As New Year rolls around, doing a Dry January gives you an opportunity to hit reset on your health habits, feel good going in to next year, and take control of your wellbeing.
While it’s easy to draw up a list of resolutions or goals (that are usually forgotten about within a couple of weeks), choosing to stay sober and do a Dry January is something that you take immediate action with, it only lasts 31 days – so is easy to complete -, and is a tangible goal that just requires a little willpower every day.
Doing a Dry January fosters other healthy habits, and can act as a nice reset after the excesses of the festive period.
In other words, it’s the perfect way to kick off the New Year.
In this post, we’re going to walk through:
- Our guide to acing your Dry January
- A few interesting statistics on January
- The benefits of doing a Dry January
- Some tips for making sure you don’t fall off the wagon!
Let’s jump in!
What Is Dry January?
Dry January, just like Sober October, means giving up drinking alcohol for the month of January.
The Dry January movement is fairly recent – it was launched by Alcohol Change UK in 2013 with 4,000 people signing up; within 7 years, this had grown to 4 million. The campaign actually started when Emily Robinson, one of the directors of Alcohol Concern, was training for a half marathon and wanted to abstain from alcohol to help her prepare.
More recently, the Dry January concept has spread from the UK to other countries across the globe, particularly France and Switzerland.
Some people choose to add on other health and fitness challenges, but the core principle is simple – no booze for 31 days.
And it turns out taking an extended break from booze can dramatically improve your health; both body and mind.
As the countdown to the New Year begins, we make resolutions and hope to improve ourselves in a measurable way. Improvement can mean acquiring a new skill, reading more, or conquering a lofty challenge. Running a marathon, for instance. But, one of the most popular resolutions is to improve our health: exercising more, eating healthier, drinking less.
A study led by Sussex psychologist Richard de Visser had over 800 people participate in Dry January 2018.
Research from that study showed that the majority of participants noticed dramatic impacts on their physical health: 54% self-reported better skin, 58% lost weight, 67% had more energy, 71% slept better and 70% reported generally improved health.
The Benefits Of Doing A Dry January
1. Better Skin
To better understand how quitting drinking can improve your skin, we need to examine what happens in the body when we drink.
Most of us know that we have to urinate more frequently when we are drinking, this is because alcohol acts as a diuretic, meaning it increases the production of urine.
Frequent urination means we can become dehydrated, leading to damaged skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
2. Weight Loss
While you shouldn’t count on losing weight from cutting out alcohol, abstinence can potentially lead to weight loss. A domestic light beer in my fridge right now contains 100 calories, but heartier beers can contain more than 200 calories. Multiply that by two or three drinks and it’s as if you have eaten a meal.
Wine, beer and mixed drinks also contain sugar, which the body eventually stores as fat.
Not only that, but boozing is often combined with eating more and being less active. The trickle-down effects of cutting out booze will help you shed those pounds.
3. Sleep Better
When we get a good night’s sleep we wake up revitalized, and will probably have more energy throughout the day. But, how does drinking alcohol impact our sleep?
Alcohol is deceptive in more ways than one. While it’s easier to fall asleep after drinking, as alcohol induces sleep, it also disrupts and reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, according to health writer Denise Mann.
REM sleep is vital because it is the stage when people dream and it is generally considered to be restorative. When someone doesn’t get enough REM sleep, they can feel drowsy during the day and may notice a lack of concentration.
4. Mental Health Boosts And Healthy Habit Fostering
Taking a break from alcohol can also have a positive impact on mental health, including helping us examine why we drink in the first place. Remember the study I mentioned before about the 800 people who tried Dry January in 2018? The self-reported changes on their mental health during the dry month are even more surprising than the changes regarding physical health.
The study mentioned earlier showed that:
- 93% of participants had a sense of achievement after completing the month,
- 82% thought more deeply about their relationship with alcohol,
- 80% felt more in control of their drinking,
- 76% learned more about why they drink,
- and 71% realized they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves.
The impact on mental health and self-examination the participants experienced while taking a dry month are, to me, the most profound results from the study.
After the dry month was over, the participants didn’t go on a week-long binge like some might expect, instead, they drank less per week on average.
Seven months after the study concluded, participants reported they were drinking an average of one day less per week.
