addiction · advertising · alcohol · fitness · Martha's Musings

What’s wine got to do with it?

by MarthaFitat55

As someone who has been exploring different ways to be fit, healthy, and happy,  the question of alcohol comes up often.

Usually the question from the fitness point of view focuses on the calories in alcohol or avoiding overindulgence vis a vis athletic performance.  When it comes to health, the issue is more about consuming too much alcohol.

Two articles of late have been making the rounds on my news feeds. The first one surveys the literature on alcohol and its link to cancer. Mother Jones writer Stephanie Mencimer began looking at this link after her own diagnosis of breast cancer even though she didn’t fit the profile as someone at risk for cancer.

The article is extensive and covers a lot of ground,  but what leapt out at me was data on women’s drinking generally. As a rule, Mencimer reported, women don’t drink a lot. But that is changing, and rapidly, because of concerted marketing campaigns pitching drinking to women: “Ads and products now push alcohol as a salve for the highly stressed American woman. There are wines called Mother’s Little Helper, Happy Bitch, Mad Housewife, and Relax. Her Spirit vodka comes with swag emblazoned with girl-power slogans like “Drink responsibly. Dream recklessly.”

But it isn’t just ads selling specific types of alcohol. There’s a whole bunch of memes and cartoons online and on clothing doing this. Consider this popular image and concept. The image shows two women running. One woman tells the other her fitness tracker calculates how many glasses of wine they have earned  through exercising.

winetracker

The image equates exercise as a means to earn food or drink rewards. Run five miles you get a glass of wine; run ten miles and you get two.

That’s not how exercise works, and yet the message is seen as lighthearted and true. It doesn’t work if you think of two men running and saying it calculates how many beer you can have.

Then there’s this one:

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With this meme, readers who are watching their weight are advised to sublimate food cravings by drinking wine. It goes further to suggest that thirst can only be quenched by alcohol.

I find this one really bothersome because the idea of moderation is dismissed out of hand. Forget having a glass of wine, drink the whole bottle. As for seeing how you feel, I doubt anyone who has drunk a whole bottle by themselves has the capacity to engage in any deep thinking.

Then there’s the marketing push from stories like this one on farm fresh vodka (made with kale!) and the latest marathon fad which includes 23 stops for wine.

I think though the worst idea for drinking came from a fitness apparel line:

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We’ve come along way since Mick Jagger sang about Mother’s Little Helper (Where’s the sarcasm emojii when you need it?). There’s so much wrong with this I’m not sure where to start.

Perhaps it’s the idea that a strong woman needs help with parenting a strong girl. While parenting help is often undersold, are girl children that problematic that even a strong woman can’t cope? Or is it that the only way to cope is to indulge in strong drink (usually meaning hard liquor)?

I prefer my strength to come from lifting weights and from focusing on the ways I can cultivate resilience rather than on relying on drink to give me strength to face the challenges I have.

These memes are often shared because people find them funny but in fact, they normalize excessive drinking. Let’s take a look at what that is.

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as more than four drinks on any day or 14 per week for men and more than three drinks on any day or seven per week for women.

Health Canada defines low risk drinking as “no more than two drinks a day, 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day, 15 per week for men, with an extra drink allowed on special occasions.”

But limits aren’t that simple. The second article I read this week focused on the life-shortening effects of alcohol. The article reported on new research which found “people who drank the equivalent of about five to 10 drinks a week could shorten their lives by up to six months.” 

It gets worse: “The study of 600,000 drinkers estimated that having 10 to 15 alcoholic drinks every week could shorten a person’s life by between one and two years. And they warned that people who drink more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives.”

Contrary to those memes, the research supports a new limit for light drinking or for encouraging abstinence from alcohol completely if one wants to pursue a healthier and happier life.

— Martha Muzychka is a writer getting her fit on in St. Johns.

 

alcohol · fitness

Recalibrating my relationship with alcohol

I never used to drink.

