We love studies like this one that affirm the positive effects of our nightly glass or two of wine, but, as you’re likely well aware, there are absolutely not-so-positive results that come with drinking. We’re talking weight gain (especially in the abdominal area, which is particularly dangerous), disrupted sleep, dull skin… the list goes on. And while we believe in “everything in moderation,” taking a break from alcohol may be exactly what you need in order to reach your health and fitness goals.
“Giving up alcohol does usually result in weight loss, particularly around the waistline,” says Parsley Health San Francisco Medical Director Dr. Tiffany Lester. “This type of weight gain can be the most impactful on our health given that increased waist circumference is one risk factor for heart disease.” She says that reducing visceral fat (the fat that lies underneath our abdominal muscles and surrounds our internal organs) is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
Whatever your personal reasons for cutting back on alcohol, there are many benefits to be gained from going sober. Here, Dr. Lester walks us through the changes that happen in your body when you cut out alcohol for a month.
How Giving Up Alcohol Affects Your Body
The First Week: Cravings
"You may experience cravings for sugar and carbs as the dopamine centers in your brain look for that reward response. Normally when we drink alcohol, our self-confidence increases and inhibitions lower due to the release of dopamine. These cravings can be eliminated or drastically decreased by adding in healthy fats (coconut oil, nuts, avocado) and fermented foods (kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut). Many people also use alcohol as a stress reliever, and it has become a habit to have a glass of wine with dinner or grab drinks with friends after work. Research says that it takes about 21 days to develop a new habit. To succeed, I recommend scheduling activities that will disrupt your usual routine during the first week like working out or visiting that new exhibit at the museum."
The Second Week: Better Sleep And Weight Loss
"Around this point most people start to sleep better. Alcohol is a major disruptor to sleep quality, particularly REM stage of sleep. While alcohol does allow people to fall asleep quicker, it shortens REM stage sleep, which is the restorative stage. Without the disruption of alcohol, I have seen patients wake up fully energized, without needing caffeine!"
It also takes around two weeks to notice significant weight loss.
Four Weeks: Brighter Skin And Eyes
"At this point, the habit of not drinking alcohol has set in and cravings have completely dissipated. I encourage my patients to have blood work done to check certain markers like cholesterol, fasting glucose and liver enzymes so they have tangible evidence of the metabolic changes that have occurred in their body. This makes a powerful statement of the negative effects alcohol can have on the body long-term."
She also says it takes around four weeks for people to notice that your eyes and skin are brighter.
"Be honest with your friends or coworkers about why you are eliminating alcohol. Being clear with your 'why' will increase your own resolve for this significant lifestyle change, and could even inspire others to do the same. If you are at a networking event and don't want to explain this personal decision, I recommend ordering a seltzer water with a slice of lemon to sip on throughout the night."