Why I don’t like Dry January

For the people that did dry January this year it must have been particularly challenging!

With the normal January blues added to by lockdowns and home-schooling, it must have been a real struggle not to reach for a drink I’m sure!

But despite this there are still plenty of people who have successfully done a whole month without touching a drop of alcohol, and fair play to you if you are one of them.

Clearly there are loads of positives associated with dry January, and different reasons why people do it. I know people who do it every year and it’s just become tradition for them. They tend to drink more than normal over the festive period, and by January they are ready to go cold turkey for a month.

Other people use it as a chance to kickstart their health and fitness goals for the year. They stop all alcohol, cut out any ‘junk food’ and embark on a gruelling workout regime. All designed to help them start the year feeling the best they can.

This can’t be a bad thing surely?

And of course it isn’t, I celebrate anyone attempting to make positive changes to their health, fitness and wellbeing.

But one thing I hate is the ‘all or nothing mindset’ in health and fitness. The idea that to make progress you have to be completely, 100% focused and motivated all of the time.

So many people wrongly believe this to be the case and this mindset actually holds them back from making lasting changes to their health.

Any changes they make are always short lived because that’s all that their motivation will allow. They’ll attempt dry January because it’s only a month. They’ll do a juice diet for a week because that seems do-able.

There’s always an end point, a point at which they know any changes they make will fall by the way side and they’ll go back to normal.

The odd person might do dry January, realise that actually they feel great without alcohol and decide to give it up for good. But most people will start February by making up for lost time. After spending the last month telling themselves it wasn’t allowed they are craving a drink more than ever. They finish dry January with a load of drinks and then go back to drinking as they usually would. With no lasting changes made to their drinking habits.

What I’d much rather see is ‘Small Changes: Big Impact January’

Admittedly it’s not as catchy but it would be far more effective in helping people make lasting changes to their health and fitness. Rather than relying on motivation, build structure and discipline through daily habits and routines.

I understand that part of the attraction of dry January is that initially people are sick of drinking, they want a break. The same goes for chocolate and crisps, they’ve had their fill.

So start January by making a conscious decision to reduce these things, but be okay with the fact that if in a week or two you feel like a glass of wine or bar of chocolate you haven’t failed. It doesn’t mean you’re destined to never get in shape or be fit and healthy.

It just makes you normal.

When we ditch the all or nothing mindset we can begin to make habit changes that are far more balanced.

Instead of eliminating alcohol for a whole month people could make a could maybe start by not drinking on week nights. Then deciding how much you’ll drink at weekends, perhaps limiting it to a bottle of wine for example. The great thing here is that you are far more in control of your actions, and not simply because you’ve banned it.

It’s absolutely possible to enjoy alcohol and foods you like whilst getting fitter, healthier and losing weight. But obviously the extent to which you do this is important. It’s just about striking a balance.

My concern is that lots of people who did dry January this year are now back to doing exactly what they did before. They felt great when they stopped drinking, and now they are drinking again they feel sluggish and demotivated. Just adding to that all or nothing mindset that alcohol is either good or bad.

Where as the reality is that during January, as well a not drinking at all, they ate more healthy food and got more exercise. Eating healthy foods and being active could and should be part of what you do all year round, not just in dry January when you’re super motivated.

For most people, achieving a balanced lifestyle where they look and feel how they want to is the goal. The way we do this is by establishing strong habits around regular exercise and a diet that prioritises healthy, nutritious foods. This then balances out having the odd takeaway, bar of chocolate, a few drinks at weekends.

At no point is any food or drink banned, it’s just build into a balanced lifestyle.

If this is the goal most people are working towards, then why not start as we mean to go on. Don’t ban alcohol or chocolate. First look at making healthy changes to your diet like increasing protein intake, including more fruit and veg, drinking more water. And then allow yourself the foods and drinks you enjoy in moderation.

For some people moderation might be a chocolate bar everyday, for others it might be a bottle of wine at the weekend. (In terms of numbers I recommend 80% of your calories coming from nutritious, wholesome sources and 20% from foods you enjoy).

You don’t have to drink every week but you know you can as part of this lifestyle without feeling any guilt or like you’re off track. Rather than banning alcohol every January, when you need a break from drinking so much, you just make a conscious decision to reduce your intake in order to feel better. Knowing that if at any point you do fancy a drink, that’s okay too.

I often say, ‘don’t start a diet you can’t see yourself finishing’.

Instead make small changes to your health and fitness you know you can sustain. And the beauty of any change we do make to our health and fitness is that it snowballs. No matter how small and insignificant it might seem, the impact can be huge when we do it consistently.

I’m not against positive changes to our health and fitness, I’m just against extreme short-term changes that don’t last and only add to the all or nothing mindset.