Why Bingeing Is Bad For Your Body and Brain

Does this story sound familiar? Maybe it’s you - maybe someone you know...

For the most part, you take it easy with the alcohol. A drink or two with dinner, possibly a nightcap after a long day, but nothing excessive (because you don’t want drinking to interfere with your busy work life or productivity, right?) That is, until the opportunity arises. You time it perfectly - usually on a weekend - no immediate work responsibilities the next day. You’ve been saving up for this all week- and when you let go, you go hard.

Work hard, play hard - right? After all, you deserve it.

Then the next day, you’ll drink a green juice, hit the gym, sweat it out and be back to normal. Maybe.

Maybe not.

New research shows this type of drinking (aka bingeing) is bad for your brain, and it might not be for the reasons you think.

Yes, there are the immediate consequences that we’re all aware of: the pounding head, the fogginess, the underlying nausea. Those are symptoms that can be treated fairly quickly, leading us to feel like we’re back to “normal” quicker than we actually are.

However, as research on binge drinking has begun to show, all is not so.

But first, what exactly constitutes binge drinking? I know I certainly never applied the term to myself - though in retrospect I definitely fit within the definition.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours. (A drink would be a small glass of wine or beer, or a cocktail with 1 oz of alcohol.)

As you can see, it’s quite easy to ingest that amount of alcohol, or more, during a big night out. What’s more, is that if you are anything like me, it didn’t stop at one night.

There would be brunch the next day, then maybe a happy hour, drinks with dinner, and another night out, followed by another brunch on Sunday… In short, a lot of alcohol over a short span of time.

I used to think that by Monday I could be back to normal again, but research shows I was mistaken. Now, I’m not usually one for scare tactics - but the more I started researching this, the more I felt like I needed to share.

Dr. Jonathan Chick, of the alcohol problems service at the Royal Edinburgh hospital and the chief editor of Alcohol and Alcoholism, says his research shows that “humans who have a few heavy drinking sessions in a row may sometimes undergo subtle brain changes which make it harder to learn from mistakes and to learn new ways of tackling problems because their brain function has been subtly impaired."

Another interesting study, conducted by two identical twin brothers Chris and Alexander van Tullekens who also happen to be doctors, was the focus of a recent BBC Horizon special.

Alexander drank 3 units of alcohol daily, whereas Chris consumed the weekly amount of alcohol in a span of 24 hours, four times (weekends) in a month. The aim was to see how the same quantity of alcohol affected the body, given the difference in the way it was consumed.

Chris reports feeling his experiment would be easier. He thought he would deal with a day or two of hangover, and then feel great the rest of the week. The results, however, showed otherwise, “My levels of cytokines and interleukins, those key markers of inflammation, were raised. I'd expected them to be sky high after the first binge - but six days later, just before I was about to start the second binge, they hadn't gone down at all, and at the end of four weeks they'd soared.”

Well, there goes the idea that a week off in between a big binge is enough to clear the system. He continues, “I felt good but my body was still damaged from the binge. Inflammation is linked to a vast array of diseases from cancer and severe infection to heart disease and dementia. This was not a good result.”

How exactly does that happen? Well, when inflammation is triggered and refuses to turn on, the body starts thinking it is under attack, and floods your system with white blood cells. Your immune system becomes drained, and then the body has a hard time warding off other illnesses. This means that even a common cold virus or bacterial infection can cause a greater risk.

I used to wonder why I’d become rundown and why it always seemed like I was always fighting a cold … this definitely explains why. Yet as a young, resilient and generally quite healthy person, I used to feel quite invincible. So what if I’d get colds more often than others? It’s wasn’t going to kill me. But now, I realize the reality of my drinking habits and how they could be contributing to much more serious consequences such as cancer and brain damage is a much more, dare I say it, sobering thought.

In a NIAA publication on alcohol and Alzheimer disease, Dr. Suzanne Tyas writes that while there is still more research needed on whether alcohol use can be a predictor for Alzheimer’s, it is proven that some of the detrimental effects of heavy alcohol use on brain function are similar to those observed in Alzheimer’s disease. Heavy drinking accelerates shrinkage, or atrophy of the brain, which causes neurodegenerative changes … in other words, brain damage. Ugh.

Dr. Fulton T. Crews, professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill adds, “there are a growing list of studies that suggest that even short term binge drinking can have long term effects.”

