Guest post by: James Swanwick
Most of us love a glass of wine over dinner. Or a cold beer on a hot summer’s day.
In moderation, it can make us feel good. It’s part of our culture. We enjoy sharing a few drinks with friends.
But what happens to you physically and mentally when you quit alcohol for just 30 days?
Are there dramatic effects to our overall healthy? Or just subtle ones?
What happens when you quit alcohol for five years?
Well, five years ago – on March 11 – 2015, – I made a simple bet with myself:
I would go 30 days without drinking socially.
Little did I know then that 30 days would turn into six months alcohol-free. Six months turned into one year. One year turned into five years.
Today, in combination with a paleo-eating lifestyle, and regular exercise, I feel superhuman.
I’ve lost 20lbs of fat. My Vitamin D levels have increased. My energy has soared. I sleep longer and deeper. My relationships have improved. I’ve made more money.
I was never a big drinker. I’d enjoy a few quiet beers during the week. Most weekends I’d go a little harder and get a good “buzz”.
It was all good fun. There was no drinking to excess. I never had a drinking problem.
The problem, for me at least, was the price I paid in my career, my health, and my time spent going out.
One morning in 2010, I awoke with a shocking hangover at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas after a particularly fun night. I walked into an International House of Pancakes for a hangover breakfast.
The IHOP menus have photos of the food you can choose – big, bright, bold colors. The sight of those scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes on the menu and drunk, overweight people sitting at tables next to me made me ill.
I decided then and there to see if I could go 30 days alcohol-free. It was simply a personal bet with myself to test my self-discipline. I didn’t plan to go more than 30 days. But I eventually would.
The first two weeks were hard. I went out with friends and ordered water or diet coke and they’d give me a hard time. “You’re un-Australian!” they’d say to me.
But I got through those two weeks and I was off to the races. I felt better, slept better and had much more mental clarity.
After 30 days, I’d lost an incredible 13 pounds (5.9kg) of fat around my stomach. Just from stopping drinking. I had more money in the bank balance, my skin looked considerably better and I actually enjoyed getting out of bed early morning to exercise.
So I said to myself, “Bugger it. I feel great. I’ll just keep going and see how far I can go.” Little did I know just how far I would go.
After 60 days, I craved a cold beer. Or a red wine. Or a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic with a dash of lime.
When it was hot outside, I started dreaming, “I would smash an ice cold beer right now!” But I breathed deeply, downed a water and the feeling passed.
After three months, I felt terrific. I’d dropped a few more pounds of fat and was starting to put on some lean muscle in the gym. People were complimenting me on how good I looked.
I also realized that despite not drinking, I was still managing to have wildly entertaining nights out – even with my drunken friends slurring their words around me. Conversations with women became much more interesting.
When I told women I wasn’t drinking, far from them thinking I was an alcoholic in recovery, they actually told me they were impressed with my self-discipline.
“Beautiful,” I thought. “I can stop drinking and still be fun, entertaining and attractive to women.”
Guys were always suspicious of my story, though. They always thought I was a recovering alcoholic who “obviously” had a problem. I just smiled.
Between three and six months I was in the zone. I felt energetic and healthy and I actually started to thrive on telling people I had temporarily stopped drinking.
But many people – particularly guys – still challenged me. They called me a “Pussy!” Or said to me, “Just have one!” Or “An Aussie that doesn’t drink?!?! F$%k off!”
I just laughed, pointed to my head and gave them my stock response, “I’m too strong in mind!” Some idiots even tried to secretly slip vodka into my soda. I had to make a point of always sniffing before drinking if they’d ordered for me.
Six to 12 months was fairly easy to be honest. And this is where I noticed the most dramatic changes.
I found that my relationships were considerably better – romantic and platonic. For example, I was constantly thinking about how I could help my friends rather than how they could help me.
I was more inclined to help people generally and was more considerate. I was calmer and noticed I made better decisions.
My work productivity soared. My business made more money.
More opportunities – like an ESPN audition to host SportsCenter – came my way. When it did, I was clear in mind, energetic, and seized the opportunity. I ended up getting that gig and hosted SportsCenter for two years.
