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Turns out, my definition of “moderate drinking” was completely wrong.

Elizabeth Laseter
June 15, 2018

I’ve rarely met a drink that I didn’t like. Hand me a crisp, refreshing Pilsner, a glass of dry Bordeaux, or a pleasantly bitter aperol spritz—and I’ll savor each and every sip. But I’ve never considered myself someone who drinks too much.

Even the Mediterranean Diet encourages the occasional glass of red wine for good heart health, and the world’s oldest man (who probably followed the Mediterranean Diet) attributed his 133 years of age to a diet of vegetables and wine. One fairly recent study even suggests that moderate amounts of wine may stave off Alzheimer's disease.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines moderate drinking for women as seven drinks a week, and no more than three drinks on any given day. For the most part, I try to stick to this—but there are plenty of nights where I’ll pour myself an extra glass of wine. Besides, I exercise daily, I eat a balanced diet, and I get plenty of sleep—so going over just a little bit should be okay for me, right?

Well, maybe not. A major new study conducted by the University of Cambridge found that consuming more than five drinks a week can actually increase your chance of mortality from cardiovascular disease (you can read more about the study here). Some sources, including this article in the Guardian, are even asserting now that drinking is just as harmful as smoking.

The University of Cambridge study is noteworthy because it’s among the first to point out that even moderate drinking may be destructive to our health. For a beer lover/wino like me, that’s pretty disheartening news. But it did make me consider my current consumption. It’s not like I was getting smashed every night, but even as a moderate drinker, could I be drinking too much?

Here at Cooking Light, we often talk about the best low-calorie beers, boxed wine, and even alcoholic seltzers. But we don’t often talk about the other side of the spectrum—not drinking.

It turns out, talking about how not to drink when you’ve never done it before is pretty damn difficult. So, to truly understand how to drink less, I decided to take a hard reset—10 days of complete abstinence from alcohol. No beer, no wine, no liquor.  

I went about the week as I normally would, whether it was meeting friends at a bar or enjoying a night at home. During these 10 days, I tore through two 12-packs of LaCroix, tried a non-alcoholic beer for the first (and last) time, and discovered that mocktails are actually really, really delicious.  

So, now that this is said and done, will I still continue to drink? Yes—but with every sip, I’ll strive to be more mindful about my long-term health. But most importantly of all is how I’ll define moderate drinking going forward. Do I really need to have two (or more) glasses of wine every night? No, I don’t. LaCroix is perfectly fine.

Below, find out the insights I gained after cutting out alcohol for 10 days. I hope that these lessons inspire you to improve one small thing in your diet—whether it’s alcohol, added sugar, or diet soda. With a little mental strength, creativity, and support from friends or family, you can break a bad habit.     

Give every drink you have a purpose.

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Temporarily eliminating something you love from your diet can help you gain a greater appreciation of it. For me, this exact thing happened with alcohol. Instead of pouring yourself a glass of wine just because, give every drink a purpose. Whether it’s sipping a fruity pinot noir with roasted chicken, or catching up with a friend over your favorite IPA, being more mindful about when you’re drinking will ultimately help you keep your intake in check.

Out of sight, out of mind.

During the first night of my 10-day endeavor, I couldn’t stop staring at the bright red Bota Box container on my kitchen counter. Finally, it hit me—I craved a glass of wine because it was right in front of me. When I stored the box inside my cabinet, I thought about it much less. Eliminating visual reminders of alcohol is an easy way to curb your cravings at home. Store your wine or liquor in an area that you don’t easily see, like inside a cabinet or in a separate fridge.

Mocktails are actually just as delicious as cocktails.

Jennifer Causey

A few days in, a wine-loving friend invited me over for dinner. When I told her I wasn’t able to drink this time, she was surprisingly excited. “Have you ever had a mocktail?” she asked. Sure, I had heard of mocktails (we have tons of mocktail recipes on Cooking Light), but I’d never actually made one.

My friend keeps a running supply of homemade shrubs—or drinking vinegars—in her fridge, which she suggested as a mocktail base. Here’s a loose rendition of her concoction: crushed ice, a blackberry-mint shrub she’d recently made, Angostura bitters, soda water, and a squeeze of lime. In a word, WOW. Crisp, bright, and complex, this mocktail was mind-blowingly good. (Okay, I realize that bitters contain trace amounts of alcohol—but we only used a few drops!)

You can still go out and still have fun.

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Taking the focus off the booze can help you hone in on why you’re out in the first place—to spend time with friends. On top of that, most bars and breweries these days offer plenty of ways to entertain yourself if you're not drinking, whether it’s cornhole or jumbo-size Jenga.

When I ventured out with a few girlfriends on Friday night, I was thrilled to find a bar with an old school Pac-Man machine. I played a few rounds while I sipped on my go-to non-alcoholic drink, seltzer water and lime. I decided to try something different for drink number two—a non-alcoholic beer from Guinness called Kaliber. This amber-colored “beer” looked promising, but the flavor (very malty, zero hops) was pretty underwhelming.

I reverted back to seltzer and lime, caught up with my friends, and played about five more rounds of Pac-Man. Honestly, it was a spectacular night.   

You will save money.

During my Friday night out, I calculated how much I would have spent if I was drinking beer. For two seltzers with lime and one gag-worthy root beer, my total tab was about five dollars. For three beers, it probably would have been closer to $25—before the tip! You really can’t argue with that. However, because my bill was so low, and because it felt like the right thing to do, I left a very generous tip for the bartender.

You’ll save a ton of calories, too.

I also calculated roughly how many calories I saved by not drinking beer on Friday. I normally order craft beer—which can contain over 300 calories per glass. For the three beers I would have had that night, I’d be looking at an intake of nearly 1000 calories! That’s almost half of my daily allotted calories.    

You’ll be SO much more productive in the morning.

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I’ll admit, the greatest part about going out to a bar sober on a Friday night was not waking up with a hangover the next morning. I typically go for a long run pretty early on Saturdays to beat the heat. This week, I woke up hydrated and rested—both of which helped get me through the final tough miles of the run. On top of that, I cleaned my entire apartment, did my laundry, and planned a trip—all before noon!

The bottom line: There are a lot of positives to going sober, even just for a few days. Will I give up my IPAs or occasional glass of vino? Probably not. But I’m definitely going to be more mindful of how I drink—and  how much I drink.