Fighting Words is a column in which writers rub you the wrong way with their unpopular but well-argued opinions on fitness, health, nutrition, what have you. Got something to get off your chest? Send your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. It comes around like clockwork: As soon as January 1 arrives, there's this instinctual pull that happens. I can't explain why it creeps up, but no matter how stupid you think resolutions are, it's likely you still try to set one. (Call it a goal if you want, but at the end of the day it's the same freaking thing.) And it tempts you to give up stuff that you really, really like—cheese, dessert, binge-watching The OA—because some killjoy has convinced us that these things are different limbs of the same devil.
Another evil entity? Booze, apparently. Because every single time the first month of the year hits, my entire newsfeed—be it on Facebook, Instagram, even goddamn Twitter—is filled with people announcing their Dry January status.
Where did this phenomenon even come from? Blame the Brits. While it was allegedly started by a student back in the 1990s (and probably around well before that), in 2011 Emily Robinson ditched booze while training for a half-marathon, and people were intrigued by the act. So she did it again the next year, and talked about it even more. Then, in 2013 she—along with Alcohol Concern, the company she worked for—held their first Dry January campaign. The next year they trademarked the term, and that's when it officially became a thing. Sure enough, a bunch of "healthy living bloggers" and media (yeah, myself included) hopped on board, and all of a sudden it's the biggest health fad since gluten-free bread.
And listen, I get it: I too was intrigued by the purported health benefits of giving up alcohol for a month. Better sleep, overeating less often, a healthier liver, improved athletic performance. All good things in my book. But there's just one problem: Unless you're half in the bag on a regular basis, those benefits probably aren't going to stick, says Donald Hensrud, associate professor of nutrition and preventive medicine and director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.
"The more you drink, the more you may benefit [from Dry January]," he says. "In general, if someone is drinking a lot as their baseline, even a temporary hiatus means they'll benefit…But if someone drinks a small amount—big deal. It doesn't really make a difference if they quit for a month; it's not going to influence them long-term."
"Long-term" is the part you want to highlight, Hensrud notes. Because, sure, you can still experience health benefits within the month that you've stopped drinking Olivia Pope-sized servings of wine. I did. But they're not going to stick around if you go right back to your normal drinking habits as soon as you flip the calendar page to February.
Not to mention that, hello, having a drink now and then is fun. And relaxing. And good for your health. Research says so: One study from 2016 found that drinking responsibly literally makes you happier. Another found that it can help you solve creative problems faster. Hensrud says that an occasional drink can lower your risk of heart disease and your risk of dying. Come on—it doesn't get much better than a decreased risk of death.
And really, let's be honest: The real reason you're doing Dry January is for the attention. And hey, I'm not judging. In today's social media-addicted society, I get just as much of a thrill over a double-tap as the next girl. And when you post that sick yoga pose instead of a #ThirstyThursday 'gram, there's that undeniable feeling of smug happiness that flows through you as the hearts tally higher and higher.
But the truth is that truly nobody gives a shit whether or not you're tossing back a shot. According to a 5,000-person Heineken survey of 21- to 35-year-olds, 75 percent of people limit how much they're drinking themselves, and about half wouldn't make fun of you if you decide not to drink. (So the only reason for that surge of Insta likes is because yoga poses actually look cooler than a mug of beer in dark lighting on a grainy table.)
At the end of the day, if you're going to pause your brew festivities, I have two things to say: 1) Make sure you're remembering the events in January that are more palatable with a drink in hand—Super Bowl playoffs, the return of The Bachelor, and the Presidential Inauguration. 2) Consider giving up frat-worthy amounts of hard liquor and instituting a more moderate long-term approach. Because that would be worthwhile.
"The usual pattern of alcohol use is gradual escalation…so if you notice you're drinking more than you used to and Dry January helps give you that reality check, then that's a good thing," Hensrud says. "Rather than call it out and go for a whole month of no booze though, you could just give up your nightly glass of wine a few times each month to check in with yourself."
Basically, you do you. If Dry January is really your thing, I won't stand in your way. But I will scroll past your post about it while moderately enjoying the beer of the month club my mom gifted me (err, my husband) for Christmas. Cheers!
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