[00:00] Introduction/About James Swanwick
[02:27] Why James Quit Alcohol
[04:14] What Happens to your Body When you Stop Drinking Alcohol
[06:35] What To Do at a Party or Bar if You’re Not Going to Order a Drink
[20:12] Why James Doesn’t do the “one glass a day” Approach
[31:20] If James Had Another Vice as a Replacement
[39:31] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield and in recent podcasts and a little bit on Twitter, I’ve created a bit of controversy in talking about something that, it seems like a lot of people hold kind of near and dear, and in this case that’s red wine and booze in general. And alcohol is something that we’ve talked about before on podcasts too. We’ve discussed detoxing and what kinds of alcohol are the most healthy and all sorts of things when it comes to alcohol and what it does to the body, both good and bad.
Well, my guest today has a really interesting take on this stuff. His name is James Swanwick, and James is actually the host of another podcast called the Alpha Male Club and I’ve been on that podcast. You can check it out in iTunes, and James, I actually learned this about James several months after I met him and we’d hung out and it kinda shocked me coz he didn’t come across to me as the type of guy who would’ve made a decision like this, but he did and he’ll explain it here in a second, but James doesn’t drink alcohol.
And in this podcast you’re gonna learn how quitting alcohol actually helped him lose 30 lbs. of fat, make more money, attract better friends and lovers, got him a job hosting Sports Center on ESPN. And he’s kinda got of formula for you, whether you want to quit alcohol or if that just does not sound fun to you, maybe you’ll be able to make a more informed decision after this podcast, perhaps just reduce your alcohol from say that three glasses of wine a night that I know a lot of you are drinking to something a little bit more sane and healthy. So James, thanks for coming on the call man.
James: Ben, thank you so much for having me; it’s great to be here.
Ben: Well, let’s just jump right in to the first crazy question man, why did you quit alcohol? Because well I probably shouldn’t have said this too, you’re freaking Australian so, that right there is a little strange for you not drinking alcohol.
James: [laughs] Yeah, they arrest you in Australia if you don’t drink alcohol; sirens come down the street, they handcuff you and put you in the watch house for the night if you quit alcohol. That’s the culture I grew up in, seriously; I grew up in Australia, I’m Australian-American and over there it’s like a rite of passage for a man: how many beers you can drink, how much booze you can knock back on a weekend. I moved up to the US in 2002-2003 and I kept my drinking on. I was never a huge drinker, I mean I was a binge drinker. They say that binge drinking for men is when you drink five or more drinks in one sitting; for women it’s four or more drinks it one sitting. So I was just a good binge drinker, I never did anything too crazy. I mean I threw up a couple times and I made a couple of bad decisions but nothing like “oh my God, he’s an alcoholic, he’s got a problem.” But for couple of years there in the late 2000s, I was playing rugby for the Los Angeles Rugby Club and that’s a big drinking culture as well. You go out there, you play rugby and then at the end of the day, end of the game, you go in to the pub and you drink. For us it was the Manhattan Beach Shakey’s one block back from the ocean.
Ben: Yeah, those guys aren’t throwing back Diet Cokes, right?
James: No, they’re not throwing back Diet Cokes, but we would do chugging. If you were the best player on the field, you had to chug like a big, big bottle of beer or big schooner of beer and that was the culture. But you know what? I just decided I’m gonna take a 30 day break here and just see what happens. So I took 30 days off in about 2008 and at the end of 30 days I went “wow, I’ve lost a little bit of weight here, I’m sleeping a little better, my skin’s a bit better and yeah this is okay.” And then at day 31 I just went back to drinking and just drunk for the next eleven months and then the next year I said “I’ll do another 30 days” and then I did another 30 days and went “ah, that was an interesting test.” And then in 2010, I was at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas and I went out on a Friday night, I didn’t drink a lot then. I just drunk a couple of gin and tonics, maybe a beer. It was like a three-drink night but I woke up in the morning…
Ben: Right, which for South by Southwest is nothing, right?
