Mindfulness, mental health, health knowledge

How and why I’ve changed my drinking habits

alcohol drinking habits

How and why I’ve changed my drinking habits

Firstly, I want to be clear that I’m only talking about changing alcohol drinking habits and NOT alcohol addiction.  Alcohol addiction is a serious condition that requires specialist medical advice, which I’m not qualified to comment on.

Also, I don’t want anyone to think this is some sort of prudish, judgmental post about people who drink alcohol.  I love alcohol but I think it is necessary for us all to be aware of the health implications and make informed decisions about our drinking habits.

Humans have enjoyed alcohol for centuries from the ancient Egyptians to the Victorians.   Our love of alcohol hasn’t changed in modern society.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed drinking alcohol.  My first experiences of alcohol were one or two glasses of cider or Pomagne at teenage parties.  As I grew older and started frequenting pubs and bars, I moved on to trying as many different drinks as I could!.

Growing up in the ’80’s, I was bombarded with advertisements from Babycham, Martini Rosso and Cinzano which aimed to glamorize alcohol (do you remember the ads with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins?).

These advertisements portrayed alcohol as decadent, luxurious and grown up.  Drinking these drinks was something to aspire to – it’s amazing the power of advertising! (separate rant – this is why we need regulations on how we advertise to children).

My student years were spent enjoying as many different drinks as possible.  Once I started work however,  drinking alcohol became more of an occasional treat, reserved for a weekend meet up with friends in the pub.

Buying alcohol from supermarkets become more popular in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, with people drinking increasingly in their homes.  It became the ‘norm’ to have a glass of wine with your meal at the weekend.  Now, I think most people see it as the ‘norm’ to have a glass of alcohol every night with their meal.

In many families juggling work, childcare and domestic chores, parents see the evening glass of wine as their treat to help them unwind and relax.  Sound familiar?

I know this was a habit that had developed in our household and for a long time I didn’t think twice about it.

So, what affect does drinking alcohol have on our health?

The Pros

  • there are studies that suggest that moderate, responsible wine consumption can lower overall health risks associated with cardio vascular disease.  However this benefit is only relevant for people of middle age or older and only has a small protective benefit.
  • In the Blue Zone areas of the world, particularly Sardinia, the inhabitants enjoy a glass of wine with friends every evening.  Blue Zones are renowned for the longevity and health of their inhabitants, so it could be argued there is a link between their health and drinking alcohol.

The Cons

Unfortunately there appear to be far more cons than pros:-

  • alcohol is perceived by our bodies as a poison.  Prolonged use can therefore seriously damage our liver, causing cirrhosis and liver failure.  It can also damage the pancreas, causing bouts of pancreatitis.
  • alcohol affects our brains, messing with our judgement, reactions and impulses.  This is why it’s illegal to drink and drive a car.
  • alcohol impacts our sleep patterns.  New research is showing that a lack of sleep can have serious implications on our general health.
  • alcohol can cause osteoporosis, making bones thinner and weakened.
  • alcohol can weaken heart function.
  • alcohol generally increases our risk of cancer, particularly breast, bowel, liver, mouth and throat.
  • alcohol consumption during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, the baby having a low birth weight, learning or behavioural difficulties.  Drinking heavily through pregnancy can result in a serious condition called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
  • alcohol can affect your mood and lead to depression, anxiety or anger.

(source: http://www.drinkaware.co.uk)


Why I’ve changed my drinking habit

I’m sorry for the long list of doom and gloom regarding alcohol.  Whilst I was aware of some of these health implications,  I had never really considered my daily glass of wine could be playing havoc with my health.  It’s only as I have grown older that I’ve begun noticing alcohol having a more direct affect on my day to day health.

Some of my readers will be aware that I suffer from arthritis.  Over the last year, I’ve noticed that wine seems to increase the pain and swelling in my joints.  I’m also at the dreaded menopausal age when hot flushes, brain fog and a tendency to gain weight can kick in.  I’ve again noticed that alcohol can have an impact on these symptoms.

Lastly and most importantly, I’m concerned at the link from drinking alcohol to an increased risk of breast cancer.  As my mother is a breast cancer survivor, I know genetically I may be at increased risk.  Drinking alcohol could increase my risk further, but this is something I can control and change.

How I changed my drinking alcohol habit

Now, as I mentioned earlier having a glass of wine (or other alcohol) with our evening meal had become a regular habit.

The problem with regular habits is that they become very ingrained within the brain.

Simplistically, habits are formed when the brain is provided with a cue (in our case our evening meal).  This then triggers the routine i.e. a glass of wine.  Our brain then enjoys the reward of feeling relaxed by the release of dopamine as we enjoy our wine.  Eventually,  the loop of cue, routine, reward becomes automatic and we do it without thinking about it at all.