I did, however, find I got tired at night time and went to sleep earlier. Listen, I could still burn the midnight oil until 5am during my sobriety. But I found I didn’t really want to. I felt like nothing that good really happened after 1am anyway.
So I would party hard – alcohol-free – until 1am. Most people who just met me weren’t even ever aware I wasn’t drinking. I could still be the life of the party with nobody even knowing. Then I headed home to be asleep most Friday and Saturday nights by no later than 2am.
I was up at 8am or 9am on weekends to hit the gym, showered, had breakfast and was ready to tackle the day by 11am when my mates were just dragging their lazy hungover backsides out of bed.
When I reached the personal milestone of one year without drinking, I found myself back in Austin at South by Southwest. I went to a pub, ordered a Budweiser, and put it to my mouth.
It smelled good.
I had every intention of drinking that beer. But something stopped me from taking a sip. I paused and thought about it for a minute.
I decided that all the pros of not drinking outnumbered the cons. So I said to myself, “I’ll just keep going.”
So I did. I put the Budweiser down and haven’t picked up a drink since.
March 12, 2015, is five years to the day since I gave myself that initial 30-day challenge.
I’m 20lbs (9kg) lighter today than I was when I started on March 12, 2010. I’m 38lbs (17kg) lighter than when I was at my porkiest (See fat face photo above). Drinking definitely kept fat around my waist. Stopping drinking eliminated it.
This is likely due to three main things:
- Alcohol contains a lot of calories
- Drinking makes you eat a lot more food, especially bad food like fries and desserts
- Quitting drinking gives you more energy which turns you into a fat-burning machine.
I was recently a guest on The Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast to talk about quitting drinking.
Inspired by my story, Ben later ran an experiment. He got one of his listeners, Jason, to give up booze for 30 days and measure the changes in his health from blood tests.
After a month without alcohol, Jason’s blood results showed an 80% increase in his Vitamin D levels, a 50% improvement in his thyroid stimulating hormone, and a 71% drop in his triglycerides, which measures body fat.
Jason said he lost 8.8 lbs, had less “brain fog” throughout the day and increased motivation and energy. You can read more about his results here: How a 30-Day No Alcohol Biohack Changed My Life.
Others are now experimenting with the health benefits of not drinking by taking my 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge.
Hollywood celebrities who have quit drinking include Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lopez, Gerrard Butler, David Beckham and Tyra Banks.
Some of the world’s top business people who don’t drink include Donald Trump, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison.
I’m not trying to lecture you into quitting drinking entirely like I did. Obviously, I am an extreme case. But my story clearly shows some of the positive benefits you can get if you do quit.
Even just reducing your alcohol consumption by a few drinks a week, I believe only positive things can happen.
If I have a drink today, no worries. I’ve accomplished my goal. But I just don’t feel like having a drink.
PROS: I feel better, look better, work better, act better, am better, have more money, have better quality of friends, really enjoy a nice ice cold water, don’t miss alcohol, realize I CAN party like a rock star WITHOUT alcohol, friends who’ve known me a long time say I’m a considerably nicer and more agreeable person
CONS: It is sometimes awkward explaining to new friends or business associates why you don’t drink. BUT…that initial awkwardness is mostly felt by THEM, not by you. And you can’t control how they feel.
If you decide you want to give it a try, trust that the pros will likely outweigh the cons. Set yourself a 30-day-goal. Or a two or three-month goal. Test it. See how you feel. See if it works for you. Or go for a year.
Or don’t do it at all. If you’re happy drinking, keep drinking. I love drinking. I love to drink a six-pack of beer and a bottle of red with the best of them.
I’m sure I’ll do it again one day. But for now, I’m happy with water and soda and feel like I am the best version of me.
James Swanwick is the creator of the 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge, which encouragers drinkers to take a 30-day break from alcohol. He is the host of the health podcast, The James Swanwick Show, in iTunes.
Traver Boehm says
I listened to a podcast with James after hitting 30 days myself for a challenge we put on here in SB. Now at day 62 I’m so curious how a full year will feel.
