6 Steps to Happier Drinking this Holiday Season

The holidays are here!

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm a total sucker for this magical season. (As I write this, I'm sitting in my new and unfurnished apartment, which nonetheless boasts a live Christmas tree, a model train, a decorated gingerbread house, and a lit Balsam and Fir candle.) Like most people, my holiday traditions include lots of food and drink: cheese pizza is essential when watching Home Alone for the hundredth time, hot chocolate is a must for Christmas tree decorating, and champagne feels like a key ingredient to most holiday celebrations. While treats are an important part of the holiday spirit, as I anticipate the season’s packed bucket list, I already find myself looking forward to the discipline and detox that the New Year will bring. This year, rather than waiting until the New Year, I’m applying some of what I’ve learned during my Fresh Drinks Project research to make December a bit healthier.

Here are six quick tips for happier drinking throughout the holiday season.

1. Give yourself a weekly “Drink Budget”

This time of year, your social calendar is likely more packed than the stocking you had as a kid. This often translates to many more drinks than you’d normally consume. Sit down with your calendar at the beginning of the week and decide how many drinks you want to have total that week. Then, allocate them to certain days based on your social plans. This will help you keep the overall number in check. Not sure what your weekly total should be? The National Institute of Health recommends no more than seven drinks per week for women and 14 drinks per week for men. I know it is a bit higher, but I use 10 as my weekly target this time of year.

2. Announce your plans to create accountability

Studies show that when you state your goals aloud, you are more likely to uphold them. If your plan for an evening is to have just one drink, telling your friend your plan on the way to an event will increase your likelihood of sticking to your guns. Not to mention, this will help discourage friendly peer pressure to have another.

3. Eat before you drink

Eating before you drink sets the stage for a good night in at least three ways: it slows alcohol’s absorption into your bloodstream, it helps you avoid drinking to satiate hunger, and it increases willpower by steadying your blood sugar. The “before” part is important because food in your stomach slows the rate at which alcohol gets into your blood. Once alcohol is in your blood, there is nothing you can do to catalyze the sobering-up process. The only option you have is to wait. Coffee, water, or food after-the-fact may have other positive effects, but they don’t lower your BAC.

4. Space and pace

Our bodies process alcohol at a rate of one standard drink per hour. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the moment and start drinking faster. A time-honored trick for keeping a good pace is switching back-and-forth between alcohol and water. To bolster this trick:

  • Skip straws with alcohol (they make it go down faster)
  • Don’t be afraid to order water that you’ll actually drink (Eg. sans ice, with lemon, hot, whatever strikes your fancy)
  • At parties, bring a bottle sparkling water to ensure it is available

5. Establish a non-alcoholic nightcap

It is easier to turn down that extra glass of wine when you have something else to look forward to. Getting in the habit of ending your night with a cup of tea, decaf coffee or even hot chocolate makes it easier to stick to your weekly goal.

6. Write down your drinks

Akin to a food diary, recording your drinks is a good habit to get into when you want to keep amounts in check. Studies show that simply recording your use of a substance reduces your use of that substance. For this, you can use anything from pen and paper to your Google calendar to an app  like DrinkControl.
What are your favorite tricks to enjoying drinks in just the right amounts?