The cue and reward triggers become so intertwined, that we begin to have a sense of anticipation and even craving to get to the cue i.e. dinnertime and our expected reward – the enjoyment from the glass of wine.  (source: The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg).


Have you had that craving during the day to just get to ‘wine o’clock’?  Thankfully, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are an alcoholic, but just that your brain has become addicted to your evening habit and reward.

Unfortunately, trying to break this loop is really tough at first, as we have to re-train our brains.  Now, in my opinion brains are a bit like toddlers.  If you say “no” or change their routine, they have a complete melt down and a tantrum.  If you persist with the new routine, eventually they stop fighting it and adapt to the change.

Our brains are exactly the same.  When we tell our brain it can’t have a glass of wine every night, it fights back really hard and makes us crave wine even more! (most of us experience the same with food).  But, with time and by replacing wine with another routine, it begins to accept this change.  The time it takes to achieve a change in habits can vary from individual to individual and on the type of habit being changed.  A general rule is anywhere between 21 days to 8 months but research suggests the average time is usually about 66 days to begin to see a true change.

So, just prior to Christmas 2017, I decided I wanted to change my alcohol drinking habit.  I knew it would be tough over Christmas and New Year, so I just started slowly by only having a drink every other night.

Then in the New Year I went to not having any alcohol from Monday to Wednesday, slowly increasing this to Monday to Friday.  These days, I go weeks without having any alcohol and amazingly I really don’t miss it.

Another trick I tried during the Christmas period, was to replace my alcohol drinking habit with low alcohol and alcohol free drinks such as Eisberg Wine and low alcohol G & T’s.  Many of these drinks are much better than they were 5 or 10 years ago.

One of the biggest hurdles I’ve found though has been social expectations when I go out.  It does feel very odd not drinking alcohol when we go to the pub with friends or for a meal in a restaurant.  Usually people assume you must be driving but if they know that’s not the case, you do get some strange looks and raised eyebrows.  Also the shadow of the marketing of the 80’s means I don’t feel very grown up if I’m not drinking alcohol.

The benefits of  changing my alcohol drinking habit

Since reducing my alcohol consumption I have noticed improvements to my general, everyday health namely:-

  • I sleep much better and don’t wake up from hot flushes
  • I feel like I have much more energy
  • I’ve noticed I am more patient and far less snappy and short tempered with the kids
  • I find I can concentrate better and have far less brain fog days
  • I have less joint pain
  • I may have lost weight but I don’t tend to weigh myself very often, so I’m not sure.
  • My skin certainly looks better with less fine wrinkles and dryness.  Alcohol is known to dehydrate skin and strip skin of nutrients.  It probably helps that I’m drinking more water now (instead of that glass of wine with dinner!)
  • it’s also saving me money!

My conclusion on changing my alcohol drinking habits

Overall, I feel much better for reducing my alcohol consumption.  I still enjoy alcohol every now and again.  Certainly whilst on holiday I reverted to having a glass of wine most nights with dinner.  I haven’t re-trained my brain completely from enjoying the taste of alcohol.

However, I think my brain is beginning to appreciate how much better it feels for not having alcohol and that has become it’s new reward.

Whilst, I don’t want you to see this article as a “you should do this” argument, I would suggest that if you think you have become stuck in an alcohol drinking routine that may be affecting your everyday health, perhaps you can experiment with seeing how you feel if you change your habit.  There are several challenges around the world such as Dry January, Dry July, Sober October which you could join in to get you started.

Unfortunately, the downsides of alcohol drinking are rather numerous and can have huge implications for our health, so I believe it is in our benefit to kick the habit if we can!

If you enjoyed this article or think a friend may enjoy it,  please like and share it on social media.

You can also sign up for our free New Leaf Newsletter here to receive regular updates and tips and inspiration to make healthy habit changes.


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Why you need to relax and my favourite relaxation activity


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Why you need to relax and my favourite relaxation activity

If you’re a mum, are you secretly looking forward to Mother’s Day?

Is it one of the few days in the year that you actually give yourself permission to RELAX?

For some reason, society seems hell bent on making sure we all suffer ‘burn out’.  If you’re not proving to everyone that your life is super busy, then society deems you a failure or loser.

I’m not religious but there is something to be said for the old fashioned view that Sundays should be a day of rest.  Nowadays, Sundays are just another day to get the cleaning and shopping done and run the kids from one activity to the next.  The weekend just merges into the stresses of the rest of the working week.

The problem with constantly being ‘on the go’ is that your cortisol levels remain in the ‘flight or fight’ zone which places enormous stress on your body.  Cortisol affects your digestion, lowers your immune system and increases your heart rate.  This can cause weight gain, insomnia and general exhaustion.  Sound familiar?

The human body needs periods of rest and relaxation to activate our parasympathetic nervous system.  This reverses the affects of cortisol and helps us to de-stress, sleep better and digest our food better.  Your overall health will improve immensely if you give yourself permission to relax for short periods every day.

