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18 September 2018Last updated
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My life without...

In the month of resolutions, we ask which one of these common vices you would find hardest to give up. Not sure? Find out how the Aquarius team fared when they put themselves to the test

Aquarius team
1 Jan 2015 | 12:00 am
  • Louisa Wilkins.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 1 of 3
  • Catherine Harper.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 2 of 3
  • Tabitha Barda.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 3 of 3

Louisa Wilkins, 35, gave up alcohol for a year

Every January, my mum does a month-long detox. Healthy eating, getting to bed early and strictly no alcohol. And every January, I promise to get on board, only to duck out of my promise a week in when friends are gathering to celebrate someone’s birthday, or to catch up after returning from the festive holidays, or – more often than not – for absolutely no good reason at all.

However, towards the end of 2013, after a few months of feeling run-down and stressed out, I decided that I would do it – properly this time. A month off alcohol. No ifs, no buts.

I knew I had to draw a strong line in the sand, cement over it and put a Salik toll gate above it if I was going to keep to my resolve. I had to be committed to the fact that, no matter what happened during that month – whether it be someone’s engagement, or someone else’s heartbreak; whether someone got a promotion, or someone else lost their job – I would be there to celebrate, or commiserate, with my friends and family as normal, but 
I would do it without alcohol.

It was harder than I thought. People don’t take kindly to you turning down a glass of bubbly when they have splashed out on a fancy, expensive bottle to celebrate their wife’s birthday.

And they seem to take it personally when you attend their house-warming party and turn down their special punch, made from their great-aunt Edna’s recipe, in favour of a warm can of Diet Coke. While I can’t presume to know what they are thinking or feeling in that moment, their reaction is as if you have said, “Sorry, I am only here out of a sense of social duty. I don’t want to celebrate with you. I am not interested in getting into the spirit of your party.

And this is not an important enough occasion for me to warrant feeling wretched tomorrow, so I’m just going to hang on the outside of your shindig and slope off as soon as is humanly possible.”

Perhaps they are not thinking that at all. But when they tried effusively to talk me away from the Diet Coke and back to the punch, and it seemed like they wouldn’t take no for an answer, and finally (and begrudgingly) accepted that I would not be coerced and turned away, as if to say, “Well, there is really no point you being here then,” that was absolutely how it felt.

And it was hard... especially for a party-loving, natural-born wild child like myself. I didn’t like feeling I was on the outside of the joy-fest. And I didn’t like feeling I was letting people down, or that they didn’t really like me as much anymore.

But for the first time ever, I stuck to my promise... and I’m so glad I did.

By the end of the first month, I realised that it wasn’t just about not having hangovers – that my life was very different without alcohol. Not only did my weekends open up in to great big opportunities to do lots of fun things, but I had more money in the bank, I had more energy and I was still having fun. So much fun, in fact, that I decided to stretch my month of abstaining to three months. At the end of the third month, I was gaining so much clarity and direction in my life, that I didn’t want it to end. So I decided to try to stick it out for an entire year. And I did.

Over the past 12 months, my life has changed in too many ways to describe. I have more money in the bank at the end of the month and can afford small luxuries that I never could before (weekend breaks away, spontaneous shopping trips, a second-hand paddle board). I have learnt how to dive, which I always wanted to do, but never seemed to be able to squeeze in. And I get a good night’s sleep seven nights a week.

Additionally, I’ve taken my make-up off every single night and have eaten a lot less burgers and zaater breads. I haven’t lost a phone, or wasted a Friday avoiding sunlight like a vampire and feeling like my internal organs have been through a car wash. Nor have I had the horror of checking Facebook on a Saturday morning concerned about the pictorial evidence of the previous night’s jubilations.

I still love going out with friends, but I am more discerning about where I go and what I do. Hanging around in smokey bars just for the sake of it doesn’t do it for me anymore... I’d rather go to a concert, have a lovely dinner, see a movie, or have an early night with a good book.

Not very rock’n’roll, but does life really need to be?

I gravitate towards places that will serve me tea at midnight. I still dance, but never when the dancefloor is empty. I still laugh – I think I laugh more now – but I always remember what I was laughing about the next day.

Yes, some people have drifted out of my life, but way more have drifted in. And I can safely say I am healthier, happier and more content in every way.

And that, my friends, is worth missing any drink for. Yes, even your great-aunt Edna’s punch.

Catherine Harper, 32, gave up sugar for two weeks

Give up sugar for two weeks in the name of work. Easy, right? Hold the Haribo, steer clear of Hey Sugar, give the chocolate aisle a wide berth and that should do it. Sadly not. I had to make some major changes to my eating habits and, I’m sad to say, my social habits too.

I’ve always had something of a sweet tooth, mainly if I have something sweet in the house (it’s like it’s calling to me until I devour it) or if I’m hungry and passing Candylicious. If it’s not there I can do without, but if it’s in the vicinity I’m the kind of person who won’t be satisfied with just two squares and will happily scoff the whole family-size bar.

I didn’t find it physically hard to give up sugar, though; on the contrary, I felt much better for it. I had more energy, felt less drained, suffered far less from blood sugar highs and lows and overall just felt healthier.

No, the first difficulty was actually identifying the foods with sugar in them. I found a whole range of foods I never would have thought contained sugar were actually stacked with the stuff. I’ve never been one for fat Coke or other fizzy drinks, but I’m a big fan of the blood orange San Pellegrino. Not any more, since I read the label. And who knew pickled baby beetroot had sugar sneaked in? It’s a salad ingredient, for heaven’s sake! Ready-cooked chicken kebabs from the supermarket, breakfast cereals, bread… I even found myself scrutinising the soy sauce bottle after a friend told me she was convinced it contained sugar. I had to avoid all take-out meals, because nine times out of 10 the person taking my order couldn’t tell me if the recipe had sugar in it or not, and I stuck to plain dishes when I did venture out so I could be reasonably sure sugar wasn’t on the list of ingredients. It certainly made dining anywhere except the safety of my own kitchen a whole lot more challenging and much of the time, the effort far outweighed the benefits, so I simply didn’t bother.