It’s fascinating to explain to people who think I’ve gone crazy, “I just feel so much better on every level.” and for some reason have that not be enough of an answer.
Truly appreciate you sharing this story, it was a big part of my motivation to keep going.
I did 30 days last summer and felt great but jumped back into drinking after it. I have since slowed WAY down and it’s my next big challenge to one day quit. Good for you for hitting that 62 day marker!
Did you stick with it?
Dana Post says
Great job, Squatchy! (spelling? who cares) I’m trying to do this myself… 30 days Paleo food seemed way easier 4+ years ago. Anyhooo… Keep rocking the fun healthy life! MUAH
Thanks, but just to clarify, I (Chris/Squatchy) just put up the post in the blog, it was written by James Swanwick.
Kendall Kendrick says
Congratulations on not drinking for this many years but I think your article does a disservice to those of us who are recovering alcoholics when you make statements like “When I told women I wasn’t drinking, far from them thinking I was an alcoholic in recovery, they actually told me they were impressed with my self-discipline.” or “Guys were always suspicious of my story, though. They always thought I was a recovering alcoholic who “obviously” had a problem. I just smiled.” Those of us working in the recovery world are trying so hard to bring shame out of stopping unhealthy habits like drinking that may be causing harm to your life. When people make comments like yours in this article it doesn’t help the stigma. Many of us in recovery say things like “The problem, for me at least, was the price I paid in my career, my health, and my time spent going out.” According to how much you say you drank, I should in no way be an alcoholic because I drank less than you. But the bottom is different for everyone. Kudos on your ability to stay sober and feel wonderful but I think that your message would be better if you weren’t trying to make such a statement that you are so different than recovering alcoholics.
I have 2 comments to your response. First, he is just telling us how it is, the reality is there will be a comparison to someone stopping drinking because they are an alcoholic, so deal with that reality. My second comment is there is a lot of denial in this story — I don’t see how on the one hand one can say I didn’t have a problem drinking but then say my interpersonal relationships all got better and so did my work productivity. He had a problem, didn’t realize it, and appears to still be denying it. You don’t have to be falling down drunk in the gutter and homeless to have a problem with alcohol. That being said, I’m glad he’s telling his story, and the point you can be fun and cool or whatever without drinking.
Whether he had a problem or not is difficult to tell from the story. At no time did he mention that he was restless or agitated without drinking. At no time, did he say that he had severe cravings that most who have a problem will experience. Good for him for giving it up and writing his experience to perhaps inspire others.
I gave up alcohol for half a year on doctor’s orders (said it wasn’t vital not to drink but would be helpful: I’ve been a type 1 diabetic for over 40 years). Little effect on weight and results of various blood tests. I’ve given it up for Lent most years, though in some years making exceptions for Sundays and sometimes St. Joseph’s Day (3/19): hardly seems to matter. On the other hand, drinking in the evening (usual when I do drink) makes me wake in the wee hours. Also I don’t seem to miss alcohol when I don’t drink, and not drinking saves money, so I’ve cut back a lot and may give it up entirely. Maybe I’m just blinding myself to the benefits I do get.
David Furnival says
Squatchy, thanks for posting this article. I’ve been thinking about taking a break from alcohol having just discovered paleo/primal about 2 weeks ago. I did give up for a year after making a fool of myself whilst drunk a few years back but I never enjoyed it. I always felt like I was missing out, which was a message in itself I guess. I think now that I’m taking care of my food it’s time to think again about alcohol. This post has given me the trigger to take up the challenge. Thanks again for a great post.
Bren Murphy says
I like where David is coming from – at a certain stage of life breaking free from alcohol just makes sense. I have such clarity and clear-headedness since I took booze out of my lifestyle.
Great to see alcohol addressed like this without the shame or stigma.