If you are reading this and saying ‘I don’t have time to relax’, then you my friend, probably need it the most!.  You really need to make time to relax.

Start with 10 minute rest periods here and there in your day.  Take 10 minutes to savour your coffee, take a short walk at lunchtime or read a magazine article.  When you start making some ‘me’ time for yourself you will see improvements in your general health.

Some of my favourite forms of relaxation are:-

  • having a coffee with a friend
  • going for a walk
  • yoga or pilates
  • a long hot bath

BUT my absolute favourite form of relaxation is READING.

I will read anything but I especially love a good book.

With four children, my opportunities to read are limited but I always read for about half an hour before I go to sleep at night.  Even if I’m reading a page turning thriller, reading still helps calm my brain down ready for sleep and I drop off much easier than if I don’t read at all.

However in my opinion you must read a physical book – no gadgets allowed!  I believe Kindle now has a white page facility but generally gadgets omit blue light which messes with your melatonin (your sleep hormone).  You’re also much more tempted to check out your emails or social media which could trigger your cortisol levels back up.

As Mother’s Day approaches, how about dropping a few hints to your loved ones and making a wish list of books you might fancy reading.

Here’s my wish list for this Mother’s Day:-

I do have lots more on my list but I think that will do for starters!

If any of you have read these, do let us all know what you thought of them in the comments or on the New Leaf Facebook page 

I try to always recommended a good read in the New Leaf newsletter so if you’re interested you can sign up HERE.  (Just so you know, I only ever send you information and tips from New Leaf and would never sell your email address to any third party).

I hope you all  give yourself permission to have some rest and relaxation and enjoy your weekends.

For any readers in the Denver, US area, I came across this website Mile High Wine Tours  – they have a 5* rating with TripAdvisor.  Unfortunately I’ve not experienced their Tours but I thought it looked like a wonderful Mother’s Day treat!

Wishing all my mommy  readers a wonderful Mother’s Day.


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Why I won’t be ‘detoxing’ my friends

friends and relationships

Why I won’t be ‘detoxing’ my friends

Recently, I’ve seen lots of articles in magazines and on the internet giving advice on how the type of  people you surround yourself with can have an impact on your moods and mental wellbeing.

I think we have all experienced occasions when someone has been constantly negative about life and that has made us feel a bit down about life too. Conversely, people who are always happy and optimistic help to make us feel better about life.

Of course, there are the few people in life who are downright rude or obnoxious.  These people increase our  stress levels or make us feel angry or worthless.  So, I totally agree that the people you surround yourself with can have an impact on how you feel and deal with life.

Most of these articles then go on to suggest that you should ‘detox’ your friends i.e. drop the people from your life who don’t make you feel wonderful or who sap your energy.  On a basic level I would agree.  Why make yourself miserable trying to nurture and pursue a relationship that provides no benefit back to you?

The problem with this idea is that it forgets that in times of hardship and pain our friends need us, just as one day we might need our friends.  To have made friends in the first place you must have felt drawn to something in that person’s character or personality.

If your relationship or friendship has changed, then this may be a signal that  your friend is struggling to deal with something hard in their life such as a financial issue, marital problems, grief or internal feelings over a lack of self worth or insecurity.  Increasingly and more importantly, these days people can also be struggling with anxiety and depression.

Any of these issues can be problems that your friend doesn’t feel comfortable discussing with you and so they are forced to put on a brave face.  But pretending to be happy when you don’t feel it is a tremendous strain.  This can cause friends to withdraw and avoid contact to make their life easier.

This is the time that we ‘the friends’ need to be there – gently supporting, reassuring and letting our friends know we are willing to help if they need us.

I recently found a fantastic website called http://www.blurtitout.org – which has lots of really helpful information for anyone suffering with depression/anxiety or for friends and family who want to help support those suffering.  The article Why we push people away is especially insightful in helping to understand how some people may be feeling.

So my plea to everybody is to be there for your true friends, through thick and thin.  Yes, it would be wonderful to be surrounded by happy, positive people all the time but that isn’t real life.

Life is about balance – there will be happy times but equally there has to be sad times.  We are already a “throw away” society when it comes to material objects.  Let’s make sure we don’t do the same with our relationships.

Sending love to all my friends, both physical and online.


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coffee, arthritis


There’s two little secrets you might not know about me – I love coffee and I suffer from arthritis.

Over the last few weeks my arthritis has become significantly worse.  I was talking to a friend yesterday who has just experienced an extreme attack of gout.  His doctor had advised him to give up coffee to help reduce his symptoms.

So, I wondered whether there may be a correlation between my coffee drinking habit and arthritis.

Now generally, I only have 2-3 cups per day which is considered to be quite a moderate intake.  Having a quick trawl on the internet, there does seem to be very mixed reports about coffee having an effect and/or connection with arthritis.

