Why I Quit Drinking In 2010 (And How It Created A Lifetime Of Healthy Habits)

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March 11, 2010, is a significant day for me: it’s when I started a 30-day no alcohol challenge, which turned into a permanent lifestyle change of healthy habits.

I was never a big drinker. I’d enjoy a few quiet beers during the week. Most weekends I’d go a little harder and got drunk on a handful of occasions over the years.

Social drinking was a fun habit. I wasn’t alcohol dependent. But over time, this habit was making me unhappy.

The rock bottom moment came on that March morning in 2010. I awoke with a shocking hangover after a fun night at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. So, I walked to an International House of Pancakes (IHOP) for a “hangover breakfast”.

The IHOP menus have photos of the food you can choose – big, bright, bold colors. The sight of those scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes on the menu and overweight people sitting next to me made me ill.

I decided at that moment to see if I could go 30 days alcohol-free: a personal bet to test my self-discipline. I didn’t plan to go more than 30 days.

The first two weeks were hard. I went out with friends, ordered water, and they’d give me a hard time. “You’re un-Australian!” they’d say.

But I survived those two weeks and was off to the races. I felt better, slept better and had more mental clarity.

After 30 days, I’d lost an incredible 13lbs (5.9kg) of fat around my stomach. Just from not drinking. My bank balance was rising, my skin looked better, and I started to enjoy getting out of bed for early morning exercise.

BeforeAfter

[Left] Before quitting alcohol, weighing in at 218lbs (98kg),[Right] Today, alcohol free, at 180lbs (82kg)

So I said, “Bugger it. I feel great. I’ll just keep going and see how far I can go.” Little did I know just how far I would go.

After 60 days, I craved a cold beer. Or a red wine. Or a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic with a dash of lime.

When it was hot outside, I started dreaming, “I would smash a cold beer right now!” But I breathed deeply, downed a tall glass of water and the feeling passed.

After three months, I felt terrific. I’d dropped a few more pounds of fat and was starting to put on lean muscle in the gym. People complimented me on my improved looks.

Despite not drinking, I still managed to have wildly entertaining nights out – even with my drunken friends slurring their words around me. Conversations with women became much more meaningful and they complimented me on my self-discipline.

You don't need alcohol to have a good time

You don’t need alcohol to have a good time

“Beautiful,” I thought. “I can stop drinking and still be fun, entertaining and attractive to women.”

Guys were always suspicious of my story, though. They thought I was a recovering alcoholic who “obviously” had a problem. They’d call me a “Pu$$y!” or say, “Just have one!” Or, “An Aussie that doesn’t drink?!?! F$%k off!”

I laughed, pointed to my head and gave them my stock response, “I’m too strong in mind!” Or, “No thanks, I’m driving.” Some idiots even tried to slip vodka into my soda. I had to make a point of always sniffing the drink they’d ordered for me.

Between three and six months I was in the zone. I felt energetic and healthy. I thrived on telling people I had temporarily stopped drinking.

It became easy to socialize without alcohol. I could still burn the midnight oil until 5 am but didn’t want to. My body returned to its natural circadian rhythm, and nothing good happened after 1 am anyway.

So I would party hard – alcohol-free – until 1 am. I was the life of the party and most people weren’t aware I wasn’t drinking. Then I headed home to be asleep no later than 2 am.

James still partyin late alcohol free

Still partying late alcohol-free

I slept like a baby. Studies show that even a small amount of alcohol messes with your sleep. I started wearing blue-light blocking glasses to get to sleep faster and woke rejuvenated.

Don't underestimate the value of good sleep

Don’t underestimate the value of good sleep

I was up at 8 am or 9 am to hit the gym, shower, have breakfast and be ready to tackle the day by 11 am when my mates were just dragging their lazy hungover backsides out of bed.

Six to 12 months was fairly easy, to be honest. And this is where I noticed the most dramatic changes.