Anne Macnabb says
HI! Great blog post – I forwarded it to some friends with whom we have been talking about doing a no-alcohol challenge. Just a suggestion, in the 6th line, correct 11 March 2010… I had to re-read it a couple of times to understand there was an error and not that you were being existential or Falkien (stream of consciousness…) BTW, some of my funnest nights out were alcohol-free as I was designated driver. All the best
Just because his relationships improved without alcohol does not mean he had an underlying problem. I gave up many foods in my diet because of health reasons and felt better and in return was able to relate better to people and I was not addicted to food. When you eat clean and live clean there is nothing to hide behind and you see people and life more clearly. Its like peeling back the layers of an onion. I commend him for his decision and self discipline.
At 26 I have never drunk beer.any people have asked me why and presume it is because of religion or as you say they suspect a problem. I have always found I can have a good time without beer and have never seen the need to start. I always remember the good nights out and can wake up hangover free. I feel the biggest reason people drink is the social pressures of friends, family and work mates,
Jamey Bennett says
After sharing this story on social media, and talking about it with a couple friends, I decided to start my own challenge. I’m not selling anything, and really, I’m promoting the heck out of what you’re doing.
I started my own internet challenge to complement and support yours, called Dry May. I’m not trying to be spammy here, actually just want to thank you, and say that I’m excited about doing this myself. Cheers, mate! http://drymay.com
I’ve given up alcohol for 30 days, 6 months, almost a year once. For some reason I always go back, even though I can attest to many of the same positive effects. Right now I’m getting off a couple of medications and not drinking makes this whole process much easier. I hadn’t been counting days but it must be well over 30 days by now…perhaps this article is the inspiration I needed to just keep going. Thanks!
Thank you so much for sharing your experience, James! I’ve experimented enough with abstention from alcohol enough to know that I am absolutely more emotionally resilient and mentally clear when I don’t drink. Any more, I feel the effects of one (1!) glass of wine or a beer for days. I must admit I do occasionally get a craving for a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a Tuscan Red, or a delicious Belgian Wit, but knowing what the side effects will be is usually (though not always) enough to deter me from indulging. I think alcohol is a modifiable factor that is so easily overlooked by folks looking to make positive changes and feel better, and your testament to the benefits of abstention is a great thing for people to read about.
I know I just commented the other day but this post inspired the shit out of me. Today I posted on facebook stating that for every like I get I will quit drinking for that many days. So far I have 136 likes.
My penalty is to add a 0 to the end of the final number and donate that amount of money to a charity. So right now I would owe $1360 to a charity. Talk about incentive.
This is awesome. I rarely drink nowadays. I never liked the way alcohol made me feel. I would get lazy, not finish work and make excuses about working out or walking my dog. Alcohol made me lazy with only one glass of wine or bottle of beer. Now I just order water or unsweetened iced tea. My friends make fun of me, but I love how I feel being able to get up and start my day while my friends are hungover with massive headaches. I only drink on occasion. and when I do decide to drink i cant get past two drinks typically. My next occasion is in December, I am going to Las Vegas. It will be super tough to not drink, but my plan is to drink my drink slowwwwww and have a huge glass of water between each drink. Works like a charm
Christine Lehmann says
This was an interesting story. I mainly drink a small glass of red wine at night and sometimes have a few glasses at social occasions. But, I am also athletic and don’t like that I often feel dehydrated despite drinking a lot of water.
I liked that you observed that it made a difference in your encounters with the opposite sex. I have made a similar decision that when I am on a date, especially the first date, I will not drink alcohol and drink tea or sparkling water instead. This is an area that’s complicated enough without the additional worry about alcohol effects!
Doug Collins says
I am on day 8 and feel super energized… I just want to keep going!
I read a book by Alan Carr … Stop drinking now, it has very good insite, and defiinetly helped me get started.
I have given up alcohol for lent and can co-sign on the initial awkwardness in social groups. I’m not a big drinker or most times even moderate. I just wanted to challenge myself.
