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Are you having a “dry January”?

9th January 2014

red-wineLots of people decide to give up alcohol during January as one of their new year’s resolutions. People talk about “detoxing”, or making up for the excesses of the Christmas season.

We think anything that makes you think about how much alcohol you drink is a good thing. If trying to give up entirely for a month means you change your habits and drink less throughout the rest of the year, then that’s great.

Our Health Trainers see lots of clients who would like to stop drinking as much. The reasons vary; most know it will help them to lose weight, or have a vague idea that it’s not healthy. But alcohol can be a lot more dangerous than that, as Cancer Research UK explains in their Healthy Living pages:

Alcohol and cancer

  • There is no doubt that alcohol can cause seven types of cancer
  • The more we cut down on alcohol, the more we reduce the risk of cancer
  • Overall, the risk of developing cancer is smaller if you stay within the government guidelines, about one standard drink a day for women or two for men
  • You don’t need to be drunk to increase the risk
  • Drinking and smoking together are even worse for you.
  • Not everyone who drinks will develop cancer. But on the whole, scientists have found that some cancers are more common in people who drink more alcohol than others.
  • Every year, alcohol causes around 4% of cancers in the UK, around 12,500 cases.

(Read more)

Health Trainers will often recommend that someone reduces their alcohol intake as part of their healthier lifestyle changes. They explain the NHS guidelines for alcohol intake and discuss how drinking can lead to serious illnesses like cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.

But, as our Health Trainers explained in our post The Smoking Challenge, we have to make sure that clients are ready for change – so they will often discuss it for a while before anything happens. Like smoking, drinking will often be tackled after the client has made wider lifestyle changes, and it happens as part of that longer “chain reaction”.

In these statements from clients, you can see how people are regularly reminded – albeit gently – of the need to cut down, and how they react to that.

John* said:

I came to see the trainer as I wanted some help to lose weight. He asked me to eat breakfast each day, to cut out my snacks and microwave meals, and cut down on my seven days drinking. I am also doing some food diary sheets. Feel OK about the changes as I know I have to do this.

Health Trainers will try lots of techniques to persuade people to cut down on their alcohol intake. For Marie*, a reminder of the number of calories has been useful:

I have been to see my trainer today, he was pleased with my weight loss, but not my alcohol or smoking. He has given me some facts today on calories in drink, which was scary, and asked me to reduce my smoking, as I am not ready to quit smoking yet. He told me the dangers and I know its bad for me. I will cut down though… we’ll see in four weeks time.

Regular Health Trainer appointments have given Christine* a greater awareness of how much she drinks:

It’s really helped coming here and going through diet and alcohol – it has made me really think about the drink as I’m now more aware of units and calories. At home I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

Sophie* is one of our younger clients:

I was really feeling low a month ago. I saw my nurse and she asked me what was wrong, My weight is getting me down so I was sent to the Health Trainer. He advised me to make some changes from what I was eating, my routine was all over the place. Now my routine is good and I have got a goal each month. Next is to cut back by a bottle of wine a week, and I am going to join a slimming class. Looking forward to this.

After just a month, Sophie said:

I am happy today. I lost a stone in weight. I have more energy now. My drinking has also changed. Thanks for all your confidence building.

James* is ready to make changes:

I want help to change my health around, I am a heavy drinker and smoker, don’t eat healthy at all.I have an an hour with my trainer this morning feel much happier now as he as made an appointment for me to see about quit smoking, And given me some goals around my food and drinking.

Often we will signpost heavy drinkers to specialist organisations for help. Places like Aquarius and Swanswell offer brilliant information and support for those who need some extra help to cut down, or to stop drinking altogether.

Cancer Research UK is running a campaign that supports people to have a “dry January” AND raise money at the same time. They’re calling it a Dryathlon™ and loads of people are joining in all over the UK.

If you’d like to get involved, there’s still just about time to take part in Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon™:

There’s still time to become a Dryathlete™ and give up alcohol for the rest of January. Clear your head, feel fitter, save money and raise funds to help beat cancer sooner. Register by 12th January to get your Dryathlete™ training pack and JustGiving fundraising page.

Visit the Cancer Research UK Dryathlon™ website for more information and to register.

*names have been changed

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