But before you spiral into a doom and gloom reasoning like “Well, if I’ve already damaged my brain then what’s the point ... I may as well continue boozin and at least have fun” - let me stop you right there. That kind of fatalism will get you nothing more than a foggier brain with less functional brain cells, and a body rife with inflammation.

See, regardless of your past, there is hope! The good news is that, unlike Alzheimer’s and terminal cancer, you can turn this around. Studies show that the atrophy of brain cells decreases after abstinence from alcohol, and what we know from many cancer survivors is that adopting an “anti-inflammatory lifestyle” can reduce or halt the progression of inflammation-induced ailments. Does it mean you have to give up alcohol forever? No. Does it mean making some lifestyle changes? Yes, of course. But trust me, your brain and body will thank you for it.

Tips for cutting back:

  1. Take a break: Try a period of abstinence. My friend Jina Schaefer, who leads regular 40 day alcohol free challenges on Facebook, recommends giving yourself a little over a month to press reset and really look at your relationship to alcohol.

  2. Stick to the recommended daily amount. As someone who is a bit “authority adverse,” (okay, a lot) this is a tough one for me. “What do “they” know? My tolerance is great!” Sound familiar? Well, just because I could hold my alcohol didn’t mean it wasn’t harming my body and brain. The government guidelines are there for a reason. The reason isn’t a Big Brotherish buzzkill, it’s because drinking more than the recommended amount has been shown to have serious health risks. So ladies, that means no more than 4 standard sized drinks in the span of 4 hours.

  3. Pace yourself (bye bye bingeing): Alternate one alcoholic drink with two non-alcoholic drinks. Experiment with different drinking behaviours. If you feel like you want to treat yourself to one or two drinks during the week so that you aren’t saving up for the big blowout on the weekend, try that. As Dr. Dr Michael Wilks says, "Saving up your weekly units so you can drink them all on a Friday night is not the way to interpret the government's advice."

  4. Be anti-inflammatory: This is a biggie, and involves more than just cutting back on alcohol. The “work hard play hard” lifestyle often puts stress on our system in a myriad of ways, and we now know that stress is inflammatory as well. Strive to achieve a bit more balance, get 30 minutes more sleep a night, enjoy restful, relaxing and rejuvenating activities like yoga, meditation, swimming, walking in nature, and eat a plant-based and nutrient dense diet. If you do have a big night out, reconsider reaching for a burger the next day and try a green juice, root veggies or salad instead (all anti-inflammatory). Most importantly - don’t beat yourself up!! If anything, pamper yourself more.

  5. Take 5 (or 10) Find ways to take mini-breaks, or as my friend Katie Corcoran calls them, “hustle breaks” (if you missed our conversation last week, click here). Break the binge behaviour by allowing yourself pleasure play dates throughout your days and weeks, so that you don’t feel the need to go “all out” on the weekends. Surround yourself with beauty, have fresh flowers at your day and remind yourself to smell them, keep floral aromatherapy scents on hand to get you out of your head and into the moment, take dance or spin classes … do anything that gives you the opportunity to get out of your head and into your body.

One final thought. For those of us women who push ourselves hard, too hard sometimes, alcohol becomes the permission slip… the hall pass that allows us to check out for awhile. For me and I’m sure this is the same for a lot of us,I drank to excess to escape from my overwhelmed brain, then I’d spend my only day off curled up in fetal position … this was the only way I knew how to give myself permission.

And now, my downtime is vital to my ability to recharge. My body and brain are better for it, and I can guarantee that yours will be too.

Have a friend who could use this info? Please pass it along!

I’d love to hear your biggest takeaways in the comments! How does bingeing show up in your life and how can you bring in more balance instead?


Lady Hustle + #drinklesspartymore

Have you ever had the feeling that you just needed to “get out of your head” and stop your thoughts for awhile?

Are you an extrovert who loves to party but doesn’t always know when it’s too much?

Do you hustle hard but find you need to play harder to release the stress?

Do you ever feel like you just want to get lost in the music?

Or you know there are other ways to relieve stress but you “just don’t have the time?”

If you answered yes to any of these questions - fear not, you aren’t alone. In fact, both of us (my guest--lifestyle coach, Katie Corcoran--and me) have struggled with these very same issues … Which is what prompted us to get together and share this chat with you as we seek to find ways to thrive in our hustle but to do so using healthier alternatives to the 'hustle n' binge' behavior familiarly found in our busy lifestyles.

Both alumni from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, we connected online and realized that there were a lot of parallels in our work, personalities and lives as we strive to find ways to thrive in our hustle.