My relationships became considerably better – romantic and platonic. I was constantly thinking about how I could help others rather than how they could help me. I was calmer and made better decisions.

Experience the mental clarity of an alcohol free life

Experience the mental clarity of an alcohol-free life

My work productivity soared. After reading Get Up! by James Levine, I realized that sitting down all day was killing me. Now I set my standing treadmill desk at one mph for five hours a day = five miles walked.

Today, more active, motivated and productive than ever!

Today, more active, motivated and productive than ever!

More opportunities, like winning an ESPN SportsCenter audition and being personally mentored by Tai Lopez came my way. Because I was clear in mind, I had the energy to make the most of these incredible experiences.

I’ve become a learning machine. I keep three sets of earphones: one in my gym bag, one in my house, and one in my office so I can always listen to a podcast or business training wherever I am. I’ve replaced my TV with a bookshelf. Now whenever I sit down to relax, the visual cue is there to instinctively pick up a book. The result? I used to read maybe two books a year. Now it’s at least four a week.

Taking on the world with the knowledge gained through reading

Taking on the world with the knowledge gained through reading

The result? I’ve gone struggling, making $38,000 a year to creating multiple successful businesses.

I also work out five times a week. How? I’ve created the habit. Each night before I go to sleep, I carefully lay out my gym clothes at the foot of my bed. When I wake up, immediately I see the shirt, shorts, shoes, socks, water bottle, headphones, and towel. Instinctively I put my gym clothes on. My chances of going to the gym are now 100%. And I’m in the best shape of my life.

image (1)

No alcohol means more energy for exercise

When I reached the personal milestone of one year without drinking, I found myself back in Austin at South by Southwest. I went to a pub, ordered a Budweiser, and put it to my mouth.

It smelled good.

I had every intention of drinking that beer. But something stopped me from taking a sip. I paused for a minute and considered how my life had transformed.

The pros of an alcohol-free life outweighed the cons of an alcohol-filled life. So I said to myself, “Just keep going.”

I put the Budweiser down and haven’t picked up a drink since.

I’m 20lbs (9kg) lighter today than I was when I started on March 11, 2010. Drinking definitely kept fat around my waist. This is likely due to three main things.

1. Alcohol contains a lot of empty calories.

2. Drinking makes you eat a lot more food, especially junk like fries and desserts.

3. Quitting drinking gives you the energy to be more active.

Now, I’m not saying you should quit drinking forever. But my story clearly shows some of the positive benefits of taking a short break from drinking.

Feel better, look better, work better, act better, be better, have more money, attract better quality friends, and create new habits.

Want to feel the same way? Set yourself a short goal of joining my 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge. Test it. See how you feel and if it works for you. Or go for a year.

Your perfect cocktail will soon become: Water, ice and a piece of lime.

If you think this article is worth sharing, please do.

Be well,

James

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Turns out, life is just better without alcohol

(If you would like my personal notes on Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, so you can cover the entire book in just 15 minutes – AND – get my personal notes on two other great books – enter your email below now and I’ll send them to you.)

  • Maneesh Sethi

    Great article James! I am starting a 2-week (maybe 30 day) challenge, starting the day after St. Paddy’s day.

    One thing: You misswrote a date: ” I’m 20lbs (9kg) lighter today than I was when I started on March 12, 2014 “

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Great spot. Corrected. Thanks, Maneesh. Good luck with your challenge.

    • http://www.LimitlessMindset.com/ Jonathan Roseland

      Go for 30 days… 2 weeks of sobriety is not really enough time to be beneficial. Basically it takes 2 weeks to get over the awkwardness of socializing with drunk people and irritation of dealing with dumb drunk guys while you are sober. It takes about 2 weeks for your hedonic treadmill to reset and then it actually get really fun. Good luck!