When I was a teenager in Edmonton, I drank not at all. I lived in the far northern suburbs (well, far north at the time), and my high school was mid-town, my university south of the river. I was the designated driver a heck of a lot of the time. My friends drank copious amounts of beer and multi-hued liquids in which I had no interest. You could find me, at parties, by the crackers and cheese.

I went abroad in the summer after my third year of university; a friend and I moved to London, England to get jobs and discover life beyond the Canadian prairie. He worked for a lawyer who took him out each afternoon for pints; I worked for a lawyer who was an utter, abusive jackass and, I think, a recovering alcoholic. Anyway, no pints for me – and that was absolutely fine. I was too poor to keep up with the rounds, anyway.

Then, late in the summer, my friend and I took the hovercraft from Dover to Calais. (Before the Chunnel! I mean, I know, right? So last century.) We had lunch in a cheap and cheerful cafe. He said: you’ve got no excuse! You don’t have to drive. We are in France – the wine is good. And cheap.

So I had a glass. It was delicious!

And so I was no longer a teetotaller.

I drank a bit but not a lot as a graduate student. My friend Clarissa and I had a regular Saturday night date to watch Sex and the City while drinking girly martinis; that was always a weekly highlight, a chance to relax and destress. I had a drink or two on Friday nights while reading Toronto Life or other books and magazines for fun; that too was a regular pleasure.

I got drunk – and I mean totally fucked up –- for the first time in my life when I was 29 years old. It was the night of the day I defended my PhD. First, the committee took me out for celebratory drinks. Then, after drinking too much too quickly out of excitement, and running only on adrenalin, I made the mistake of drinking more, and eating nothing.

Around 9pm, I started throwing up; the next two days were awful.

I didn’t drink again for a while.

hangover-lead

There are a lot of alcohol memes on the internet. Oh my, yes there are. Always better to post a picture of a cat. (In this image, a tabby bumps its head against the corner of a white and yellow wall. Almost like it’s hungover!)

But gradually, over time, my relationship with alcohol changed. It was no longer sporadic and moderate; it became increasingly regular, and increasingly I drank too much – though never so much that I couldn’t work the next day. (Typically, I only really overindulged on the weekend, anyway.)

I had a good job but a tonne of work to do, and no partner or child to look after; I discovered that alcohol was a good short-cut to relaxation, and a helpful way to forget that I was lonely, and kind of sad. I had enough money to buy good wine and better gin. The blend of all these factors meant that, by the time I became a tenured professor, I was probably drinking two, even three, bottles of wine a week.

In 2012 I moved to England with my dog, Emma, and my then-husband. The transition was hard, as all emigration is, but alcohol played a large role in it, because, well, to be honest, British culture is saturated with drink, and drinking to excess is not nearly as stigmatized there as it is in Puritan-rooted North America. In fact, it’s normal.

Not long after arriving in the UK, I broke my toe and had to have surgery to reset the bone; I ended up on heavy medication. I recall a work event I attended while still on the mend; our (wonderful) department secretary, Bev, met me at the door with two bottles in hand. “Red or white, love?” she asked me. I said, sorry, I can’t, heavy antibiotics. She was having none of it; I had a glass and a half.

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White writing overlaid on a glass of red wine reads: “Keep calm and have a glass of wine.”

In England, there was typically at least a case of wine in our house, and at least a bottle of gin. There was usually a case or two of wine in the photocopy room at work. (Really.) Drinking each night, at home or at the pub with friends, was normal; I insisted on not drinking on “school nights”, but for me that was perhaps two or at most three days a week. Sometimes I broke that rule. I was probably drinking 10-15 glasses of wine a week at this point, plus gin martinis on the weekend.

I knew this was too much, and unhealthy; still, as I was typically not hungover in the morning, and not gaining weight, I ignored the problem. After all, most of my friends and peers drank at least two glasses of wine at parties or work events, if not more; there was literally no tangible incentive to make the change.