James: It’s nothing, yeah; right. I didn’t have a big night but when I woke up on that Saturday morning, I just had a really bad hangover. I don’t know what it was, it was dehydration maybe, maybe it was the flight in from LA, and I didn’t drink enough water. I just felt really, really bad. And I just said “you know what, I’m gonna see if I can beat 30 days; I’m just gonna start my 30 days, my annual 30 days right now and see if I can get to 35.” So I just began, I got the 35 and I’m like “you know what, I think I’m gonna go to 40.” Then I got to 40 and I said “I wonder if I could do 50 days, wouldn’t that be a feat?” Then I got to 50 days and I was like “wow, this is pretty cool, people are going ‘wow you’ve got some self-discipline happening here’” and then it just continued on and on and I went “I wonder if I could do three months, I wonder if I can do six months” and then I was like “imagine if I look back on my death bed when I’m 80 and I go ‘remember that year that I took twelve months off drinking?’” And I said “I’m just gonna go for a year.” So I went to a year and I was back at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
Twelve months later, I went to a bar, order myself a Budweiser, I was gonna drink it and celebrate and I put it to my mouth it’s smelled really good but something just stopped me and said “you know what, I’ll just keep on going” and I put it back down and I haven’t drunk since. It’s been about 4 ½ years now.
Ben: Wow, that’s amazing. So I’m curious, you said that you felt a little bit different but I’m curious, if you really delve into the nitty-gritty of this like physically and mentally, because I’m sure a lot of people are curious because some people have tried this for 15 days, 30 days but not many people for more than a year, that I know of honestly. Especially people who have not grown up drinking alcohol and then quit and been able to compare the difference but what did you notice physically and also mentally as far as the big takeaways for you from not drinking?
James: Yeah, well, yeah absolutely. So after 30 days of not drinking, I lost considerable weight. I was never fat but I always carry fat around my tummy. So from a pure sort of fat loss point of view, after 30 days I lost 13 lbs.
Ben: I’m just curious that you, sorry to interrupt, from like a calorie standpoint, do you think that was just not drinking as many calories or not consuming many calories period just because you weren’t having the glass of wine with dinner or whatever, or were you still replacing the booze with other calories, like are you drinking soda or were you eating more food coz you weren’t drinking as much alcohol or did you pay attention to anything like that?
James: Yeah, absolutely. So when I was drinking, I would have a late night kebab or I would have a late night pizza or on the way home I would stop into In-N-Out Burger on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles where I was living and I just get a late night burger and fries. And so when I stopped drinking obviously, I stopped putting those calories in but I also stopped putting the calories of the food that I would ordinarily eat with the alcohol. So it was like a double whammy; yeah, I stopped putting the calories just from the alcohol in but then I stopped putting the calories from the crap food that I would eat with the alcohol in. And that double whammy was enough for my body to go “oh, this is nice; wow, not putting in all this crap all of sudden.” I did at the time, before I obviously listened to your wonderful show, Ben Greenfield and realized that I shouldn’t be drinking soda or diet soda at all.
Ben: [laughs] That’s what I was gonna ask you if you just started drinking pop.
James: Yeah well, I drank for the first year; I just drank diet soda, Diet Coke that was my go to drink as a replacement. I was like “oh yeah, just give me a Diet Coke” and then sometimes I’d have a ginger ale. But it wasn’t until I became quite health conscious that I realized that Diet Coke was probably not a good option for me nor is ginger ale, might as well pour sugar down your mouth. But I wasn’t drinking a lot of that stuff like if I would go out on a good night and have a four or five alcoholic drinks, I was still only having one or two glasses at the bar of Diet Coke, so it wasn’t like I was drinking like a whole liter bottle or gallon bottle if you like. So yeah, I stopped putting in calories from the alcohol and I stopped eating food, the crap food that I would eat from the alcohol, so from a dietary point of view that was huge.
Ben: But I’m sure it’s not a huge surprise to people that like when you don’t consume calories from booze or IHOP at 2 AM or whatever that you’re going to lose some weight. I’m curious what other things you noticed physically or mentally that maybe surprised you.
James: I slept a lot better, Ben, so that was really interesting. So at night time, I tended to go to sleep a little earlier and when I say a little it was probably about 45 minutes to an hour. And I found that my sleep was certainly deeper and when I woke up in the morning I felt fresher. And this is not putting in any mayonnaise on the story, I mean this actually happened; this is a real benefit that you get from giving up the alcohol. I mean I would wake up in the morning even after a few drinks and feel lethargic and feel like my sleep wasn’t that great, and you would think that if you’re drinking heavily you’re gonna sleep deeply right? Because your body is so exhausted but what’s going on when you’re sleeping is that your body is trying to breakdown all that alcohol, it’s trying to breakdown that late night burger, it’s trying to breakdown that late night set of fries. So by the time you wake up in the morning you’re like “oh man, I’m exhausted from that.” Whereas, when I stopped drinking the alcohol and when I just went to sleep without the alcohol, I felt that I was sleeping a lot better and when I woke up in the morning, I wouldn’t say I was like jumping out of bed going “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah-Zip-A-Dee-Ay! My, oh my, what a wonderful day” but it was certainly “ah okay yeah, good, I feel good, let’s do this.” So, that was a big difference.
