I was planning to do Dry July this year, but changed my mind and I don’t regret it one bit.
I realise this is an unusual position for someone who works as a lifestyle health editor to take, so I will explain.
When someone handed me a glass of champagne, Dry July was over.Credit:iStock
First, let me preface it by saying that voices who normalise sobriety are important and we need to keep hearing them. To stop drinking – for a month, a year or forever – can endow us with an array of mental and physical health benefits and remind us that we don’t need a drink to handle life or have fun. As well as being an honourable thing to do, it is a hard thing in a culture that is far too oriented around alcohol as our go-to for celebrating, grieving and everything in between.
With that being said, 15 years as a health writer has taught me a thing or two. I have tried all manner of crazy things in that time, had more colonics than my nether regions would have liked, had extended periods of time without drinking alcohol and cleansed within an inch of my life. Literally, that time, dazed and confused following an extended fast, I was hit by a car, and was lucky to end up in hospital with only minor injuries.
In short, I’ve done extremes in the name of health. And I’ve learned that sometimes the pendulum does need to swing to an extreme in order to find a happy medium or to shock us out of a bad habit. Stopping something for a period of time is an effective way to get perspective on and redefine our relationship with ourselves, our habits and our health.
But, I’ve also learned that health and wellbeing are more often about moderation and learning to treat ourselves with gentleness and compassion.
We can become so rigid about eating healthy foods that it damages our wellbeing. In fact, we can become so pious, fanatical even, about any health pursuit that it ultimately harms our health and wellbeing.
There are other things we pursue with full knowledge that they do not benefit our physical health but fulfil something else in us. I eat chocolate not because I am convinced by shoddy science suggesting it’s good for me, but because it gives me pleasure. Similarly, I don’t drink a glass of red wine because I believe the questionable science around its antioxidants and supposed health benefits, but because I find it a pleasure. And pleasure, when it’s in its place – which in the case of alcohol, for me means not every night or even most nights and means drinking in moderation – is a significant part of wellbeing. Our wellbeing, of course, is made up of various components including physical, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational and intellectual.
Wellbeing and physical health is a different cocktail of ingredients for everyone. Learning what that is for us, and also realising that it can shape shift over time, is something we all must do.
I am someone prone to extremes, so finding health has largely been about finding balance – the dance between adherence and freedom, doing what is right and doing what is pleasurable, understanding that what is right for the body and what is right for the mind can be the same things but can be different branches of the same tree – one that ultimately provides us with nourishment in different forms. Flexibility and learning to listen to our own cues, our own intuition, can be as powerful for our health as following rules about what is right for our health.
I do many things because I know they are good for me and because I am the custodian of the body l’ve been given and I want to care for it. For the most part, my diet is exceptionally healthy, movement is an integral part of my life, I prioritise sleep, and am proactive in managing my stress levels. I take my health but not myself seriously.
But, I’ve also come to realise that we can reset ourselves and care for our health in a variety of ways. Fasting and abstinence are some of these ways – and can certainly be pathways to moderation or to recognising that something we once did no longer serves us – but are not limited to these ways.
So for all those ditching their drinks in the name of better health, charity, weight loss or a reset, I salute you.
When I decided, very informally and somewhat noncommittal, it was in part because time off booze is never a bad thing, but mainly it was because I’m training for a big physical challenge and thought: “why not?”
Eight days into Dry July, I was offered a nice glass of champagne by someone I hadn’t seen for months. I decided it was OK. It was OK to be imperfect in a pursuit and it was OK to change my mind. And so I said “yes” and I saluted to our health.
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