A Slow-is-Fast Approach to Reducing Alcohol Consumption


There is often that one thing.

That one thing that seems impossible to get over. That one special treat that seems impossible to give up. For some people, it's chocolate, for others it’s donuts. For me, the toughest thing to change in my nutritional journey was my relationship with alcohol.

I love wine, but I had physique and physical goals that could only be met by significantly changing my alcoholic consumption.

Wine means a lot to me. I am fascinated by how it is produced. How can the same plant create such varied expressions based on where and how and by whom it is grown and processed?

Studying wine is something my hubby and I enjoy doing together. We love reading about it, conducting our own blind tastings and meeting winemakers. It was one of those pleasures I really didn’t think I could let go.

However, my two glasses of wine per night accounted for 2,450 extra calories a week. That’s like eating 23 tablespoons of butter or 42 slices of bread on top of my regular food.

If you’d like to learn more about alcohol calories, check out our Bread & Butter Alcohol Converter.

Over the course of several years, I went from drinking wine most nights to just 3 nights a week (often Thursday, Friday and Saturday). The final steps to the goal post took me another few years.

I wanted to achieve certain results that required strict adherence to a nutritional plan, but I couldn’t figure out how to break this habit for a long time.

Even in the lead up to my wedding, I didn’t cut out alcohol!

It wasn’t until quarantine that I managed to crack this habit change. Maybe it was the complete change of reality and utter lack of social pressure. Or maybe it was the forced reset and knowledge (hope) that this quarantine period would be short lived that gave me a chance to embrace the fear of missing out (FOMO) on my weekend enjoyment.

In hindsight, I should have broken down the goal into more manageable milestones. Instead, I set my sights high: quit drinking and get a six pack.

For years, even though I was making progress, I wasn’t hitting that goal per se, which left me feeling frustrated.

From habit change research, we know that habits follow a four-step pattern: cue, craving, response, and reward. My “reward” of seeing body composition changes was not immediate enough to have an impact on my behavior.

I am confident (because I have achieved other major goals this way) that had I consciously chosen to work towards small milestones in creating a new system, I would have been in a more positive frame of mind and seen small steps for the great progress they were, which in turn would have been more motivating.

With my super clear hindsight vision enhancer glasses on, here is what I actually did, albeit over years, not months.

Month 1: Observe my emotions and thoughts when drinking wine.

  • When does it bring me joy and when does it leave me feeling blah.
  • The act of noticing and if doable, writing it down, will likely already result in some reduction; however, that is not the goal right now.
  • The goal is to become more aware of a habit you are considering changing.

This process is how I realized I didn’t like drinking during the day. I’m not really a brunch person. If given the choice, I would rather have water or coffee with breakfast, lunch or brunch and save my wine for the evening. You may prefer a different moment. Either way, by identifying the moment I enjoy a glass of wine the most, I was able to reduce my consumption overall.

It was one of those realizations that once I made it, it was easy to implement. Soon, I became someone who doesn’t drink during the day. Not all changes are like that. Some are a lot harder. That FOMO gets tough.

Month 2: Reduce wine consumption from 5 to 4 days per week.

  • It’s a lot easier to reduce something by 20% than by 100%.
  • When that starts to feel easier, move on to the next goal.

Month 3: Reduce wine consumption from 4 to 3 days per week.

  • One thing that helped me on my journey was flipping the script. Instead of saying I can only drink X glasses of wine per week, I made it I must drink X glasses per week.
  • I got this idea from reading James Clear’s newsletter.
  • Try telling yourself you can only drink 3 days per week, frame it as: I have to drink 3 times this week, no more, no less.

Month 4: Make plans for social situations.

You’re now reducing consumption to the point where it will become challenging to avoid social situations where people are drinking. You’ll need a plan. Try writing down answers to these types of questions.

  • How will I decide if I want to drink or not?
  • What is my plan if I do drink? For example, set a limit of the number of drinks.
  • What is my plan if I don’t drink? What will I order? What will I say if asked about why I am not drinking?

Month 5: Tackle the weekends.

At this point, I had cut out a lot of drinking and I was comfortable not drinking a glass of wine during the week. The FOMO there was gone. But the weekends are another beast. I needed a plan.

  • How will I navigate specific weekend situations from going out to dinner, brunch with friends, sitting on the couch watching a movie?
  • What would I do if I could only drink one day per week. That means Friday or Saturday I don’t drink. What would I do? You don’t have to do it, just think through a plan if you were to do it.
  • When you feel ready, do a one time experiment to go a weekend without drinking. Just see how it feels. What was hard, what was easy?

Month 6: Reduce consumption to 2 days per week, with no more than 2 glasses per day.

A few things that helped me at these more advanced stage include:

  • Drinking sparkling water in a wine glass. There is something about the wine glass that makes a moment feel special.
  • Being the driver. This makes it easy to say no to alcohol and locks you into your choice.

Month 7: Reduce consumption to 1 day per week, with no more than 2 glasses that day.

Even if I would have given myself one month to work on each step before moving on to the next one, I would have been able to reduce my consumption from 15 glasses of wine per week to 2 per week in seven months.

That may sound like a long time from today, but it’s not. I spent several years reducing my alcohol consumption and most of that time I felt like I was failing because I couldn’t stick to a new habit from one week to the next.

Seven months is nothing!

To learn more the caloric impact of alcohol and how to track the macronutrient impact of your adult beverages, check out the Bread & Butter Alcohol Converter.

Evy Lyons

I treat life like a professional sport and train like an athlete so I can stay in the game as long as possible and hopefully inspire more women to join the fun.