  • Bruce Trickett

    Great Article James – thanks for sharing.
    I’m in the final week of my Whole30 challenge and have remained alcohol, sugar and dairy free throughout: I completely get the clarity, and the energy and I genuinely have not ‘missed’ the booze at all. That said, myself and the two friends who are completing Whole30 with me have every intention of getting on it the weekend after we finish! (last day is March 18th). It’s all about changing habits and I feel I have done that; it’s a very rewarding feeling!
    Oh, and one typo: ‘waste’ instead of ‘waist’
    Cheers mate
    Bruce

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Great job, Bruce! Yes, it’s all about changing habits. Thanks for the typo shout-out.

  • Andrew Collins

    Great read. I recall meeting you at 6 months in Shanghai… i was very suspicious. Still am 😉

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Lol. Very good, Andrew Collins. Clever.

  • Ben Cannon

    James I have watched your journey and been inspired. Today I start a 30 day personal no drink challenge. Thanks for the inspiration

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Ben, that’s great! Thanks for your kind words. Keep me updated as to your no-drink challenge!

  • NBA 12th Man

    Incredibly timely post. I got absolutely steam rolled last Friday and the following day coupled with your story has triggered a change to how I will approach alcohol. I didn’t starting drinking until I was 20 (23 now) and I know I can enjoy a night out sober, but I enjoy a beer to much to go cold turkey. I’m going to avoid drinking just for the sake of it and save it for particular occasions. I plan on getting the best of both worlds.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      “Steam rolled” ! I love it. So funny! Thanks for your message. Yes, if you can drink in moderation and save it for special occasions, I feel like you’d enjoy drinking more overall. Your plan sounds like a good one. Good luck!

  • Brittany Hagan

    Brad Blanks (a man who knows everyone yet remembers all the little details about them) told me to check out this article and he was correct, RIGHT UP MY ALLEY! I have been sober for almost 4 years and you nailed some of the aspects.
    You look great, and very happy!
    Sometimes being in the moment is such a gift and sometimes I can relate to the idea of wanting a fuzzier aspect…but I’ll take the former because it works REALLY well for me.
    -Brittany

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Brittany, thanks so much for your positive feedback and congratulations to you for being 4 years sober! Keep up the good work! 🙂

  • Hawaiianmojo

    Such a great story! Thank you for sharing your pro-con approach.
    Please research Aspartame & phenylalanine the artificial sweeteners in most “diet” sodas. It actually converts to formaldehyde in the body & can be extremely toxic accumulating in the brain over time!
    Would hate to see you switch one toxic beverage for another 😉

    Much Health & Many Blessings!

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Yes, you’re right about the diet sodas. I’ve cut back on them to water now. Thanks for your comment! 😉

  • Laura

    Was it Aussies or Americans who gave you a hard time for being an Aussie who doesn’t drink? As an Aussie who lives in Sydney (ahh, Kings Cross), the way a lot of fellow Aussies get trashed overseas (especially nearby countries) and give us a reputation for being a bunch of troublemaking drunks really makes me cringe. (Not to mention, some of us can get pretty nasty.) You don’t seem to have been one of them even when you did drink. All the same, good on you.

    I tend to drink enough for a buzz (I get pretty outgoing), but only once in a blue moon and even then I get bored five minutes in and just want to be sober again!

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Laura, it was mostly Aussies, sometimes Americans. The Americans tended to be more understanding. Yes, getting drunk and being hungover just gets boring after a while doesn’t it? Thanks for sharing.

      • Laura

        *Shakes head* For all we rag on Americans, Aussies can be brutal. You sound tough for sticking it out.

  • Kayvee

    Question: Did you cut out all carbs as well to become lean? To achieve a lean body, what changes did you make to your diet?

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Kayvee, I ate paleo style. That means lean meets, vegetables, lots of
      good fats like avocado, coconut oil, almonds, almond milk (not cow’s milk). I got most of my carbs from the vegetables, particularly sweet potatoes, which are very good for you. NOT potatoes. Sweet potatoes. I interviewed Robb Wolf about paleo and have never looked back. You can check out his stuff here…
      http://journojim1.badgato.hop.clickbank.net

      Paleo + no alcohol + exercise = a healthy James. …

      • Kayvee

        Thanks Mate

        Im on Paleo right now. The last time I ate Paleo, I lost 10kgs without any exercise.

