Any parent will know that the time between 5-7pm on any given school or working day is tough. Everyone’s tired, you’re trying to get dinner ready, homework done, prepare for the next day, drop kids to afternoon training — often after a full day of work yourself.
With much of the country in lockdown, that comes with additional challenges.
Is it any wonder so many of us get fixated on our 5pm pick-me-up?
A glass of wine occasionally is no cause for concern but if your 5pm drink has become more of a daily crutch, it may be time to consider whether it’s doing more harm than good.
How much wine is safe to drink?
From a nutritional perspective, it’s recommended Australian adults drink no more than four standard drinks at any given time, and have at least two alcohol-free days each week.
This means that a glass of wine each night is technically no issue, but it’s also important to remember that often our wine pours equate to a whole lot more than a standard 120ml (this is the reason standard pours in restaurants and bars seem so stingy). Rather we tend to pour ourselves 200-250ml in our goblet-sized wines glasses, and a couple of those each night will set you back at least three standard drinks.
Breaking the habit
The other less frequently mentioned side effect of nightly wine consumption is that it can be an insidious habit that builds over time. What started as a glass after a tough day gradually becomes a bottle on more nights than not, which can translate into bucket loads of extra calories, poorer sleep quality, dehydration and a general feeling of lethargy that can disrupt the entire evening.
From a calorie perspective, with a large glass of wine clocking in at 160 calories, it only takes two large glasses a night to equate to more calories than a meal.
Also, any calories we consume while we’re drinking are less likely to be metabolised, which is why regular drinking at night can be associated with weight gain — specifically, abdominal weight gain.
“While we sometimes hear in the media that there are heart health benefits associated with regular alcohol consumption, this is data from men only. There is no known benefit from daily drinking in women,” she tells 9Honey.
Dr Hill says for women who are drinking too much, too often, her concerns range from general cosmetic deterioration and low mood to excessive calorie intake.
“I spend time with these women to help identify the stressors they are trying to escape from by drinking so much and how these can be targeted rather than self-medicating with alcohol.”
Medically there are a number of concerns, as alcohol can affect all of us differently, causing liver issues, issues for our bone marrow and even associations with some types of cancer, she says.
“When it comes to cutting back, it can be best to gradually reduce alcohol intake over time to avoid withdrawal symptoms. But most importantly taking control can be about managing the expectations of others and ‘peer’ related drinking, so we can manage ourselves in social situations”.
How to cut back on alcohol
If alcohol is playing more of a role in your daily life than you would like, the first step is to identify how much you are actually drinking.
Proactively measure your serves, aim for no more than 240ml each day and work towards drinking more slowly, so a single glass lasts you at least 40 minutes.
In general big drinkers drink much more quickly and hence become conditioned to larger serving sizes of alcohol.
Limiting supply too can help enormously. If you purchase your wine in advance and hence have bottles and bottles readily available, you will drink more than if you ration yourself to a bottle that needs to last several days.
Next, try and break the associations you have developed. If the first thing you do when you get home each afternoon is reach for the bottle, swap to a soda or sparking water instead. This too will ensure you are keeping well hydrated.
Limiting the number of days you drink is extremely important from a health perspective, and getting comfortable telling people you are not drinking is crucial — especially if you socialise regularly.
If you find this particularly difficult, it may be wise to avoid socialising until you feel you have better control over your alcohol habits.
Finally, but most importantly, understanding the reasons you are reaching for the bottle is crucial in managing any addictive behaviour.
For some, behavioural management will be enough, and once they know their alcohol limits they can stick to them. For others, time will need to be spent with a qualified psychologist or medical professional, identifying and managing the emotions — loneliness, stress, unhappiness — that are driving you to drink so much. This work is not always easy but it is ultimately what is needed to take control of your alcohol intake.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying an occasional drink, with drinks or a glass of wine with dinner each night. But when you need more than that every single day, it is time to take stock and make some changes.
Author Susie Burrell is a leading Australian dietitian and nutritionist, founder of Shape Me, and prominent media spokesperson, with regular appearances in both print and television media commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition.