Hilly on Health: On the wagon

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Hilly Janes is trying to stay on the wagon until Easter - here she shares how she’s getting on while trying not to fall off...

I know all about the effects of drinking too much. I can tell you how many units of alcohol there are in a bottle of wine, beer or spirits, and the number of calories. I know that drinking too much increases the risk of accidents, mental health problems, illnesses like breast cancer, heart conditions and liver disease, not to mention piling on the pounds and domestic tiffs turning into blazing rows. I’ve even written a book about healthy lifestyle choices such as whether red wine is better than gin and tonic, or if it’s OK for teenagers to drink.
 
I’ve never done myself or anyone else any damage through drinking, but do I know how to stop myself having a second or a third glass of wine? I wish I could say yes emphatically. Do I read those articles about middle-class professional working mothers who pour themselves a glass or more to switch off at the end of every day - and cringe? Yes. I can spot the puffy, blotchy face that comes with a hangover. Sometimes there’s one looking back at me in the mirror.
 
Now the University of London has published new research revealing a huge gap between how much we say we drink and the amount we spend on it in England. It suggests that binge drinking increases most among women on high incomes in the south, and that 80 per cent of women drink above the daily limit (a not very large glass of wine). Oh, hello everyone!
 
I was one of the 80 per cent on Shrove Tuesday, and on Ash Wednesday - February 13th -  I had a somewhat groggy epiphany. I would give up booze for Lent. I’m not religious but I reckoned if I followed the abstainers’ mantra of “one day at a time” it was worth a try, and I created a mantra of my own: “I’ve given it up for Lent”. Over the next four weeks, I’ll be writing about what happened next.
 
“Is this an AFD?” my husband asks that evening when he gets home from work, supper ready on the table. Alcohol Free Days - have two a week, says the British Liver Trust - are a goal we do not always achieve in our house. “Well you can have a glass,” I say smugly, “but I’ve given it up for Lent.” Smirking and rolling of eyes all round - including the kids. I’m not even sure when Lent ends - I think it’s Good Friday. I gave up for four weeks in January about three years ago, but this is a whole six weeks away.
 
The first two days are easy, but Friday night is tough. I’ve written four features during the week and I really do need to switch off by heading for the kitchen to get supper going, laughing along with The Now Show on Radio 4 and an evening slobbing out with the family in front of the TV - all accompanied by a nice bottle of wine. I get through it instead with lots of Sainsbury’s diet ginger ale (hurray - on offer at three litre bottles for £1.20, along with diet tonic water). It’s looking like a cheap six weeks.
 
Next weekend a friend who’s a fantastic cook has invited us for an “Ottolenghi” meal with recipes from the chef’s latest bestseller, Jerusalem. Our contribution is a box of mouthwatering patisseries from the Ottolenghi cafe near our house - plus another nice bottle of wine. But none, I hope, for me.
 
To be continued...
 
Hilly Janes is the author of Latte or Cappuccino, 125 Decisions That Will Change Your Life (£9.99, Michael O’Mara Books).

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