After I returned to Canada, the sheer force of the cultural shift meant I reduced my alcohol consumption a fair bit. Immediately I lost 5 pounds. (Alcohol is sugar, sugar, sugar.) But slowly, old habits crept back; by late last year, after a semester on sabbatical (no school nights), I was drinking 5 nights a week, and getting through at least three bottles of wine a week. It was getting expensive, I was feeling exhausted in the mornings, and I was up, well, about 5 pounds – 5 pounds I definitely did not need if I wanted to be properly ready for spring cycling season.

In early January, the man I’ve been seeing told me he wanted to cut alcohol out for the month and make some dietary changes; he was feeling as though he’d lost fitness over half a year of working too much, and he was eating too many fatty snacks mindlessly.

I decided this was an ideal opportunity for me to make some healthy changes, too.

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This image shoes a heartbeat pattern with glasses of alcohol interspersed on a black background with blue graph lines. It is from an article in Everyday Health that talks about the benefits of moderate consumption, and the risks of excessive consumption.

I wanted, however, to make sustainable changes, to start doing things I knew I could keep doing for more than a month. So, instead of cutting alcohol out for 30 days and then celebrating the “milestone” on the 31st, I pledged to myself that I would cut back my drink consumption to reasonable, manageable levels, period. I would have a drink only on weekends, and I would aim to consume no more than a bottle of wine over the course of a week. I’d do this for January, and then keep doing it once it was habit.

I also pledged, along with my boyfriend, to nibble less mindlessly, and to get back on track with my weight training, which had fallen aside during my sabbatical, and during my adjustment to living in a new city. (I moved in August, to an amazing new town with outstanding open-air fitness options. Read my post on that here.)

I should emphasize here that I know I am not an alcoholic; I’ve investigated the symptoms of alcoholism, and I know that it is not necessary for me to give up alcohol completely in order to be, and to remain, healthy. I am very aware that I have, at times in my adult life, experienced a dependence on alcohol to relieve stress and dull emotional strain; but I also love nice wine and nice cocktails, and I’d like to be able to enjoy them in the future – while also feeling good, well rested, and strong the next day.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

alcohol · Guest Post

​No alcohol for 40 days: Facebook challenge turns into major lifestyle change (Guest post)

Image description: A pint of Guinness
Image description: A pint of Guinness

Hi, my name is Muriel, and I no longer drink.

It started simply enough. A friend said on Facebook in late February that he was looking to give up something for Lent. I suggested, somewhat casually, that we give up drinking. No alcohol for 40 days and 40 nights. It meant saying goodbye to a big part of my life, at least temporarily. My friend agreed. And so, two days later on March 1st, my new life as a church lady began.

Now, Lent is over, Easter Sunday has come and gone, Christ has risen from dead, and I am still not drinking.

I have decided not to drink for many reasons. Although it started simply, the origins of my drinking problem are not really simple at all, and the results, so far anyway, are startling. There is nothing like being clear-eyed and bushy-tailed every single day.

When I finally stopped, I had been drinking four nights out of seven. And I did not consider myself to be an alcoholic or to have a serious drinking problem or even to have much of a problem at all. But I did many stupid things while under the influence, including angry texting and emailing in response to conflict, and I lost a few friends along the way. It had became too much of a price to pay.

Image description: A table in a bar. On the table there are beer bottles and cans and glasses of beer.
Image description: A table in a bar. On the table there are beer bottles and cans and glasses of beer.

Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health makes a distinction between physical dependence on alcohol and problem drinking. It says of the latter: “This term describes alcohol use that causes problems in a person’s life, but does not include physical dependence.” Such dependence involves tolerance to the effects of alcohol and withdrawal symptoms when a person stops. I am not physically dependent, thank god.

A big part of the decision had to do with health. When I announced to my doctor that I had quit, she was all smiles. She said about drinking: “Medical research definitely shows that more than one glass of a day for women is associated with a higher incidence of heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, stroke and breast cancer.”

I had chosen health.

I also, I must admit, wanted to lose weight. And it has been a miracle of sorts. Though I don’t weigh any less, I feel lighter.

