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Why Dry January Is the Perfect Time to Start Intermittent Fasting

by | Dec 30, 2020 | +STORIES

Dry January is an annual trend that has gained popularity in the U.S. in recent years. The abstaining month was started by the U.K. nonprofit Alcohol Change in 2013 and encourages people not to drink alcohol for the entire month.  Since January is a time when many embark on habit changes and health improvements, why not use this time that you’re going to abstain from alcohol to try intermittent fasting, too?

“I’m all for someone trying Dry January,” says Michelle Smith, certified addiction and mental health counselor,  host of the Sober Mom Squad digital community. “It’s helped a lot of people reassess their relationship with alcohol. The more opportunities there are to allow people to ‘test-drive sobriety,’ the better.”

 Since you’ll be giving up alcohol—which was most likely being consumed at night—use the break to experiment with time-restricted eating for additional health benefits.

Dabble in the ‘sober curious’ movement.

This month can be a great time to dabble in a sober curious lifestyle. The term “sober curious” was coined by Ruth Warrington, author of Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. It has a number of interpretations but it means one thinks about or consciously questions every opportunity they have to drink and makes a health-conscious decision by ditching alcohol, even if it’s temporary.

Being sober curious is simply collecting information and data, says Smith. “Like a food journal, Fitbit, or a scale, it’s a way to analyze behaviors, patterns, and habits. So many of your habits are made up of your daily routine which for many, is subconscious. After a few drinks, your body whispers in disapproval,” Smith says. “This often looks like dehydration, poor sleep, headache, and nausea. Many fail to listen since the temporary discomfort of the hangover is worth the instant gratification at the moment.”

Once you begin to see the benefits of alcohol-free living, drinking is never the same, says Smith. “When you commit to taking a break from alcohol you’ll notice longer and deeper sleep, lower calorie intake, improved mental clarity, increased energy, better weight management, and healthier eating habits,”  she says. “You can go to the gym, drink celery juice, and take your vitamins, but if you continue to drink a bottle of wine at night, you won’t be healthy.”

Here are a few reasons why you should try Dry January and intermittent fasting this first month of the new year.

You’ll sleep better.

Alcohol is the most common sleep aid—at least 20 percent of American adults rely on it to help to fall asleep[1]. But the truth is, drinking regularly—even moderate drinking—is much more likely to interfere with your sleep than to assist it, particularly if you already have sleep problems.

“The theory of cognitive dissonance is an excellent way to see if alcohol helps with sleep or relaxes you,” says Smith.  “Challenge your beliefs around drinking asking yourself if they’re really true.”

Getting enough sleep and quality sleep is crucial to our overall health and wellbeing. While you sleep, your body works to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health.

“Since deciding to live an alcohol-free life, my body has found its natural sleep rhythm again,” Smith says. “I wake up without an alarm, find it easier to maintain my weight, no longer need a caffeine boost, and I’m not craving junk food.”

Many people who follow an intermittent fasting plan and improve their eating routine while strengthening their circadian rhythm tend to report better sleep.

You’ll notice where you were using alcohol or food as a crutch.

With the emotional rollercoaster, we’ve come to know as COVID-19, the anxiety, fear, loneliness, and boredom coupled with isolation and virtual learning created the perfect storm of some people to find themselves drinking more alcohol during the pandemic.

“The pandemic is taking a toll on mothers, and it’s showing in alcohol consumption rates,” says Smith. “Alcohol looks like this ambiguous thing like it’s no big deal. But, when alcohol becomes a coping mechanism or stress reliever, it becomes more addictive neurochemically.”

This year, many coping methods fell to the wayside. Many healthy and productive outlets such as the gym, meetings, and church are temporarily closed. This definitely leaves us with minimal options and lots more unstructured time, Smith says. Some turned to alcohol, others jumped on the baking bandwagon (sourdough bread, anyone?), while some did a little too much consumption of both. Learn how to focus on healthy forms of self-care, like incorporating movement into your daily routine, working on a hobby, or “seeing” a friend on a virtual call.

