Health, Vanity, and Friendship: Dry Lent

I gave up drinking "for Lent" this year.  Here's why, what I learned, and why you too might consider abstinence - from alcohol, that is.

First thing's first: though I celebrate Easter in that "let's hide eggs and eat jelly beans" sort of way, I'm not a practicing Christian.  Baptized Roman Catholic, my forced devotion to religion - which I fought every step of the way - ended at my 8th grade confirmation.  

So why would I, the mother of a toddler who was recently weaned, voluntarily sacrifice wine (and sake, and vodka, and...) for forty days?  The reasons just sort of all came together around the same time.  

First, there was a sketchy mammogram that brought to mind the recent review in Addiction, which concluded:

"There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others. Current estimates suggest that alcohol-attributable cancers at these sites make up 5.8% of all cancer deaths world-wide. Confirmation of specific biological mechanisms by which alcohol increases the incidence of each type of cancer is not required to infer that alcohol is a cause."

Before we go all alarmist, read here, but if you have cancer in your family, this sort of peer-reviewed research indeed feels like cause for alarm.  My family history, as well as the rates of breast cancer in both the city and county in which I reside, weigh heavily on my psyche.  

Then a text came in from my dear friend Freida, a nutrition scientist, craft cocktail connoisseur, and general myth-buster.  When I need a hard edit, I turn to Freida.  Question about the pros and cons of a certain Amaro?  She's my go-to.  And of course there's our endless text thread in which we vent general exasperation with pseudo-science.  Any-who, the message read something like this:

ME: Any fun plans this weekend?

F: Just putting on the finishing touches for our Mardi Gras party.

This massive Mardi Gras bash (complete with George Michael and Prince prayer candles as door prizes, be still my beating heart) was the precursor to an annual tradition for my new friend: dry Lent.  I have a friend who occasionally gives up Grey Goose (not other vodkas) or the olives in his martinis (not the actual cocktail) for forty days in the name of the Lord, but no one who abstains completely for the sole purpose of Lent.  It sounded like a challenge.  

The final factor?  A round of antibiotics that coincided right around Fat Tuesday.  So there it was.  I officially kicked off my dry "Lent" five days late, but I stuck with it right up until Easter Sunday eve.  It was painless, and dare I say enjoyable.  Here are some takeaways:

WEIGHT LOSS

Dropping the "LBs" wasn't a motivating factor for me, but there's a reason non-practicing gentiles turn to dry Lent: the timing is right for the onset of swimsuit season.  Is it entirely possible that you'll lose weight?  Sure.  Depending on what you normally drink and how often. Let's take a proper glass of red wine, for example, which weighs in at 125 calories per five ounce pour.  125 x 40 days = 5000 calories.  Divide that by 3500 calories per pound of fat, and you'd theoretically lose 1.4 pounds during Lent, not controlling for other factors.  But what ABOUT those other factors?  They can tip the scale either way, as I'll explain below.

DISCRETIONARY CALORIES

cupcakes.jpg

An attitude of entitlement and compensation can quickly lead to excess calories - perhaps even more than the calories you cut from the alcohol.  Or...does removing the beer goggles equate to less snacking, and therefor reduced calorie intake?  I think any woman will tell you that it depends on the day, and alcohol isn't the only factor determining whether or not we'll partake in pastry or reach for a plate of french fries.  About halfway through my experiment I noticed:

-Sweets tasted ESPECIALLY sweet.  The Magnolia chocolate buttercream cupcake I once swooned over now made me wince after a few bites.  Same went for Nutella straight out of the jar. 

-A greater sense of control over my food choice.  I'm not one to restrict ANY foods (check the name of this site), but I ate less during and after dinner when booze wasn't part of the equation.  

SLEEP

This is a double-edged sword: that night cap may help you fall asleep, but can also interfere with settling into deep (REM) sleep.  My mom brain gets busy at night, so falling asleep was a bit more challenging at first, and it took a good two weeks for that deep sleep to kick in.  Now I utilize other tried-and-true solutions to cut through the mental noise and get to sleep, like making a to-do list before bed, and reading actual books - in paper form, not on a device.  

SKIN

Are dark circles the final frontier for the body positivity movement?  That's a question for another post, but I will tell you they're the bane of my existence, and no amount of luxury eye cream will eradicate them.  Could eliminating my one measly alcoholic drink per day be the solution?  Since mine are hereditary, the answer is a resounding no.  Regardless, any drinking at all makes me look hammered.  It's just a reality of the dehydrating effects of alcohol combined with the fact I'm no longer in my twenties.  Overall my complexion appears brighter and more hydrated, which is a plus.  Again, it's impossible to isolate every factor in real life - a new serum may have contributed to this improvement.

SOCIAL LIFE

My husband jokingly claims I've "gone all puritanical" on him, but I'm fine with him drinking and he's fine with me not.  I can't imagine taking a vacation and staying completely dry, and I can totally envision enjoying a couple of drinks at our favorite bar over the summer, but I can enjoy the NBA Playoffs at home without a drink in hand (if the Knicks were actually in them, I might say otherwise).  Roughly half of my closest friends don't drink alcohol at all, and those who do couldn't give a hoot about my lack of alcohol consumption.  PSA: if someone is uncomfortable with you NOT drinking, THEY might be the one with a problem.

IN CONCLUSION...

Easter Sunday involved mimosas, a glass of sangria, and me needing a nap after dinner because I felt like garbage.  I've since had a glass of sake that didn't taste as good as I'd remembered. Complete abstinence seems a bit radical, but I may morph into a "special occasion" drinker. Nixing the sauce got me wondering what else I could eliminate: is coffee on the chopping block?  What about sugar?  Freida brought me back to my senses: "Hell no.  I'm never giving up food groups or ingredients."  Wiser words have never been spoken.  I'm already looking forward to tomorrow morning's cappuccino.  

Enjoy your food.  Enjoy your life!

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