It just seemed to me not to make sense to sweat doing Zumba for an hour, tire myself out while line dancing for another hour, stretch my endurance while swimming for more than 20 minutes, in one week, only to throw all that effort away by sitting in a bar for a few hours and getting bloated from drinking Guinness.

I think, in retrospect, I drank because I was angry, stressed and sad. I needed to blur the edges of the day.

I would always have a glass of wine on Tuesdays, which is actually my Fridays, since I work weekends. On Wednesdays, I would go to the nearby Irish pub for takeout, and while I waited for my wings, I would have a Guinness. Thursday was and is my big night to go out, so I would drink then too. Then on Friday and Saturday nights, I would drink, because, you know, it was Friday and Saturday night. Any excuse, any day of the week, would do.

I drank everything from Guinness to Pinot Grigio, rum and coke on the rocks to gin and tonic on the rocks, Coors Light when there was nothing else around, bottles of homemade peach wine with my Newfie friends, and maybe even the odd shot of Tequila Rose.

Being angry comes from being a woman in my 50s and divorced. Being stressed comes from working in the media and struggling financially as a single parent of young adult children. Being sad comes from having lost my father in October 2011, who had faith in me, and having a mother, 90, who is suffering from dementia. It also comes from not being where I want to be at this point in my life. And it comes from having lost friends.

I have been told that I have “a complex history of grief and loss.”

Late last year, I was kicked out of a single moms group I called the cabal. We had been getting together every few months for the past 10 years. One member decided she didn’t like me anymore. A dog walker, she convinced the others to exclude me from the pack. It hurt and it felt like grade nine all over again. I meant to ignore this unwelcome development, but after a night in the bar, I told her and the two others in the group by email exactly how I felt. The dog walker responded by sending me an open letter to my therapist to explain her side of the story. In the end, I lost three friends in one go, and this was my rock bottom.

I do think, when people are unkind, it’s best to walk away, but there’s no walking away when you’ve been drinking.

Yes, life is not easy, and we all have problems.

Drinking, however, is not the answer. And not drinking means: I no longer wake up with hangover. I am calmer. My thinking is not disordered by alcohol. I am much more aware of what is going in my life and around me. I am an introvert and drinking helped me be more of an extrovert. Now, without the booze, I need more down time because there is nothing blocking the stimulating world outside. There is also no filter between me and my feelings, and now when I am sad, I am really sad. The feelings are intense. It can feel like the end of the world, if only for a few moments.

But overall, I feel better. I am alive. And I am less angry. Imagine that.
And although our society is awash in alcohol, and people my age drink when they socialize, and I am aware of who is knocking it back around me, I have chosen not to be a part of all that. They say older women are the new hard drinkers. In my case, I was headed down that road. But sobriety is my path now.

There are lots of things to drink and they don’t need to contain alcohol.

God has granted me some “serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, wisdom to know the difference.” Now, I am trying to be brave, and I am happy with the new me.

Image description:A headshot of Muriel, a white woman in her early 50s, photographed against a set of silver gym lockers. Muriel is smiling and wearing white swim goggles on her forehead.
Image description:A headshot of Muriel, photographed against a set of silver gym lockers. Muriel is smiling and wearing white swim goggles on her forehead.

Muriel Draaisma is a mother, dog owner and an online news reporter with CBC Toronto.

alcohol · competition · Guest Post

Guest Post: 5 Beer – 5k Race Report (August 19, 2016)

This is the second time I have done this race which is a long-distance version of the Beer Mile.  Instead of drink a beer, run a lap of a 400m track four times, it consists of drink a beer, run a kilometre, five times.

Yes, that’s right… drink a beer first, then run a kilometre, repeat five times.

