An Expert's Guide to Sober October

Food & Drink

Sober October is the month we challenge ourselves to quit drinking alcohol for 31 days (and beyond if we can hack it!). Rooted in an Australian fundraising movement for charity Life Education, the initiative has been adopted as a fundraiser by Macmillan Cancer Support. You can take part in support of the charity, or alternatively as a personal challenge to achieve fitness and wellbeing goals. We spoke to Ruari Fairbains, CEO of OYNB, to find out more about Sober October, and whether a month without alcohol can really benefit your life.

What are the rules for Sober October?

There’s really only one rule, and that’s to stop drinking alcohol for 31 days. If you’re raising money for charity, Sober October offers a nifty little feature where you can buy one ‘golden ticket’ cheat day for a special occasion, e.g. Halloween, a wedding, a birthday, or whatever you like. Take one night off during the challenge by making a personal £15 donation in exchange for your Golden Ticket.

If you’re doing Sober October as a personal challenge, you can have fun with it and set your own rules. Perhaps you want to quit other vices for the month as well, like fizzy drinks, social media, betting, cigarettes, or sugar. Use that alcohol-free momentum to the max!

Are there health benefits to going sober for a month?

Definitely! Giving up alcohol for just one month can have lasting benefits. From week one, you may notice your sleeping pattern improves, as quitting alcohol can add five or six more REM cycles per night. This leads to better cognitive function, steadier moods, and healthier eating patterns. And remember, alcohol is also a diuretic which promotes water loss, so by going alcohol-free for one month, you’ll be better hydrated, experience fewer headaches, and have more energy.

From around week two, you might notice better digestion too. Acid production begins to stabilise, which has a soothing effect on your stomach lining and means any acid reflux and indigestion calm down. It’s around this point that you begin to see how much money you’re saving, which gives you more to spend on more positive treats. For instance, the cost of 3-4 cocktails on a night out could buy you a gym membership.

In week three, take a beat to work out how many calories you’ve saved by not drinking alcohol. Six pints of lager per week, multiplied by three weeks is a whopping 3,240 empty, nutritiously devoid calories. That’s the equivalent of 15 slices of chocolate cake that you haven’t eaten!

On top of which, your blood pressure may have dropped, which in turn reduces your future risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

In week four, your liver function should have recovered. Your liver performs over 500 vital functions, playing a critical role in fighting infections, maintaining hormonal balance, giving your body energy, converting food nutrients, and removing toxins. You’ll see the first signs of a healthier liver in more glowing skin and brighter eyes.

What’s the best way to prepare for Sober October?

First, challenges are easiest when you have support. If you can convince a friend or family member to join you for Sober October, you can motivate and hold each other accountable to succeed.

Next, going alcohol-free doesn’t have to be boring. The soft drink and alcohol industries have invested heavily in creating non-alcoholic beers, wines, spirits and mocktails that taste fantastic and still hit the same taste receptors as their boozy counterparts. There’s never been more choice, so experiment and explore what’s available with an open mind. You might be surprised.

Also remember that cravings don’t last. They typically peak at about 15–20 minutes and then fade, so just keep yourself busy and distracted for about that long if you feel the urge to drink. This could be with meditation, breathing exercises, going outside for a walk, talking to someone, or using stress-relieving accessories like fidget spinners.

Bear in mind that just because you aren’t drinking, doesn’t mean you can’t go out and have fun as usual! There’s no need to deprive yourself of a social life, in fact it’s even more important to have something to look forward to during the month—perhaps go for a fancy meal, take in a show, or get your thrill on with an adrenaline-filled day at a theme park.

Last word: just remember to stay on task to complete Sober October, and don’t overwhelm yourself with too many challenges at once.

Why can’t I just do Dry January?

Sober October is arguably a better month to give up drinking. We tend to slow down a bit in autumn, which means you can focus on goals without too many distractions, and it’s a great way to give your body a break before the festive season kicks in.

Come January, you’re bombarded with ‘new year, new you’ messaging and pressure to get in shape, set goals for the year and process the year you just had all at the same time. It can all be rather overwhelming. Plus, if you’re fundraising, then you’re likely to do better in October than in broke January. So not only are you giving back to a fantastic cause, but you’re also giving yourself a better chance of success.

And there’s no reason you can’t do Dry January as well once you’ve smashed Sober October…

What if I want to keep going after October?

Challenges add an big dose of motivation and accountability to a goal, which makes them very powerful. As you progress through Sober October, you’ll naturally start to examine your personal relationship with alcohol. Almost everyone ends the month feeling better about themselves in ways they didn’t anticipate. Many use it as a way to springboard into longer 90- day alcohol-free challenges. This ramps things up a notch—you’ll learn how to really take control of your drinking habits so you can get in better shape, sleep more deeply, lower anxiety, improve your mood and more. If you like, you can also learn how to take alcohol out of your life for good. These include improvements to your health, energy, and mental clarity – all whilst accessing a community of global support to build lifelong friendships with

If you find yourself consistently struggling to stick to your alcohol-free goals, or have unresolved concerns about alcohol addiction, be sure to speak to your GP, therapist, or treatment professional to help find the right support.

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