I like your challenge and the article. My only concern is a brief sentence early on about the catalyst for your decision to abstain from alcohol. You describe “overweight” with what seems to be contempt. It felt kind of judgemental and made me wonder about the foundation of your nutrional advice. Particularly with respect to weight loss. Not all of us are built the same and I am a huge advocate for healthy at every size. Processed foods and alcohol are not healthy for anyone at any size. All the people in IHOP were possibly (in defense of ihop, you can construct a healther option with planning), consuming unhealthy meals. Some of the thin people perceived as healthy could have the worst blood chemistry and risk for disease. I will be happy when the world works on public health messaging around weight. Thin doesn’t equal health and overweight doesn’t equal unhealthy. It’s your lifestyle, genetics and nutritional intake that have a profound effect on disease risk.
I applaud your commitment to health and your development of challenges encouraging others to abstain from alcohol and improve their nutritional intake. I look forward to reading more about your nutritional perspective.
So… He’s a time traveler? 5 years ago in 2015? How did everyone else breeze over that?
Tom white says
I took 30 days off and didn’t turn into a Guru. Guess I wasn’t suppressing some super ego with my drinking
Women think you’re hot and the fact that you don’t drink makes you look like you have your shit together
– A woman
I listened to an episode of the “No Meat Athlete” podcast where Robb Wolf gave amazing insight about the No alcohol, 30 day challenge. I was on my morning run when I heard him sharing his reality which I certainly relate to. Culturally speaking much of our lives after the legal drinking age(earlier for some) revolves around being inudated with turning to a beverage to cater to emotions, to celebrate life, mourn loss of life. At some point, a drink can become a casual part of our everyday lives which is fine if you enjoy libations and have no issues with engaging in drinking. The more I thought about Wolf challenging himself and the podcaster sharing his experience, the more I wanted to challenge myself. I started the 30 day challenge. (I did a similar challenge last year but wasn’t aware that there was a movement of people competing for sobriety).Throughout the process I continuously told myself I was born without it so I can live without it. While this and several other thoughts about drinking were a part of my the process I considered the benefits, and the powers of always being aware of my truths without the influence of an altering substance and journeyed through life pure. A day after I completed the challenge(today- April 18, 2016) I thought maybe I should celebrate with a nice refreshing craft beer(huge lover of craft beers). Before speaking the words, my fiancée suggested the same thing. It was then that I wanted to respond, we can celebrate as I have for for the past 30 days, by simply embracing and enjoying life. At this point it’s looking like water is the way. There might come a day where a craft beer seems more fitting. Pure at day 31 and fully in control of the decision to sip libations if I choose. I really appreciate Robb Wolf sharing his journey. Inspiration and motivation. Thanks for breaking paradigms. For now I will let your words keep me hydrated .
Budweiser! No wonder you quit!
Brad Hoffman says
I have had great success with the 30 day challenge myself, and encourage everyone to give it a try, I even set up a blog where I want to share some of my experiences, well, those I can remember. It’s called http://quitbeernow.com for anyone interested.
Marty Roberts says
I’m starting today
I’d like to start on the first of the year.
This is very interesting. I’ve been on a low carb/high fat protocol for over a year and is morning, came to the conclusion that my nightly wine drinking is the reason my weight loss efforts have stalled and remained stalled. But, today will be my first day of the 30-day no alcohol challenge. Who knows, this could be extended. I smoked cigarettes for over 30 years or more and thought I’d never be able to quit, but it only took me changing my mind and 1 1/2 weeks on the patch and it’s been well over 2 years since I’ve been smoke free!
I love wine so much, I belong to a few wine clubs and have a wine cellar full of premium wines. Unfortunately, my beloved wine has kept me overweight. Case in point, I wear a size 12 (from drinking) instead of a size 4 or 6. The clothing in my closet range from 4-6, and in order for me to reach that, I worked out and ate clean and NO ALCOHOL.
Eventually, I resumed drinking, but only on the weekends and my weight began to fluctuate, until I abandoned the diet and began drinking at night…because it was there (cellar).
I have, appreciate, and respect my cellar and still want to enjoy a few glasses, but not on a regular or nightly basis anymore. I have to respect myself first.
Thank you for the challenge.
Great stuff…a difficult challenge, but I am up to the task. I’ve noticed great benefits to my skin after avoiding alcohol for only two weeks!