A bit like January, October seems to have become a month for abstinence.
You may have seen friends or acquaintances on social media saying that they’re planning on going “sober for October.”
There’s also Stoptober—an initiative designed to encourage people to give up smoking. It’s been a thing for the past couple of years, but this year it seems to have taken on a whole new lease of life.
If you’re considering doing “Ocsober,” you might want to think about joining an online community like One Year No Beer, where you can get lots of advice on giving up alcohol and chat with others (via their Facebook group) who are also taking a break from booze. You might also want to think about making some adjustments to your diet.
Eating the right food when you are beginning your alcohol-free journey is really important. When we first give up booze, our nutritional needs are higher than usual. Alcohol strips key nutrients out of our bodies—especially the vitamins and minerals needed for our organs to create natural feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. As well as improving our moods, replenishing these depleted nutrients gives the body energy, helps repair and rebuild organ tissue, and strengthens the immune system.
Here are my top five recommendations for what to eat when you give up booze:
1. Soups and smoothies
When you first go alcohol-free, don’t force yourself to eat heavy meals, even if they’re healthy. Instead, focus on eating soups and other liquids to help keep you hydrated.
Alcohol puts a strain on the digestive system, and your body might struggle to process really fibre-packed meals. Soups and smoothies are easy to digest, and they’re super hydrating.
Alcohol dehydrates the body, so we have to work twice as hard to get hydrated when we stop drinking. Consuming liquids like soup can ease the severity of any detox symptoms like tiredness, anxiety, and nausea.
2. Calcium-rich foods
Alcohol interferes with calcium absorption and takes calcium out of the bones, so it’s really important to try to replenish calcium when you stop drinking alcohol.
Try eating calcium-rich foods like poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or the paste that’s made out of sesame seeds—tahini. Cheese is another good source of calcium. Parmesan has the most; one ounce gives you 33 percent of the calcium you need each day. Yoghurt and milk are other good sources. But if you want to try to avoid eating too much dairy, plant-based calcium sources like tofu and kale are good alternatives.
3. B vitamins
Another group of nutrients that alcohol quickly depletes from the body are B vitamins. Boosting your Bs will help give you more energy, sleep more deeply, and resist falling off the wagon.
Research has shown that vitamin B3, or niacin, helps people detox from alcohol. Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, helps support adrenal function and also helps rid the body of alcohol. And if you are suffering from insomnia and anxiety, vitamin B6, pyridoxine, is crucial for the production of serotonin and melatonin.
Salmon is high in several B vitamins. Leafy greens, like spinach and romaine lettuce, are good sources of folate (B9). Eggs are a top source of biotin (B7), and beef boasts high amounts of B3, B6, and B12. Other good sources of B vitamins include milk, chicken, lentils, and nutritional yeast.
4. Carbohydrates (yes, really!)
Carbs have a bad name when it comes to most diets. But in reality, carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, and without them, the brain doesn’t function well. Blood sugar can become unstable if you don’t eat enough carbs, which can trigger waves of frustration, anxiety, and cravings.
You need carbohydrates, especially when you first stop drinking. Potatoes, oats, brown rice, beans, and lentils are all good choices; they’re unrefined and packed full of nutrients. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, too. People don’t often think of vegetables as sources of complex carbohydrates, but, in fact, they’re some of the best we have available. All this fibre will help to cut alcohol cravings, too.
5. Nuts (for easy snacking)
Try to keep a bag of nuts on hand to avoid mood swings when you get hungry to rescue yourself from sugar crashes and stay strong against alcohol cravings. They’re full of protein and other nutrients.
Almonds are a great choice. They are high in magnesium, which helps control blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
Brazil nuts are packed full of the powerful antioxidant selenium, which is required for immune cell productions and can help restore liver function.
If you find it difficult to digest nuts, opt for other snacks like rice crackers, fruit, muesli bars, chia puddings, fresh fruit, vegetables, and dips.
And what to avoid, if you can:
Since alcohol is heavy on sugar, it’s common for people who give up booze to crave sugary snacks and sweets. Try to minimize your consumption, if you can. Refined carbs like sugar break down quickly and can cause a sugar rush that ends in a crash, sudden hunger, cravings, and could potentially lead you to give into temptation and fall off the wagon.
You should try to avoid too much caffeine too. Caffeine overstimulates the nervous system, causing increased anxiety and insomnia. Try switching to herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee instead.
Don’t worry about making all of these changes at once. You’re already making a big transformation by giving up alcohol. Pack your lunch box with plenty of snacks to stabilize your energy, and go for soups and smoothies if you’ve got detox tummy troubles.
Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect—but eating more healthily will really help your body adjust as you get used to being alcohol-free.