  • Kayvee

    Thanks for sharing. As a Muslim (its part of our religion to not drink alcochol), I too have to explain to people that I dont drink. I always get shocked looked that implies, “How else do you have fun?”

    Thats what I find, too many people only have fun when there is alcohol involved.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      “You don’t need alcohol to have a good time.” It’s true.

  • http://www.lifeprovocateur.com/ SuzanneMason

    Good stuff James, I used to drink quite a bit especially since I was a barmaid years ago and partied on my nights off too. I have stopped drinking for the last couple of years just because I have lost the taste for alcohol and the only difficulty for me was exactly what you had pointed out; mates and people around me who were determined to guilt or annoy me into drinking again. In any case, I do not miss the hangovers and I certainly do not have any less fun!

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Thanks for commenting, Suzanne. Yes, friends always want to guilt you, don’t they? I like to just smile, point to my head, and say, “I’m too strong in mind.” It keeps it lighthearted. Thanks for sharing.

  • Zac Morris

    James,
    Sick article, completely correct. I quit drinking for 6 months, and it was awesome. The only reason I drink now is because I’m a world traveller and when you live in new countries, it is pretty hard to assimilate into the culture without drinking. this has only reminded me of the fact that drinking has nothing to do with who we are as people, it’s pretty much a kind of fix that we have been tricked into believing is good for connecting with people. Either way, you seem to be doing very well for yourself, and I think it probably has a lot to do with your decision to not drink. I see many powerful people who dont drink, and they appear to be that way because of their personal decisions. I’m in the process of writing a manifest of sorts on why I’m going to stop drinking forever.. but you definitely have been a great reminder of the benefits! Cheers

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Zac, thank you for taking the time to write me like this. I’m glad my article served as a good reminder of the benefits for you. Let me read the manifest when it’s done. James

  • Roman Gorbunov

    Reduced my drinking to a maximum minimum about 3 years ago. Now can have a beer with a friend, or a glass of wine with a girl once per 2-3 months. And just to taste something new, not ordering crappy cheap buzz. James, did you reduce alco completely from you life?

  • http://www.boommedialabs.com/ Maxim

    What about wine and beer? Where I live it counts towards a healthy diet having a glass of wine or a bottle of beer from time to time. 😉

  • Ted

    Beg to differ. Alcohol contains ZERO carbs. Beer has carbs, wine has carbs, but distilled spirits, I repeat, contain NO carbs. Alcohol in ALL forms does contain calories. And mixers MAY contain carbs which, of course, contain 4 calories per gram. Straight alcohol or straight alcohol with carb-free mixers WILL get in the way of fat-burning and WILL inhibit weight loss or increase weight gain, but it will NOT re-addict one to carbs.

  • Jayde Blair

    Hi James
    I’m 27 and I have just quit drinking about 4 weeks ago. It’s only new but I was having a glass of wine or 3 a few nights a week and maybe a bottle or 2 of wine on a Saturday.. I felt horrible, I’ve put on weight, my skin was bad, I slept badly (basically all of the above you have mentioned) – After my first week I already felt amazing, I look better, I feel better and now when I’m out, or at home, I don’t even think about having a drink, nor do I feel like I’m missing out.
    There is one problem I’m coming across, when people ask if I’m drinking, and I say no… I’m actually being laughed at! And they say yeh right it’s only been 4 weeks.. or yeh that won’t last. I know that I should ignore and blah blah by goodness me it’s hard!! That’s the bit I’m finding hardest, is my close friends and families lack of faith in me. Very very frustrating.
    I have no intention of picking up a drink ever again, I wish they would just leave it alone 🙂
    Anyway, great article.. I look forward to reaching my 4 year day eventually too!
    Jayde

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Hi Jayde, thanks for sharing your story. I support you!!