There are very strict rules for the race.  The beer must be a regulation size can or bottle.  A certain Mexican beer is out as the bottles are too small.   The beer containers must only be opened one at a time, before starting each kilometre.  All containers must be emptied completely, and proven by turning it upside down over one’s head before starting the next running loop.  If one vomits, an extra kilometre must be run as a penalty.   If one is able to keep the vomit in by swallowing, there is no penalty.  No nudity is allowed.  Apparently something happened in 2015 that necessitated this rule.  Unfortunately I missed the 2015 race so I can’t report on the nudity occurrence.

There are several divisions including wine and spirits as well.   I choose to drink non-alcoholic beer which means I am included in the beer division but I am not eligible for a trophy if I were to win.

Here is my race report, including words of wisdom for myself if I choose to partake a third time in the future.

I hesitated to take part in the event this year as I had a twingey hamstring from doing 500m repeats several nights prior.  I was also concerned due to my upcoming goal race of the season being only 5 days later.  Would I risk jeopardizing my goal race for a silly beer run?  Yes, of course I would!

I had a busy afternoon at work and didn’t end up eating my lunch until 4pm.   3.5 hours prior to race time….. my quinoa salad should stay down fine, right?

I picked up my beer on the way home, direct from the local brewery.  I had decided to use their new 0% beer.  I had never tried it before, but it sounded good.  How different could it be from the grocery brand that I had used previously, right?  I left the chilled beer in my car to warm up to the ideal temperature, somewhere between cold and hot.

The race has gotten sillier over the years and some runners are starting to wear costumes.  I use this as an excuse to wear my running kilt, which I otherwise reserve for Highland Games running races.   I figure if you’re going to do something crazy, you may as well ramp it up.

We got to the race location with about half an hour to spare.  Lots of time to sign the waiver and figure out the running course.  This would be a 500m out and 500m back flat course.  There were about 50 runners and as many spectators as all runners are required to have a designated driver.   Much smack-talk ensued at this point….. ok, maybe it was just me mocking people who were opting to do the race as members of a relay team.  I can be a bit obnoxious when it comes to Stupid Human Tricks such as this.

At 7:30, the race began.  Drinks were opened and poured.  It instantly became apparent that we were going to have a new champion.  Our Aussie transplant quickly chugged his first beer in about 5 seconds and was off for his first kilometre.  I am not a chugger, but I was done in about 40 seconds.   With my first taste, I realized that I didn’t like my new beer choice as much as my prior one, but I thought I could tolerate it.  I headed off for my first run.

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The worst part of each kilometre is the first 200m.  If you are lucky, you will have a couple of belches and then be on your way.  My body did not disappoint and I had a good first kilometre.

Onto my second lap…. I didn’t remember the second beer being so difficult to get down last time.  IMG_2525

Finally I was done and off running again.  This time the belches didn’t come quite as easily.  At about the 400m mark, the Aussie lapped me.  I plodded back to the finish.

Beer #3 was very difficult to get down.  Another woman who was running my speed asked me if I wanted to switch to a relay midrace, with her.  I agreed but she had a change of heart so I was off to do lap #3 on my own.  At this point I was questioning my decision to participate but being the stubborn Taurus that I am, I kept going.   Now everyone was starting to lap me.  Getting my belches out was not a problem at this point.  I started to realize that the beer I was drinking had a ginger taste.  Wasn’t that supposed to settle your stomach?   Nope.   Another big burp and I tasted my quinoa salad.  This was not a good sign.

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(After this point in the race, I think my picture-taking husband was laughing too hard to take any more photos!)

I finished up that lap and cracked open beer #4.   The Aussie came in to his finish at this point, with a 17:20 overall.  I slowly swallowed about half of the bottle and started to gag.   I realized I was going to lose it.  I ran to the side of the house, not wanting to yack in front of everyone.   Up came the beer, and probably some quinoa salad, but I managed to keep it in my mouth and swallow it back down.  Triumph!  Back to the driveway and I finished the rest of that beer.  Out for my second last lap.

