This is a guest post from Nick Allen, founder of Cutback Coach. He’s built a tool to help anyone who regularly drinks alcohol build mindfulness around when and how much they drink. His goal is to help people continue to enjoy drinking, while optimizing their habits to achieve goals like losing weight, sleeping better, improving energy levels and saving money.
This aligns well with the goals of Eat This Much as a whole, and if you think this is a tool that will be valuable for you, EatThisMuch members and readers can get a free month of Cutback Coach to build healthier drinking habits by clicking here.
Just over 5 months ago I set out on a mission to improve my drinking habits, with the belief that cutting back on my alcohol consumption could be a keystone habit for improving my overall health and quality of life. I didn’t feel like my drinking was out of control — and had no desire to quit entirely — but I was noticing the effects of alcohol more in the form of bad nights of sleep, feelings of low energy and lost productivity, and a beer belly that was becoming harder and harder to keep off.
After reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, I decided that tracking each drink was a great small step to take to get started. Clear is an advocate for daily tracking as a way to visualize your short-term progress towards a longer term goal, asserting that each small daily action is a vote for the person you want to be, and the goals you wish to achieve. The act of tracking is a simple step to build mindfulness about once automatic routines. Clear summarizes, quite poetically,
“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow.”
James Clear, Atomic Habits
Clear continues by advocating for focusing on the system vs. the goal, stating “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” With this advice in mind, I built Cutback Coach, a simple text message-based system to keep me on track with logging my daily drinks and dry days. I found that tracking via text was a lot easier for me than remembering to open an app each day, so this became the basis of my atomic system for improving my health.
In the first few weeks, I was surprised to find that my starting alcohol intake was over 30 drinks a week, with just 1-2 dry days. Here’s what my stats looked like in the first week of tracking:
Starting stats (week of 2/24/20)
- Total weekly drinks: 31
- Total weekly dry days: 2
- Alcohol calories per week: 4,650
- Poor nights of sleep from drinking: 5
- Money spent on alcohol: ~$155/week
The calories and sleep metrics were the ones that really stood out to me. I was effectively adding 2 extra days of eating to my week in the form of alcohol, and costing myself less optimal sleep most nights of the week. Just this awareness served as great motivation for me to cut back.
Things started out slowly as I got into the groove of tracking, but as I stuck with the process each week, my consumption started trending in the right direction. Here’s how my total drinks and dry days have trended since:
5 months of daily tracking later, I’ve been able to make a huge impact on my overall consumption, and I’m feeling the health benefits. Here’s what a typical week looks for me now:
Last week’s stats (week of 7/13/20)
- Total weekly drinks: 14
- Total weekly dry days: 4
- Alcohol calories per week: 2,100
- Poor nights of sleep from drinking: 3
- Money spent on alcohol: ~$70/week
Even more important than the stats directly related to alcohol were the indirect benefits I’ve started to experience as drinking became a smaller part of my weekly routine.
- I wake up with more energy, making it easier for me to find the motivation to exercise
- With fewer nights where my drunchies got the best of me, and fewer mornings waking up feeling hungover and craving greasy food, my overall diet has improved dramatically
- Adding a couple dry days to my week has led to increased productivity, with more clear hours in the day to focus on what was most important
As I got into the process of drink tracking, my weight trend followed a similar curve to my drinks, reflecting the impact of the direct and indirect lifestyle benefits mentioned above.
Taking my first week as a baseline, the health improvements from the small behavior change of tracking and optimizing my weekly alcohol consumption have been massive.
What this means for my health (and wallet)
- I’ve cut calories from alcohol by 2,550 per week (basically a full day of eating)
- I’ve lost 14 pounds — and have been able to keep the weight off
- I’m exercising 2 more times a week on average
- I’ve added 2 extra nights of uninterrupted sleep to my week each week
- I’m saving almost $100 a week that previously went to booze
I still enjoy drinking, and as you can see from my trend chart above I do have heavier drinking weeks here and there. The difference is that now I feel that my habits are on my terms, and I’m much more mindful about when I decide to drink, and how much.