  • Jenny

    I tend to go on and off trying to get through 30 days. It is easy when my husband does no wine for 30 with me, but I end up caving when he opens up a bottle of red. Then, when I break the 30, I tend to go all out and have way too much. Not good! It is easy for me to not drink when I am not around alcohol. How did you get through those first 30 days while being around wine?

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Jenny, thanks for sharing. Whenever I wanted a drink, I just reminded myself that the long-term benefits of not drinking were stronger than the temporary pleasure I felt from drinking.

  • Felix Su

    Thanks so much for your candor and wisdom. Your experience is especially meaningful and inspiring to me. Since college I’ve been a moderate-to-low drinker (e.g. a couple of drinks to go with weekend meals, somewhat higher levels of indulging during vacations abroad and happy hour/weddings/reunions/other social gatherings). While I agree that quitting altogether certainly isn’t for everyone, in my case the stakes are potentially grave. As a 30-year old of East Asian descent with the “Asian flush” syndrome (I get noticeably red-faced after only a few drinks), I have more to worry about than keeping off a beer belly. There’s a growing body of medical evidence that for us Asian flushers, even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with highly elevated risks of esopheagal cancer, since our bodies don’t properly metabolize the carcinogenic byproduct of alcohol, acetaldehyde. I’ve actually known about these studies since 2009 and since then have harbored the intention to quit drinking altogether. While I’ve managed to go several-month stretches without alcohol, something’s always triggered a relapse (a cause for celebration, a social situation where booze is flowing freely, or a plain-old “it’s been so long and it’s such a hot summer day, a cold beer won’t hurt.”) Reading about your commitment, 4-years strong, has re-convinced me that it CAN be done, for the sake of my own health and those who I care about and want to be around for. I’ve been 2 weeks alcohol-free but will have my resolve more keenly tested this weekend at a friend’s wedding, as well as next month during a weeklong vacation with my wife in Los Cabos. I’m so glad I stumbled across your site, it’s truly a source of empowerment!

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Felix, thank you for sharing! Sometimes when people encourage me to have “just one drink”, I tap my forehead with my index finger and with a sly grin I reply, “Nah…I’m too strong in mind”. Try it out. 🙂

  • Lars T

    I analyzed the last six months of money spent on alcohol, bars, and restaurants (they’re all the same for me) and am astounded it how much it added up. I’m going to stop for 90 days, save a ton of money, feel great, and probably keep going after that.

  • Horton McCormick

    It is not hard to stop drinking alcohol, you just need to become unaddicted. Read Allen Carr ‘Stop Drinking Now’ book. It will unaddict you, no willpower or self control needed. I am not associated with Allen Carr organization just a guy that has benefited. Trust me this works.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Thanks for sharing, Horton! I’ll check it out.

  • Christopher

    Awesome story. I am going to give thirty days a try.

    Just a small nitpick. Alcohol has no carbs. Alcohol has alcohol! It’s quite unique. Where protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9, alcohol has 7 calories per gram with no nutritional value. All empty calories.

    Beer has surprisingly few carbs, but the fruity drinks are loaded with sugar. There’s a cheap, gross drink called Four Loko in the states. They’re 12 percent ABV, and assuming they have as much sugar as a coke, that breaks down like this:
    24oz -> 710g
    78g sugar -> 312cal
    85g Alcohol-> 596cal
    908 calories total!

    This is an assumption on the sugar content, but there’s definitely those 600 calories from alcohol. Drinks mixed with regular soda will have similar caloric content, so it’s easy to see how someone would lose weight with no changes other than abstaining from alcohol.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Thanks, Christopher! I’ve been drinking a lot of soda this holiday period in Australia! Time for me to quit soda, too, I think! 🙂 Thanks for sharing, mate.