By the time I got back to start my 5th and final beer and lap, at least half the pack was finished and the crowd was getting louder by the minute.  People tend to finish the race sober, but become very drunk about 5 minutes later as their bodies metabolize the alcohol!  At this point I decided I was going to finish no matter what.  I slowly swallowed down the last bottle, and headed out.  Just as in my last 5B-5K, the final lap was fine.  For some reason, once you get to a critical mass of beer in your gut, running is fine.   I finally came in to the finish in 35:50, about 3 minutes slower than my previous attempt, but good enough for 6th woman in the beer division.

Some interesting things to note, if you ever want to attempt this type of race.

  • As someone with a very small bladder, I am surprised that I don’t feel the urge to pee through the entire race. It actually takes me at least an hour after finishing before I am able to pee at all.
  • To assist with this, I stop drinking anything about 3 hours before the race start.
  • I did eat about 3 hours prior to the race start. I would move this back an hour or two next time, to decrease the vomit-probability.
  • After the race I had pretty severe stomach cramping for about an hour, until I threw up a couple of times and was able to start peeing again.  I did not have this cramping with the prior beer I used.  I think that may be due to the ginger flavour.  I would go back to my prior beer for future attempts.
  • The Women’s Winning Time for 2016 was 24:58. As far as we are concerned, this is a World Record!

Would I advise that you do this type of race?  Sure, but probably try it first as the member of a relay team.  I will probably be out there next year trying to better my time….  Life is too short to forego doing silly things occasionally!

alcohol · fitness · racing · running

Women, wine, and the gendered marketing of alcohol through running

It’s wine o’clock somewhere, right?

image

Well, not for me. I don’t drink. Because Tracy and I have both chosen not to consume alcohol we tend not to talk about it much on the blog.

But lots of women like the joke. I see wine o’clock memes a lot in my social media newsfeeds. Wine o’clock is when children go to bed, when women finally get a moment for themselves, and when friends get together at the end of a long work day.

I’m thinking about this at the Feminist Approaches to Bioethics Congress in Edinburgh where Professor Kate Hunt’s opening plenary addressed gender and public health.

Hunt’s talk mentioned the gender based marketing of alcohol to women. Why?

We all know that the average lifespan for men is lower than the average lifespan for women. Hunt began with the question, how much of the gender gap in all cause mortality can be attributed to differential rates of tobacco use and alcohol consumption?

Lots it turns out. In pretty much all countries men out smoke and out drink women. The gap between these behaviors tracks the gender gap in all cause mortality.

Gender is made up of behavior and lots of the behavior is health related.

Hunt went on to talk about successful gender based campaigns aimed at men but my thoughts kept returning to alcohol and women.

wine2

The alcohol industry increasingly views women as an untapped market. Hence the “empowering” message behind “wine o’clock” jokes might not be so empowering after all. Gender socialization of women as non, or light, drinkers might be good for our health. And not all rebellion against gender norms is good for women. I think feminists see this in the case of smoking but not so much when it comes to alcohol.

What’s this got to do with health and fitness and feminism? I’ve been thinking about the ways the wine industry sets out to appeal to women. First, it sets itself apart from the broad category of alcohol. It’s not like rum or beer or those manly drinks. Second, it associates itself with rest, time for oneself, and friends. Wine is positively feminist. Indeed as a feminist academic, I hear women who are usually pretty critical cultural consumers sharing this messaging. Third, there’s the link between wine and fitness activities. People who care about their health drink wine, do yoga, and run marathons. Think about all the wine sponsored races out there. Tracy talked about getting a bottle in her race kit at the Niagara half marathon. There’s the wine and chocolate marathon in nearby Windsor, Ontario too. Wine sponsored running races seen to be cropping up everywhere. And the rise in the numbers of people running in these events is fueled largely by the increase in running by women.

wine

No conclusions to draw here though I am concerned about rising rates of alcoholism and binge drinking among women. Likewise I’m concerned about the way the industry seeks to tie itself to healthy lifestyle pursuits like running.

Also, if you’re interested there are lots of wine based races out there! A very quick Google search turns up:

But still mulling. And I’d welcome your thoughts.