In this video, we discuss:

  • why lady hustlers become programmed to work hard/play hard

  • why bingeing can actually be harder on your brain and body in the long term

  • how adding more pleasure and fun into your life will actually help offset your binges

  • how to get out of your head and into your body

  • why it’s important to take hustle breaks

You’ll also hear our thoughts on why water is just plain boring and what you can order instead … and other strategies to drink less, that actually work!

Finally, we introduce you to the idea behind the #drinklesspartymore movement, and why sharing with your friends will make this a heck of a lot more fun than doing it alone.

One small note - I’m calling in from my house in Mexico, and the video is a little pixelated. Stick with it! We promise the content will be well worth your patience!

When you complete the video, we’d love for you to put your newfound learnings into action! We’ve all tried to think our way into different behaviours, but as you know, creating new habits requires action, and practice.

Did you like this video? If so, we'd love for you to rise on up by taking action and...

  1. Sharing this video with a #drinklesspartymore buddy
  2. Tell us what #drinklesspartymore strategy you're going to integrate in your life. What kind of fun adventures will you have in your daily life sans booze?

xo Caitlin & Katie

Your Wallet Will Thank You For It

Last week I had a meeting with the young co-founder of Cabaret Design, an up and coming social media marketing firm, Josh Kallmeyer.

We were discussing the whole concept behind “Drink Less, Party More” and how to get the message out to more people (stay tuned for this – some exciting new initiatives coming your way soon!)

“I love the concept,” he said to me. “I love to go out but personally don’t like to drink, and my wallet thanks me for it!”

I hadn’t really ever heard someone so young put it that way before. I thought to myself … Wow, yeah, there’s a reason this guy is seeing so much success (both financially and in terms of recognition) at such a young age. He’s focused, with his eye on the prize, and he knows where he wants to invest his money--on growing his business and not on something so fleeting as drinks at the bar.

He’s figured out something before his early 20s that took me about a decade longer to get a handle on.

From a purely financial standpoint drinking alcohol equals money down the drain, quite literally.

A recent article on Time.com showed that by going out a couple of times a week, and drinking moderately, you could easily end up spending around $7,000 a year.

(This is, of course, dependent on where you live … it could be less, but it also could be a lot more).

Now, what if you don’t like to go out, but prefer a glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day? Let’s say that you buy on average one $10 bottle of wine a week. That’s $520 a year right there, that’s probably on the very low end, assuming you only ever drink inexpensive wine at home and never buy drinks when you’re out.

Either way you look at it, it adds up. It adds up to the extent that I refuse to do the math on how much money I’ve spent over the years – I prefer to be in the dark about the actual amount (yes, I’m still in denial).

I’m now acutely aware of how that denial exists in others as well. I frequently hear from clients or friends, “I can’t afford that” or “I have no money.” During discovery sessions, financial challenges are one of the number one struggles that many bring up with me. Yet these same people are often unwilling or just not ready to look at the hard truth around how much money they are spending on booze that they could be spending elsewhere, like on quality organic food, fresh flowers, spa treatments, massages, personal development (ahem coaching!) and more.

I remember watching Gabrielle Bernstein, best-selling author of A Course in Miracles and Spirit Junkie, talk about how she replies to comments that a daily fresh juice “habit” is expensive. “When I stopped drinking, I realized how much money I was saving by not buying alcohol. One or two fresh juices a day is still less expensive than the cocktails I was drinking before, and way healthier for me in the long-term.”

Instead of wallowing in the past choices I made and how much money I spent ...

When I asked Josh (young start up co-founder) around whether abstaining from alcohol had ever been an issue in the development of his business, he replied that he hadn’t encountered it as an issue, and if it was, he would question whether these were really the people he wanted to be collaborating with in the first place.

Clearly, it’s only as much of an issue as we want it to be. Using the excuse, “I had to drink with the investor/client/boss, etc” may be more of an excuse for yourself to drink than you care to admit. Because when you find other ways to connect, network or impress … ways that are more aligned with your health, financial success will soon follow.

However, you don’t have to quit drinking altogether for your wallet to thank you, (though obviously you’d get the biggest THANKS if you did).

Cutting out just one or two drinks a week could save you between $500-1000 a year.

And if that’s not motivation to cut back, I don’t know what is!

Start making a list now of the wonderful treats you’re going to spend these savings on. Rewards make the process of drinking less alcohol all the more sweeter, wouldn’t you say?

Share your list in the comments, I'd love to hear. And if you'd like to schedule a time to talk, feel free to book that here.