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Do you drink more than you think you do?

If you’re like me, over the summer holidays you may have slipped into an easy habit of drinking alcohol every day… that cheeky glass of wine at 4pm, maybe a beer over lunch in the sun.

This is an enjoyable holiday habit, and once we get back to work and regular life, it can be all too easy to keep it up. The great weather lately also makes for more social occasions and more opportunities for drinking and celebrating outside.

Even if it’s just a couple of drinks a day, though, this habit can have unwanted consequences. Most of us are aware that alcohol increases our risk of a range of diseases, from cancer to high blood pressure. And yes, while there are also studies that show moderate drinking can have health benefits, the key there is the ‘moderate’ part. Many of us drink more than is healthy, and far more than we need to so that we end up tipping the scales from the ‘healthy’ to the ‘unhealthy’ side of the ledger.

I was fascinated to read recently about studies and surveys which found people who exercise more tend to drink more – perhaps not a trend you might imagine – and that women who are more educated also tend to drink more, and more regularly. Are these women using alcohol to de-stress? Do they have more social opportunities for drinking? More disposable income to spend on alcohol? The answers are not clear, but it certainly made me stop and think.

February is a good time to take stock, and have a look at the role alcohol plays in our lives. It’s what I’m doing right now as I take part in FebFast. This initiative, run by the NZ Drug Foundation, is where people give up alcohol for the month of February, to give their bodies a break and to raise money in the process for the Foundation’s education programmes for young people. I’m an ambassador for FebFast this year. FebFast is not about giving up alcohol permanently, but it is a great opportunity to take a break and perhaps reshape how we use alcohol in the future.

I’m enjoying this challenge so far. I don’t consider myself a big drinker, but I am, like those women in the study, a regular drinker. I’ve definitely been known to turn to wine to de-stress, and alcohol is very tied to food, for me. It is an interesting rethink to eat a delicious meal without the accompanying delicious glass (or two) of wine. But the benefits are hard to ignore.

Apart from feeling more alert, sleeping better and the intangible but important disease-fighting benefits, a big incentive to drink less for many people is the weight factor. Alcoholic drinks are packed with kilojoules; alcohol being second in energy density only to fat. Consuming three 180ml glasses of red wine in the evening adds nearly 2000kJ to your day — that’s the equivalent of eating nearly seven slices of white bread. Three 330ml bottles of lager have around 1500kJ — the equivalent of more than five slices of white bread — and three double gins with standard tonic a whopping 2200kJ — nearly eight slices of white bread. I’m a normal weight, but before the start of FebFast I weighed and measured myself, something I hardly ever do. As it happens, it looks like I have put on a couple of kilos over the summer. I’m going to be interested to see if giving up all those white bread equivalents does anything to those numbers! I’ll let you know how I go (I’ll post regular updates on Facebook and Twitter) and in the meantime, if you’d like to know more about FebFast, or you’d like to sponsor me (all donations gratefully accepted) go to www.febfast.org.nz.

Bonus link! Click here for HFG's ‘How many kJs are in alcoholic drinks’ poster to see how many slices of bread your drinks are worth.

First published: Feb 2013



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