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Will 'Dry January' help me lose weight? It can — plus it provides other major health benefits
General Wellness

Will 'Dry January' help me lose weight? It can — plus it provides other major health benefits

By Leigh Daigle, MD, UT Methodist Physicians Weight Management and Wellness Center
Posted: January 15, 2021

The start of a new year often brings feelings of hope, a fresh start and excitement — especially following an unprecedented year like 2020. Every year, we strive to make resolutions to improve something from the year before.

As part of these resolutions, many people choose to eliminate harmful habits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating unhealthy foods. “Dry January” has become a popular way to abstain from alcohol for the first month of the year. This fresh start to the year has many health benefits and prepares our bodies for a healthier year ahead.

Alcohol is a source of “empty calories.” This means that ingestion of alcohol has a high number of calories without the nutrients and minerals that our bodies need to function properly.

While there have been reported benefits of alcohol intake, especially with respect to red wine, these benefits are linked to very limited intake. These limitations are defined as:

  • Less than 7 drinks per week of five ounces of wine for women
  • Less than 14 drinks per week of five ounces of wine for men

That means women should have no more than one 5-ounce glass of wine daily, and men should have no more than two 5-ounce glasses of wine daily.

Alcohol intake adds unnecessary calories without providing the body with anything beneficial. This leads to slower weight loss — and in some cases even weight gain.

Imagine fueling your car with a juice/gasoline mixture instead of only gasoline. You’re giving it a lot of filler in the form of sugar, but not the gasoline it needs to run.

In addition to weight loss, there are other health implications associated with alcohol consumption.

Too much alcohol consumption can affect your sleep pattern

Though alcohol intake can increase your length of sleep, it also decreases something called REM sleep. REM sleep is Rapid Eye Movement sleep and is an important portion of our sleep cycle. It is the time when our brain is able to re-energize and reset from the previous day and prepare for the next one.

Alcohol decreases the amount of time our brain recharges, therefore decreasing the effectiveness of sleep. Poor sleep is tied to several bad outcomes, including weight gain, difficulty losing weight, decreased life expectancy and poor mental health outcomes.

Eliminating alcohol improves sleep quality among other health metrics.

Eliminating alcohol consumption can preserve critical organs

One of the most prominent organs that benefit from decreased alcohol consumption is the liver. The liver is vital for filtering our blood stream and removing chemicals.

In the disease of obesity, the liver gets inundated with fat molecules and becomes “fatty.” A fatty liver can lead to scarring of the liver, which over time can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Chronic alcohol intake damages the liver, leading to the same scarring and failure.

If both processes are affecting the liver, the liver is getting damaged from two major processes and will scar and fail more rapidly. If diagnosed early and treated aggressively with weight loss and alcohol elimination, the scarring can be repaired by the body. If undiagnosed and untreated, liver failure is fatal.


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Consuming too much alcohol can affect your mental health

Alcohol’s effects on mental health have long been recognized. It can worsen anxiety and depression, lead to addiction/addictive behaviors and impair judgment.

Several eating patterns have been associated with addictive behaviors, and consuming alcohol can worsen these behaviors. There is a phenomenon called “addiction transference” in which an addiction to one thing can transfer to another addiction focus. For example, many people who become sober after alcohol addiction will transfer their addiction to food and eating, ultimately leading to weight gain.

Alcohol is often used to make the anxiety/depression feel better, but it actually has the opposite effect, worsening both of them over time.

Judgment under the influence of alcohol is notoriously impaired. This leads to poor choices in foods, behaviors, safety and many other aspects of life. These choices are often detrimental to our wellbeing, health and prosperity.

Alcohol can negatively affect multiple aspects of the body, mind and life. Although it’s termed “Dry January,” it can apply to any month of the year. Even cutting alcohol intake by half can have substantial health improvements.

As you prepare your resolutions for the New Year, elimination or reduction of alcohol should be one of your top priorities. It is one small change that can have enormous health benefits and can help you achieve many of your other goals for 2021.

Want to learn more about surgical and non-surgical weight loss options?

The Methodist Medical Weight Management and Wellness Center provides expert guidance and a holistic, all-encompassing approach to weight loss.

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