peak assessment – a three-hour appointment of rigorous health tests to see how far he had come. And the results are fascinating.

  • Body fat reduction
  • With no alcohol consumed for 100 days (aside from a hiccup on day 56), Jonathan managed to reduce his body fat by nearly 20 per cent and shrink his waist by 5.5cms.

  • Improved aerobic fitness
  • What’s more, he managed to move out of the lowest aerobic fitness category. He moved up to moderate, with his heart and lungs working more efficiently than the average healthy person of his age.

  • Improved appearance
  • The muscles in his arms, legs and chest have all grown, while his beer belly has disappeared. A scan of Jonathan’s face revealed that his complexion has benefitted from going teetotal. The machine identified his skin as looking two years younger than at the start of the challenge.

Here’s what our experts had to say.

Oscar Martin – Bupa kidney and liver specialist

  • Liver regeneration
  • Interestingly, Jonathan’s enhanced liver fibrosis (ELF) test score dropped from a dangerous 8.5 to a normal 6.0 with fatty deposits in the liver also decreasing.

    Commenting on the improvements, Oscar said, “The FibroScan results are a very good proof of how a liver, damaged through lifestyle choices (in this case, alcohol) can recover. The liver stiffness is now pretty much normal, which is great news. This means that the blood flowing through the liver is doing so without resistance. This is important for the normal activity of the liver.”

  • Healthier liver
  • “Jonathan’s liver is now in very good shape. You could definitely say that it is healthier. And, if the definition of youth is being more active, more energetic, and more efficient (from a physiological point of view), you could say that Jonathan’s liver is younger.”

Juliet Hodges – Bupa behaviour change advisor

Jonathan’s incredible results were achieved largely through mental strength and willpower. According to Juliet, staying focused on the task at hand is the key to success.

“Being kind to yourself, having a positive, happy attitude and taking things one step at a time helps to make a personal challenge like giving up alcohol easier”, explains Juliet.

So, if you’re looking to go teetotal or simply want to reap the health benefits of drinking less alcohol, here are some tips.

  1. Make one major lifestyle change at a time

    Discussing lifestyle changes, Juliet states, “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 maintain.”

    With this in mind, try to keep things as simple as possible by focusing on a single challenge. When you’ve got used to the changes you’ve made (such as reducing your alcohol intake or going teetotal), then look at other areas of your life.

  2. Interrupt your automatic brain

    Throughout life, we all develop certain bad habits and routines such as having an alcoholic drink every night after work. In order to lead a healthier lifestyle, it’s important to interrupt the part of your brain that goes into autopilot by doing things differently.

    Juliet explains that “little things such as opening doors with your non-dominant hand for a couple of weeks” can help to rewire your brain and improve your willpower.

  3. Deal with urges head on

    Instead of avoiding the cause of cravings, we must face them head on through a process called urge surfing, says Juliet. “Urges will pass, whether you give into them or not. Instead of trying to suppress one when it appears, explore it. If you’re able to confront it head on and deal with it, you’re much less likely to give into temptation next time.”

  4. Be consistent in what you say and do

    “Consistency is key”, states Juliet. “One thing that has a big influence on our behaviour is saying what we’re going to do, because it’s embarrassing to go back on our word.” So, if you decide not to drink alcohol during the week, make sure you tell people your plan. Then you’re more likely to be consistent and stick to your guns.

It’s a wrap

Giving up alcohol can be hard, especially if you’re used to drinking on a regular basis. But, as Jonathan’s results proved, making this important lifestyle change can have significant health benefits that can potentially leave you looking and feeling a whole lot better.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health. You’ll receive a personalised lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a healthier, happier you. 

Sophie Mellor
Health and Lifestyle Editor

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