  • iginla

    I’m an alcoholic at 28…i need to quit. I’ve lost a relationship and a god job because of it. Its just AA meetings are usually attended by people I can’t relate to

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      I know the feeling. Sorry to hear that. Join us at http://www.30daynoalcoholchallenge.com and join our closed facebook group, which supports one another. You want to try it, iginla?

  • Scott Tanner

    Love the article. But disagree with the fact that you didn’t hve a problem with drinking. To be honest you looked like shit in your before photo. Your health was diminishing. It clearly effected relationships and your sleeping patterns. You weren’t a homeless alcoholic but I think the definition of what problem drinking is needs to be redefined.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Maybe I simply felt like I didn’t have a problem. Thanks for the feedback, Scott.

  • http://www.liveandtravelyourlife.wordpress.com Andrea Gerak

    That’s terrific, James!!

    I can only imagine how hard it must have been – never been a drinker. Actually, I never understood why would people spend their money on wasting their brain cells, then feel sick afterwards and remember nothing of what has happened…

    Very occasional social drinking didn’t work for me either: I always had so much fun with dancing and such, that I often were in a much better mood than all the others who were drinking – so why would one need such a thing?

  • Ron Figueroa

    Hin James,
    I didn’t realize how real you are till I started reading some of your stuff.
    The drinking stuff I alsostopped and feel and am told look like 40 something when I’m 62.

  • Ron Figueroa

    Looking forward to ongoing mentoring,
    Peace

  • Ryan Doyle

    Caffeine too? I’m afraid I won’t be able to totally quit alcohol without also quitting caffeine.

  • Sarah

    Great read! I recently completed the Whole30, so 30 days without alcohol. I was sleeping like a baby and looking very slim! After the Whole30, I have gone out a couple of times and had drinks. I quickly learned I hated the way it made me feel. I love your story! I feel the same. Hopefully I can quit forever! 🙂

  • Radbourne barak

    Alcoholism is a condition in which you become physically as well as mentally dependent on alcohol. The entire process is gradual and you don’t even realize when the change in the level of brain chemical happens due to regular consumption of alcohol. As a result of these significant transitions inside the brain, you start craving for alcohol. To make you feel good, your brain will keep on demanding alcohol from you and to satisfy its demand you will drink more and more. This is what we call alcoholism.We can easily get rid of alcoholism by using natural home remedies.

  • Pagen Stone

    There are several claims regarding the cure of this menace. Along with professional help, lifestyle changes, dietary changes and home remedies can help a person combat alcoholism and enjoy a life of sobriety. But only a few of us are aware about the fact that alcoholism can be cured at home before undergoing any type of drug treatment.

  • JKN

    Great article two months in on my 3 month cleanse ready for a glass of wine but I am seeing benefits as well your article puts things in perspective

  • http://www.ocolshit.wordpress.com Aiiviia Ann

    I love your story!!

  • Chris

    Great article. Inspiring. Especially as you’re an Aussie! I’m starting my own AF journey, I’m simply bored of the well trodden routine of drunkenness and hangovers. Your story has given me the encouragement I need to get through an upcoming business event without a drop of booze.

    Life is more exciting without this drug. I’m already more relaxed, forgiving, helpful after only a couple of weeks off.

    Thanks, James.

  • Dominic Hawkins

    Bonjour from Paris ! James – you have been a great encouragement on what has been / and is my current alcohol detox. I decided after 25 years of wine/champagne every evening (easy in France especially working in PR/Hotel Industry) to completely stop. (I am 52) For the first month I immediately started feeling better but there was absolutely no weight loss….then as of month no.2 the pounds started dropping off. I have lost now over 25 lbs since 3 months when I first started. I have also started doing more sport like yourself. My face has changed and slimmed down and the weight loss has dropped me down 3 sizes…loving it ! Feel and look younger as do you in your photos. Any ideas on when the pounds stop dropping off? I was 200 lbs / 6 ft tall…. and am now 175lbs. Thanks again for being an inspiration. Warm regards from Paris.

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