When the urge to drink or eat during your fast strikes—pause. “Notice the urge without acting on it,” Smith suggests.

A craving lasts for typically 20 minutes. Distraction is key. Set a timer and call a friend, listen to a podcast, drink water, go for a brisk walk, listen to music, play with your kids, or journal.

One of the tools some people use is HALT, says Smith. “This handy acronym reminds us to take a moment (HALT) and ask ourselves if we are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Often we are thirsty for things we can’t drink—or hungry for things we can’t eat. It seems simple enough, but we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors, especially during times of uncertainty.”

 You’ll probably lose weight.

If you were used to drinking a glass or two of wine or beer at night or ending a long day with a Scotch, replacing that alcohol consumption with a zero-calorie beverage will add up to weight loss. If you used to snack while you had an adult drink, using this Dry January time to practice intermittent fasting will go a long way in saving you hundreds or thousands of calories each week. Intermitting fasting also helps regulate your blood sugar so you’ll be less likely to have intense cravings and energy crashes once it’s evened out. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can improve your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, according to the CDC.

Here are some tips to make Dry January and intermittent fasting work for you over the next 31 days.

Put temptations away.

While you might have a healthy eating resolution for 2021 and find that throwing out (or freezing) leftover holiday sweets and junk will help you stay on track, the same could be said for alcohol during Dry January. Put your favorite beverages out of sight so you won’t be tempted to imbibe out of habit or during a particularly stressful day if you see them in front of you.

Find delicious substitutes

Many dieters who are trying to cut out an evening habit like snacking find that replacing that negative habit with a positive one is easier than trying to eliminate it altogether[2]. If you’re following a time-restricted eating IF plan and start your fast after dinner, you may feel like you’re missing something as part of your evening wind-down routine.  Replace that alcoholic beverage you might have had with a nice hot herbal tea or zero-calorie seltzer. Use a special mug or glass and enjoy the drink while you’re watching TV, reading, scrolling through your phone or doing a hobby or craft.

Find support.

If you have a group friend or family chat that usually sends memes about drinking “mommy juice or some other humorous reference to alcohol to get through the day, you might want to let them know that you’re taking part in Dry January and you’ve given up alcohol for the month. Ask that they don’t share those gifs in texts or chats for the next 31 days so that you aren’t tempted.

“Many of the coping skills we need to get through the pandemic translate to early sobriety,” says Smith. “So why not knock out two birds with one stone? If you have fear around sharing your sober curiosity with others — now is the perfect time,” says Smith. Since going to bars and restaurants is limited in many states, the temptation and peer pressure works in your favor for staying in or avoiding social situations with alcohol this month.

“Technology makes it easier for individuals who have social anxiety to attend meetings or support groups without having to actually show up in person,” says Smith. “With online support groups, you can even turn off your video and simply watch from a safe, comfortable distance, which wasn’t an option before the pandemic. Finding like-minded people on a similar journey can make the transition a more pleasant experience.”

Be consistent.

Consistency is essential in sustaining a healthy lifestyle—whether you’re abstaining from food during a fast or alcohol for a month. Make a promise to yourself—and others if you need accountability—that you’re going to stick with your weight loss plan for the month, no ifs, and, or buts.

Tracking progress is an excellent way to stay accountable. This can be tracking your fasting hours with an app, counting steps on a Fitbit, keeping a food journal, using meal planning, counting alcohol-free days, or tracking water intake. “Tracking is not a form of punishment but rather a tool to collect information and evidence about what’s working and where you can improve,” says Smith.

Giving up any vice is difficult, acknowledges Smith.  “But when we’re already in an active state of mind it just makes sense to tie in all healthy practices together. It’s important not to feel deprived so finding alternatives is important. If you’re not satisfied, rebelling and binging is a typical response to deprivation. Track progress and create rewards for hitting milestones along your journey.”