Dry January. It’s trending.

After the holidays – a resolution to abstain from alcohol during the whole month of January may seem like a fine idea. For some, this may be a welcome break from the overindulgence of food, cocktails, wine and champagne over the holiday season. But for others, is it necessary? What sort of mindset does it create going forward?

Think about the goals you set or the behaviors you changed last January or February? Did they stick? Did you lose weight, then gain it back by August? Did you improve your fitness level? Did any of your health parameters improve (blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight)?

There are plenty of cultures that enjoy alcohol as part of their meals, social occasions, and lifestyles. In Italy, for instance, the meal time begins with a small plate and an “aperitivo” in the early evening after work (around 6:00). This is often a small cocktail or bitter liqueur (such as a Negroni, Aperol spritz, or Campari on ice). The purpose of the aperitivo is to relax and ready you for the 8:30 dinner meal. Wine is poured and enjoyed with the dinner meal, and often another liqueur may be served as a digestive after the meal. Nothing is rushed or overdone. Alcohol is part of the culture, it’s not vilified. This is a beautiful way to live in my opinion.

This lifestyle should not be confused with excess or binge drinking. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will definitely have adverse affects on your health. But having a glass of wine (or two) with dinner can be fine as long as you pour properly. “One glass” is equivalent to a 5-ounce pour of wine. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that moderate drinking is defined as one glass per day for women, and two for men. A serving of alcohol equivalents are:

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (bourbon, whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, etc)
  • 12 ounces of regular beer (a craft beer equivalent may be a smaller 8-10 ounce portion)

Root of Bad Behaviors

The wine industry has grown exponentially in the United States since the 1970s. Facebook memes regarding wine-drinking have become common and many “Book Clubs” are as much (if not more) about the wine than the literature discussion.

Rather than feel the need to go on the dry wagon in January, I challenge you to become more aware of your daily habits all year long. Every day. Every week.

Sure, a stressful Friday (or Tuesday) may come your way that has you pouring heavily at 5pm to bring your stress level down. This isn’t a good thing to do routinely, but I get it. If it’s an occasional occurrence, it’s probably not a problem, but it’s good to be mindful of how often you seek a glass of wine or a cocktail to handle your stress.

Working on healthier solutions (exercise, yoga, meditation, talking it out over a cup of herbal tea) to address your stress takes some effort, but is important to managing stress in a healthy way. It’s okay to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine – but it’s not okay to habitually go overboard. There’s a difference. Many social situations revolve around alcohol, but there are certainly many other ways to socialize and have fun:

  • Meet a group of friends for a walk
  • Plan a cross country ski party followed by a hearty breakfast
  • Host a Sunday Movie with flavored bubbly waters served in fancy glasses and plenty of popcorn
  • Meet a friend for tea or coffee

Keep in mind though, abstinence does not work for everyone. For some, completely abstaining from something that is tagged “bad” may only increase thoughts about that food or beverage. Instead you may consider what is driving your behavior to drink too much, or too often, and set goals to change the frequency or manner in which you drink. This could be taking a week or two off, or perhaps setting goals for a 1-2 drink limit, no more than once or twice a week. It also could simply be that pouring a glass of wine after work has become a routine you’ve gotten into, and you can replace it with a cup of herbal tea or a nice glass of ice water with lemon or cucumber. Maybe it’s just that “ahhh” moment of being able to sit down, relax, get your mind off work, and sip something soothing that you need.

The Perfect Pour

When you are going to imbibe, it’s important to realize how much you are drinking. We’ve all seen the meme with the “I only had one glass of wine!” and the woman is holding a 3 gallon wine glass.

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to dine at a fine restaurant where they bring a small single wine carafe and pour your wine into the glass table-side. This is not only a nice presentation, but it’s also a portion (and cost) control gesture. Remember, a 5-ounce pour is the standard wine portion (equivalent of “one serving of alcohol”).

I’m always preaching “portions matter”, and being aware and mindful about alcoholic portions is important too. From a sommelier’s perspective, you aren’t supposed to fill any wine glass to the rim. The wine should have room to be moved in the glass (when you see someone swirling their wine, they are incorporating oxygen, which can mellow the tannins).

Martini glass on the left holds 5 ounces, versus the vintage glass on the right, holding 2 ounces.

Check out some of the glasses you are served at restaurants, and then check the ones you have at home. I used to a glass measuring cup to measure various glasses from my bar that you see pictured here. It’s always interesting to see how differently shaped glassware and dinnerware look when holding the same volume of liquid or food.

A 5-ounce pour. This wine glass holds 20 ounces if filled to the rim!

A 5-ounce pour. This stemless glass holds 16 ounces, which is a pint!

A 5-ounce pour. This glass holds only 9 ounces if filled to the rim.

Going to Extremes

By all means, if someone has a drinking problem, or truly feels that they need to make a serious change in their habits, they should take a complete break from alcohol.

There is solid evidence that links cancer to excessive alcohol intake. In addition, excessive alcohol damages the liver and other organs over time. Alcohol also raises your blood pressure, which can weaken your blood vessels and impacts your heart health.

Dry January however, seems to be another trendy hashtag that encourages an extreme behavior that is temporary. Just as “going sugar-free” (#sugarfreechallenge) will likely be temporary, doing #DryJanuary may not solve your issues with alcohol, weight, or adopting healthy behaviors. It may just be another excuse to adopt a short-term, unrealistic goal.

Instead, consider setting realistic goals to change the way you handle stress, have fun, and how often and how much you enjoy an alcoholic beverage. Best wishes for a healthy 2019.