Many of the studies were carried out decades ago.  Part of me finds it very easy to dismiss any reports of a link.  If I’m truthful I feel very resistant to having to make this change to my daily coffee habit.  Obviously, this is how most people feel when faced with making any change to their diet.  But, in the interest of alleviating my symptoms I decided that I would go 30 days without coffee and see how I feel.

For anyone who knows me, they will realise how hard I’m going to find this.  Coffee has always been my little treat during the day.  This is why I’ve made a public declaration, so that you can all help keep me accountable and on track.

So today has been Day 1.

My first obstacle was that the husband was off on a bike ride and usually has a coffee before he leaves.  In our house, I’m chief coffee maker so I had to make coffee for everyone else, even though I couldn’t enjoy it myself!

Next up was a kids party drop off, followed by shopping.  By the end of the morning, I had a cracking headache.  I believe this is a typical withdrawal symptom.  Anyhow, I have managed to make it to the end of the day without succumbing.

If you want to join in my 30 day challenge come and follow the New Leaf facebook page HERE.  I’ll update you as to how I’m getting on and we can swap stories and help support each other.

(P.S. if you need to give up something other than coffee, then please still join me on Facebook.  We can still help and support each other).



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Journals and Notebooks as a weight-loss tool

two journals, a cup of coffee and a lamp


Journals and notebooks as a weight-loss tool


I just wanted to share with you these lovely notebooks I found in Matalan for £4 each and explain how journals and notebooks can help you achieve a healthy lifestyle.

1. Meal Planning

Firstly, you can use them for writing out your weekly meal plan.  Anything that makes a chore feel a bit more like a treat is a win, so settle down with a cup of tea and your lovely new notebook and plan out the week’s meals.

As you probably know by now, I believe that planning your meals is one of the most important steps you can take to gain control of your eating habits.  If you already know what you’re cooking for dinner, then you’ll be less tempted to buy a takeaway or something ready made and processed from the supermarket.


2. Food diary

Keeping a food diary for a few days to a week is a great tool to assess exactly what you’re eating.

You can also use it to help establish how you feel after eating certain foods.  Personally I notice my stomach feels bloated and uncomfortable if we ever have fish and chips at the beach.  Whilst it’s fine occasionally, I know my energy and general feelings of health would soon drop if I ate fatty, fried food on a regular basis.

When you can establish a clear link between the foods you eat and the way you feel, it makes it much easier to make changes.


3. Writing in a journal

Now, I’ve never kept a journal – I did have secret diaries when I was a teenager, which are particularly embarrassing to read now!

Historically, there are lots of examples of journal keeping- Samuel Pepys, Anne Franks, soldiers during the World Wars.  A journal can be your best friend, never questioning your actions or emotions, helping you through the tough times in your life.

There is increasing research linking the benefits of writing in a  journal with improved mood and mental health.   Using a journal to write down all your worries, emotions and feelings can help your mind to process the events in your life.  The action of unburdening your emotions onto a page can leave your mind clearer and calmer, lessoning the feelings of overwhelm from modern living.

Using a journal to release your emotions can also help you avoid emotional eating.  When we feel low, tired or bored, it’s very easy to turn to food for comfort.  When you feel like this, write it down in your journal before you go to the cupboard.  Hopefully, by stopping and releasing your emotions you will be less tempted to just eat your way mindlessly through a packet of biscuits – yes, we have all been there!

There’s some great articles HERE to explain more about the positive effects of writing a journal.


4. Tracking goals

Another use for your lovely journal would be to help plan and track your goals.

Often life coaches suggest that clients should reveal their goals to a friend or loved one.  This will then keep them accountable to stay on track with their actions.  For most people this works – they are motivated to stick at their goal because they don’t wont to fail.

I believe though, that for many people the actual fear of failure stops them from ever setting goals.  If you fear failure, it’s very difficult to tell a friend or loved one your goals.  If you fail, which in your mind you are sure you will, then you also fear you will lose respect in the eyes of those you’ve told.  It’s easier to just not even try because then you can’t fail.

If you are faced with this dilemma, write your goals down in a journal and keep checking in with yourself.  No one else needs to know how your getting on. You can record your progress and look back on your journal to remind yourself of what you’ve achieved – even if it’s only tiny steps.  In fact, the smaller the goal, the more achievable it will be i.e. “I’m going to eat a healthy breakfast each morning” or “I’m going to exercise 3 times this week”.

Lots of small steps soon add up to a new habit which can have a big impact.


I hope these ideas have inspired you to go and treat yourself to a nice, shiny new journal and set yourself a plan to use it as a tool to improve your life.

If you like what you’ve read, please signup to my free weekly newsletter HERE

Also, share in the comments below or on the facebook page whether you already use a journal and how you find it helps.


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