What I've learnt by giving up alcohol for FebFast

When was the last time you had a break from booze and went alcohol-free for a month? How about even a week, or just a few days?

I can't remember the last time I went fizz-free for an extended period of time. And while I have never drunk to excess (upon reflection, I have no doubt I was using alcohol to self-medicate a few years back after a relationship breakdown), I'm keen to run a physiological experiment.

I want to see how I feel, think, work, relate and perform after banishing the beer and bubbles for a month.

There are four main reasons I'm sticking to the FebFast challenge:

I've increased my willpower

Research suggests that sticking to a goal in one area of your life can improve willpower in another area. I want to use this challenge as a research project on myself and to also recalibrate and reduce the amount of alcohol I have during the week (school nights).

I've upped my fitness game

I want to take my training to the next level and have begun doing weights with a personal trainer and started Performance Clinic Swim Squad on Thursday mornings, on top of my normal cycling and weekly yoga.

It's a regimen that requires early morning starts, so sleep is imperative and abstaining from alcohol has meant restful nights and is helping me get out of bed in the 'fives' feeling much sharper than normal.

I've reflected on my drinking 

I've seen lots of people in the corporate world, and also my personal life, become alcohol dependent, which affects not only the individual, but people close to them as well.

Going alcohol-free is a great way to show you can still be social and engage in conversations without the need for 'liquid confidence'.

I've supported a great cause

Febfast is a month-long health challenge and fundraiser, which aims to raise $1 million for disadvantaged youth facing a variety of issues including alcohol and other drug use. Over 12 per cent of people in Australia aged between 16 and 24 are affected by problematic substance abuse.

This problem is usually just one small symptom of more complex challenges like mental health issues and even homelessness. Signing up to go alcohol- (or sugar-) free and getting your friends, family and colleagues to support you can have a massive impact.

Grog guidelines

What is considered 'healthy consumption?'

Our drinking culture can often blur the lines of what's considered 'healthy consumption' when it comes to alcohol. Moderation can sometimes fly out the door on a Friday night when that gold fish bowl filled with wine arrives.

Australian guidelines recommend:

On any given day: no more than two standard drinks to reduce alcohol-related disease over a lifetime.

On a night out: no more than four standard drinks to reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol free days: a few alcohol free days (at least two) to give your body and liver a break.

It helps to understand what constitutes a standard drink, (10 grams of alcohol which is 100ml of wine, a middy or 285ml of beer, 45 ml of spirits) and learning how to moderate your intake by drinking a glass of water between wines or saying no to 'just one more' when you've reached your limit.

What are the impacts of too much alcohol?

Short-term impacts of alcohol include dehydration, poor sleep and decision making, as well as reduced libido (the thing many men consume to make us feel 'up' actually makes us go 'down').

Over time the effects of alcohol include weight gain (hello beer gut), liver damage, and increased risk of heart disease and some cancers.

A study by Keele University in 2013 showed hangovers significantly reduced feelings of alertness, reduced feelings of calmness, impaired performance on spatial working memory and numerical working memory, as well as significantly slower reaction times on attention and response inhibition.

But we don't need the nerdy academics to answer this question right? Too much alcohol makes you feel crap – plain and simple.

And the effects extend beyond the physical as well, with other research pointing to lowered mood and increased anxiety during a hangover.

Following FebFast

The idea is simple: abstain from alcohol or sugar for the entire month and raise money through your online fundraising page.

You can do it by yourself, or get friends or family involved and register as a team. But don't stress if you've got your brother's wedding or romantic plans for Valentines Day, you can buy a time-out pass.

How to go fizz-free

Remove alcohol from your cupboards and fridge

There is a far less temptation is you don't have any stocks at home. I put the beers in my fridge into the laundry and gave a good friend three bottles of wine so the cupboard was bare.

Organise a fitness catch-up

Rather than meeting friends over beers and bubbles on a Friday night, meet your friends at the gym, or go for a walk or an ocean swim.

Choose your friends

I have a number of friends whom I adore, but I'm going to avoid them as much as I can this month because I know it's going to tempt me to break the ban when I catch up with them (Sorry Day Spa Dave and Big Wow, but I'll see you in March).

Be assertive and say no

Ask yourself why you decided to do this challenge in the first place before giving in to temptation. If you reinforce the benefits, and educate those around you about the cause, they will be less likely to pester and respect your humble 'no thank you' when the wine gets passed around.

Join FebFast

Make yourself accountable and look at the option of joining a corporate group. The more people you tell, the more you're likely to stick to the plan.

Are you doing FebFast? Tell us about your experience so far in the comments section. 

Workplace performance expert Andrew May has been helping his white-collar clients achieve both physical and mental gains for decades, and has learned a trick or 20 - plus a few of the pitfalls - along the way.

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

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