My other main issue with a sugar-free diet was the reaction of my social circle. Much like a group of alcoholics will encourage a non-drinker to imbibe, I found myself constantly having to bat away suggestions that it was ‘just a bite’, or that it ‘wouldn’t count’ while attempting to avoid the sweet treat being waved under my nose. I totally get it – if you’re indulging, it makes you feel better if someone else is, too – but I was disappointed with the lack of support and the number of times I faced deliberate attempts at what I started referring to as no-sugar sabotage.

I ended up intentionally avoiding situations I knew would involve temptation, and not because I didn’t trust myself not to slip up; I found I didn’t even want sweet treats after the first few days, and I genuinely wasn’t interested in things I’d previously enjoyed, but I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of explaining over and over again why I didn’t want a cupcake/gummy bear/chocolate bar and arguing over why it did actually matter if I ate it.

Out went long, indulgent coffee mornings and buffet lunches and in came picnics in the park or play dates at home, where I was less likely to be tempted by the contents of the pastry counter.

My two weeks were up before I knew it and I didn’t even consider not carrying on. Sure, I’ll relax the rules on weekends and special occasions – and when I find that irresistible Thornton’s Eton Mess white chocolate in the supermarket – but I’m absolutely going to continue with my military examination of each and every ingredients list and strict avoidance of anything that might have a hint of the little white granules. My skin is better, I’m 5kg down and I feel too good to go back to how I was before.

Having said that, I did have a Thai take-out the other night for the first time since I gave up sugar and boy, did I feel it the next day. Nauseous, irritable, slightly manic… I guess I’m just going to have to learn to cook it at home without the sugar. Sugar-loaded from a restaurant, 
it most definitely wasn’t worth it.

Tabitha Barda gave up Facebook for a month

When I put up the status announcing that I was going off Facebook for a month, I was surprised by the number of likes I got. And a little bit thrilled. (People liked something I said! Yay!). But then a little bit worried. (WHY did people like it? Were they glad to see the back of me?).

All of which highlighted exactly why going off Facebook was a good idea.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a Facebook addict exactly, but I definitely used to look at it every day. Since getting the app on my phone, I checked it whenever I had a bit of dead time; in a taxi, waiting to meet someone in a café... And, probably last thing at night (my phone is my alarm clock). OK, and first thing in the morning (well, it’s right there). And, yes, possibly when I was supposed to be giving my baby son my undivided attention. But I could give it up any time I wanted, I tell you!

And so I did. And it felt good – at first. On dragging the app into my trash folder, I felt a huge wave of relief. Soon followed by a strange sense of sadness. As with many expats, Facebook is a major way in which I stay in touch with friends back home. This new Facebook-less world could be sort of lonely.

There’s no doubt the social media site is a great way of being connected, but my experiment was all about seeing if this ‘connectedness’ has as many negative effects as positive. Recent studies have shown that the likes of Facebook can increase stress levels, produce anxiety and negatively affect your self-esteem. Sounds a bit OTT, but the truth in this only really hit home when I became a parent. As the mum of a newborn, sitting in my house at 3pm with the curtains drawn and crazy bed hair, Facebook often made me feel pretty rubbish.

I was flicking spit-up off my pyjamas and fantasising about taking a shower, while women with babies the same age were posting photos of themselves looking glamorous at brunch, or perky statuses about ‘baby Joshua finally sleeping through the night’ that made me want to scream into my breastfeeding pillow.

This social-media image-crafting that we all do – broadcasting the positive without the negative – turns our lives into virtual fairy tales. Like the airbrushing of celebrities, it creates an unrealistic standard that others compare themselves to, and vice versa.

So, what was it like being off Facebook for a month? Did I feel better for it? Not exactly. I felt its absence, certainly. Waiting in cafés became boring, plus I had an intense sense of FOMO, and would leer hungrily at others’ Facebook feeds like a smoker trying to inhale a second-hand nicotine fix. I’d hoped I’d replace my Facebook use with something edifying like reading the news, but whatever algorithm The Guardian Facebook page uses, it’s more tailored for me than when I search the website for myself. I also didn’t miraculously stop comparing myself to others – I just did it the old-fashioned way, in the real world.

I’d timed it so that it was my birthday on the day I made my big Facebook ‘comeback’, and I’m ashamed to admit I did feel a buzz from the ‘happy birthdays’ on my wall. I also saw all the things I’d missed – a birth announcement; a pregnancy announcement; invitations…

But I also saw what I hadn’t missed. A fellow birthday celebrant’s party pictures – in Prague. Hmph. Made my dinner-down-the-road-with-friends look dull. Or uber-fit acquaintances’ selfies at the gym (who actually wants to see those?).

I think there’s a happy medium to be found with Facebook use, which is why I haven’t downloaded the app again – yet. I don’t want it to be the first thing I check in the morning, or for it to distract me from playing with my little one.

But I’ll be staying on it. Even though the latest studies say teens now think it’s uncool because it’s been encroached upon by that epitome of all lameness – their parents. Which, as I consider whether to bore my Facebook friends with more pictures of my baby boy, doesn’t actually bother me all that much. I guess it means I belong there after all.

Aquarius team

Aquarius team

Deputy Editor