Whatever else you’ve done in lockdown, chances are you’ve reached for that wine or pint glass a little more often than usual.
Millions of us admit we’re drinking more than ever in the pandemic – but if you’re worried you’ve overdone it there are changes you can make to help.
As part of our Helping Hand series, here’s how to start cutting down – and it might even help if you’d like to lose weight too.
Among all the depressing news at the moment, it’s little surprise that sales of alcohol are said to have risen by almost a third since lockdown began.
Research by Slimming World has shown booze can have a major impact on our weight.
And with excitement rising as lots of pubs and bars are set to reopen their doors from Saturday, finding ways to enjoy a drink while avoiding it having an impact on our weight can be challenging.
So, how can you call time when it comes to your drinking getting in the way of your weight?
Many people were hoarding their favourite tipple as readily as toilet paper when panic buying began back in March and pub and restaurant closures loomed.
A recent survey by Slimming World found that since going into lockdown, 17% of us report drinking more alcohol.
Many of us have turned to drinking from home to get that Friday feeling.
The trouble is – with so many of us either on furlough or working from home – every day can feel like a Friday!
It’s likely boredom and stress may play a part too.
Slimming World’s public health manager and dietitian, Carolyn Pallister, says: “With more free time on our hands, having a drink may help some people to fill the long evenings and weekends.
“Social distancing may also play a part in the increase in alcohol sales.
“Just think of all the new ways we’re interacting with friends and family, such as virtual pub quizzes – perhaps with a beer in hand – sharing a glass of wine across the hedge with neighbours or even enjoying the novelty of being able to order cocktails to your front door!
“People are likely to turn to alcohol for comfort, especially in stressful times.
“There is also evidence that stress can lead people to drink larger amounts too as their tolerance rises.”
How much is too much?
The NHS states long-term regular drinking (over 10-20 years) can lead to increases in certain cancers, heart disease, liver disease and stroke, among other illnesses.
Boozing to excess can also have negative effects in the short term, such as increased chance of accidents, losing self-control and misjudging risky situations. This is before we even start thinking about the effect on our weight.
Slimming World’s Greatest Loser 2020, Phil Kayes, shed an incredible 21st 10½lbs – and didn’t realise before he joined Slimming World just how much his alcohol intake had contributed to his weight gain.
He says: “My drinking really went up a gear when I started university. There was a bar on campus. I’d drink pints or bottles of beer without thinking about the calories.
“It’s so easily done, especially as I’d often enjoy some crisps or nuts with my pint.
“I found I was making more unhealthy food choices the day after too.”
Most of us have a ‘tipping point’ while drinking – after which we go on to eat and drink much more than intended.
Research by Slimming World found that this leads us to consume on average an extra 6,300 calories in food and alcohol over the next two days.
And the tipping point itself is probably lower than you would think – the average occurs at just 9.3 units of alcohol – equivalent to 3.7 pints of beer or 3.1 large glasses of wine.
As well as the additional calories consumed, the research also showed the following day half of us also cancel physical activity in favour of watching TV, staying in bed or spending time on social media.
Government health guidance says that we should limit consumption to no more than 14 units a week – that’s around 6 pints, 6 medium glasses of wine or 14 measures of sprit – spread over three or more days.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to avoid alcohol completely.
How do you reduce your intake?
It’s important to think about the reasons behind your alcohol consumption, especially if it has increased since lockdown started, says Carolyn.
“If it’s because of stress or worry, finding ways to share the load to try and tackle these feelings can make a real difference.
Try making time to talk to others about your feelings – a chat with a friend or loved one or joining a community group can work wonders,” she says.
“Talking about the challenges of alcohol and sharing strategies to avoid turning to wine or beer when feeling stressed is often a topic in our Slimming World groups.
“Finding positive ways to nurture yourself and feel good can help you to avoid getting into the habit of using alcohol as a comfort.
Taking care of yourself, cooking nutritious meals, taking regular exercise and getting enough sleep are the cornerstones of self-care and help you to feel good about yourself.”
It’s not about cutting out alcohol completely either, unless that’s something you want to do.
Phil adds: “I’d tried very restrictive diets in the past and they hadn’t worked for me.
“What appealed to me about Slimming World was that I didn’t have to completely stop drinking. I could still enjoy the odd drink and have a social life.
“I switched from beers to vodka and a calorie-free mixer – which meant I could still join in for weekend drinks.
“If we all met up the day after I’d have half a roast chicken and a jacket potato at the pub rather than something deep fried.
“They were small changes and I still had a good time without completely blowing my weight-loss goals.
“When I met my partner Nicole – our first date was in a bar. We’ve managed to do all of the things couples do – drinks, meals out and nights in without stalling my weight loss.
“In fact, I’ve lost 6st since we’ve been together. It’s not about putting your life on hold at all.”
Switching to spirits with a low-calorie mixer is one way to reduce calories. To cut your overall alcohol intake, try alternating between soft drinks and alcoholic ones, having longer drinks like spritzers or switching to smaller glasses.
Don’t forget to measure your drinks when at home too. It’s likely you’re pouring much more than a pub size, especially if you have a big wine glass.
Getting the balance right
As with most things in life – it’s all about getting the balance right. For a lot of us, our worlds have been turned pretty much upside down by the pandemic, and we all have different coping mechanisms.
If one of yours is the odd G&T, that’s absolutely fine.
But if your alcohol consumption is worrying you or causing you to head a little off track with your weight-loss goals, there’s plenty you can do to make you feel a little more in control.
There are plenty of great resources on the Drink Aware website if you want to find out more.