Life Health & Wellbeing

Sunday 20 October 2019

Broadcaster Rick O'Shea: 'Why alcohol is a gateway drug for me'

Rick O'Shea has taken the challenge this January. Photo: Ronan Lang
Rick O'Shea has taken the challenge this January. Photo: Ronan Lang

Dry January isn't something I do every year but for 2018 I need to make some conscious efforts to lose the weight I had put on in the last six-to-eight weeks of 2017. I've never been one of those people gifted with 'a great metabolism' who can eat whatever they want, so I have to be careful, particularly now that the older I get, the harder it gets to shift it when it goes on.

I know this sounds obvious but what always works for me is eating moderately and often, lots of fruit, laying off the bread, no sweet stuff or processed foods (I don't eat many of them anyway) and, most importantly, no alcohol.

The reason is two-fold: not just the hundreds of calories in the drinks, but that, for me at least, alcohol is a gateway drug to eating whatever the hell I want later that night and then comfort eating to make it all feel better the next day (chipper, pizza or a fried breakfast aren't part of my normal weeks mostly, but after a few pints all bets are off).

There are the other downsides to drinking too. Just think quickly about every stupid thing you've said, texted, tweeted or every night of rambling conversations you've had with people you don't really know and that you can remember little of. I'm never comfortable with that at the best of times.

What about every TV show you've half watched late at night at home that you can't remember much of? Time is short. Maybe it's a sense of my own mortality pricking at my conscience.

Problem is there's a lifetime of habit to fight against, even for four weeks.

As part of this year's attempt I decided to read Catherine Gray's newly published book The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober. She's been a journalist and editor in UK magazines since her early twenties (Grazia, Cosmo, Glamour) and has been sober for four years after, she readily admits, hitting rock bottom as a result of a party-girl lifestyle born from her teenage years and her job.

I think that for a huge chunk of the Irish population, we have an ingrained sensibility, reinforced since childhood, that you can't have any craic or a great night out without booze. Birthdays, parties, holidays, Christmas... sure none of them mean anything without a few pints.

Maybe we should stop and ask ourselves if we do have a problem. As Catherine points out in the book, if you can't just give up drinking for three months or one month or even a week, you're in one form or another addicted.

I have done 'Dry January' before, I was even sober for a year once in my 20s in solidarity with my then-wife when she was pregnant with one of our children, but as to whether this time lasts any longer that January 31, I don't know. I'd like to think the time away is causing me to reassess my relationship with booze.

Am I feeling any benefits as I write this? Well I've lost 6lb, 3cm off my waistline and I'm sleeping straight through the night almost every night (something I find hard to do if I've had even one or two drinks).

I feel great.

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