Could changing something relatively small — a 5-ounce glass of wine is only 120 calories — make a difference? Over the course of three months, the answer unfolded: Yes, in fact, it did make a difference, and I lost the 10 pounds I had slowly gained. My clothes fit nicely again, I no longer felt bloated after dinner, and I was just more energetic.
If you’re wondering how this math could possibly add up, I should mention that cutting out wine meant I also cut out the mini plate of cheese and crackers I had started making to go along with the wine, which was easily 250 calories. I also stopped eating an extra portion at dinner — another 300 to 400 calories — because I had my wits about me and better recognized that I was feeling full. I did boost my exercise a bit, increasing my running mileage from about 12 miles a week to about 18, but other than that, I didn’t do anything else differently.
There were other physical benefits, too. The worsening small red patches on my cheekbones, rosacea, mostly vanished, consistent with research findings that drinking wine, and especially white wine, can aggravate the condition. There is also evidence that just one alcoholic drink a day increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer by 5 to 9 percent. I know cancer risk is a complicated thing, but I’ll take every opportunity to tip the odds in my favor.
Weight loss may have been my impetus, but the truth is, what happened on the scale is the least interesting part. Paying attention to my alcohol intake made me realize how many unexamined statements I uttered about needing wine to get through something. Cutting back on drinking helped me get back to the person who didn’t need to look outside herself for comfort. It also made me feel like less of a hypocrite as a parent.
My project isn’t to be mistaken for sobriety. I’ve watched too many friends claw their way through recovery, and grieved a brother who never could. I wouldn’t dare appropriate their journey. I’m not “sober curious.” I’m just drinking less.
Now, if I order a glass of pinot grigio when I’m out with my family for Saturday night pizza, I sip it slowly and feel gratitude that the genes didn’t fall down on the side they so easily could have. I also feel gratitude that I decided I didn’t need to have a problem to start solving some problems.
Judi Ketteler is the author of “Would I Lie to You? The Amazing Power of Being Honest in a World That Lies,” due out Dec. 31.