Improve Your Running With Dry January
As your general health improves, so will your running performance! Running experts agree that taking a break from drinking can help you bag more miles and run for longer periods of time.
“Taking a month break from drinking can help your running immensely,” said Marnie Kunz, certified running coach and founder of Runstreet, a New York running tour company.
“Alcohol is very dehydrating and can lead to muscle cramps and poor performance running. Drinking too much alcohol can also deprive your body of more important nutrient-dense calories as you fill up on alcohol and often, when tipsy or drunk, late-night junk food like fast food,” said Kunz.
Every runner is looking to be cramp-free while running. A Dry January can help them achieve an easier, more fun workout.
Athletes with a high-training load, like a runner in a marathon training program, will have a speedier recovery from intense workouts if they are abstaining from alcohol.
“For runners that have a high training load, long-distance runners and endurance athletes for example, additional stress from alcohol will add to the total recovery time needed between workouts. Giving your body a month-long break from alcohol can help it get more of the nutrients it needs, reduce your total stress load, and help it upgrade its ability to repair and recover, often leading to improved health and performance,” said Laurie Villareal, health and wellness coach.
Waking up with a hangover may make it harder to motivate yourself to get your shoes on and go running.
Avoiding alcohol can keep you on track toward your fitness goals!
Dry January Can Save You Money
Recently, my fiance and I were trying to calculate how much money we spend on alcohol per month, and we came to a surprising result. Although we only drink alcohol about twice per week, once at the bar and once at home, we calculated that we spend about $120 each month on alcohol.
I was shocked. That’s $1,440 per year for our household of moderate drinkers. Additionally, people tend to make poor financial decisions when they are under the influence, like buying a round for the whole bar, or participating in unnecessary online shopping.
By cutting alcohol out of your restaurant tab, eating out at a restaurant is more affordable. As for social situations like getting drinks with friends or coworkers, they won’t judge you if you ask the bartender for a ginger ale rather than a beer. Abstaining from alcohol is more common than you might think.
Non-Alcoholic Alternatives for Dry January
For those who want to try Dry January but think they will miss the taste of a cold craft beer (me, especially after a workout) there are tasty, non-alcoholic alternatives.
Athletic Brewing out of Stratford, CT is one of the first breweries dedicated to brewing solely non-alcoholic, yet tasty, craft beer. They offer a range of beers; from IPAs to darker beers, all of them alcohol-free.
Brooklyn Brewery makes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beers. They offer two varieties of non-alcoholic beer in their “Special Effects” line of beers, an IPA and a hoppy amber.
In the UK, BrewDog’s line of AF beers has proven popular and is widely available, especially in January.
If you want to participate but would rather have a glass of wine with dinner, ARIEL vineyards makes dealcoholized Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Why To Try A Sober Month
After researching for this article, I’m inspired enough to try Dry January myself. What appealed to me most was how it can improve my running performance, something I’m really interested in as I begin to train for an upcoming marathon. I’m also intrigued by saving all that money!
Tips For A Successful Dry January
If you are struggling with Dry January, be patient with results. Remember to take it one day at a time, and there is only 31 days to complete.
You might not see your skin clear up in a week after cutting out booze, or notice your stomach getting flatter, but don’t quit. Sticking with your plan can only bring you closer to your goals.
Because change comes slowly and the results might not be incredibly apparent right away, taking notes each day about your sleep, physicality and mental state will help you discover changes you may have missed without them.
Treat yourself with all the money you saved from being alcohol-free. You could go out to a restaurant more than you usually do, or try cooking with more expensive ingredients at home. Yes to the lobster tail!
Plan to be challenged by urges and triggers. A sober month is easier for some and harder for others. If you know you are likely to drink while doing a certain activity, or at a place (like a bar.)
Then avoid those triggers. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid socializing or doing things you like, but be aware and stay focused on your goal. You may be surprised at how much willpower you possess, and it only takes one “no” to gain momentum.
Most importantly, ask for support. Telling friends and family about your plan to try a sober month will help you commit to the idea, and they can be there to hold you accountable.
Take Our 7-Day Motivation and Mindset Challenge
We’ve developed a 7-Day Motivation and Mindset Challenge which pairs perfectly with kicking off your Dry January!
It involves being active every day of the 7 days – whether through running or another workout – and we layer on other challenges and habit-forming tasks throughout the week!
Interested? Check out the full guide below!