Ben: Do you do much in terms of self-quantification? Did you look at inflammation or testosterone or anything like that?
James: I didn’t at that time when I first did, only in the last couple of years, again obviously speaking to you Ben and listening to your podcast and becoming very health conscious have I looked at that, but at the time when I quit I didn’t really have a comparison what was my testosterone levels before I quit and what was my testosterone levels after. I wish I had that would have been great…
Ben: Yeah, I’d be curious because they have done those studies where they look at before and after multiple drinks and there’s always a drop in testosterone in most cases when you’re looking at a pretty serious bend or people meant specifically winding up with a testosterone levels of like an eight-year-old girl after a night of drinking. But I was just curious if you had done any type of that testing. The other thing is that when we get to the salacious headlines here, you certainly say that it helped you make more money and get a job at hosting SportsCenter at ESPN that type of thing, let’s delve into some of that and and how you feel that success was directly related to you quitting drinking alcohol. Do you have some stories about that?
James: Yeah, sure. So, when I was drinking alcohol, I found that I was hanging around with the certain type of person; they were great people, they were fun people but they were party people and I got distracted. And not only did I get distracted but I found I was irritable; like when I was drinking, I was little bit more moody. I was just kind of, I started to get a little jealous of other people, I was envious and it’s hard to say as a direct result of the drinking from a biological point of view, but for me I know like when I was drinking and when I was partying and when I was living that lifestyle. I was hanging out with people who like to drink, who like to party, who like to live that lifestyle. When I stopped drinking, when I quit drinking, what I found is that all of my relationships changed and again I’m not saying that the party people were bad people, I’m just saying that they were a different type of person. But when I stopped drinking, I started attracting into my life people who are more focus on business, on productivity, on spirituality, on positivity, on glass half-full glass half-empty; the kind of people who would speak highly about people and would rarely speak negatively about people. Again, I mean it wasn’t like a huge, huge thing, at times it was just a subtle change and I noticed the difference between the type of people. Other times it was just really, really obvious, the type of person that was in my life, but then starting to surround myself with those people, those positive people, starting to surround myself with that mindset all of a sudden changed my whole thinking on all of my relationships, both platonic and romantic.
So let’s deal with the romantic relationships, initially I was like going out and drinking and I was a single man and I’d see a pretty woman at a bar and or out in the street and I’d go “I’m gonna chase that woman, I’m gonna conquer that woman, she’s my prey” and I would get the short-term fix of picking her up or knowing that I could pick her up and that was great. And it didn’t really matter what type of woman she was as a person as long as she was hot and attractive and I was a man and my testosterone was going up and I’m a man and she’s the woman, I’m just gonna chase her and that’s that, right? Whereas after I stopped drinking, I started really appreciating an elegant woman, an intelligent woman, having intelligent conversation and having sophisticated, more mature conversations and so when I started enjoying that, those women just started appearing. Those women just started appearing in my life and so I found that the quality of my romantic relationships went through the roof versus before when I was drinking, when it was more like in the moment just kind of like “I’m a man, you’re a woman let’s do this.”
Ben: Right, right. Interesting.
James: Yeah, and just to finish the answer to your question, from a professional point of view in relation to the SportsCenter gig, when I was drinking I would go into relationships thinking “hey, how can this person help me?” Like I meet a new person I go “how can this person help me?” And then when I stopped drinking, when I had that clarity of mind, I started looking at old/new people that I met and “how can I help this person?”
Ben: Why do think that is?
James: I just had the clarity, I had the poison out of my system, I had a clear mind, I was sleeping a lot better, I had the time to actually focus on what it is that I really want. So instead of going out and getting drunk on a Thursday/Friday/Saturday night, or even a Tuesday and Wednesday night, and then waking up in a drunken haze and sort of being hungover and lethargic, I would focus on one of my goals. What do I really want, how can I get here, what can I achieve, how can I be a better person, how can I help my friends? And then even if I wasn’t thinking that on a Tuesday night, just by virtue of the fact that I’d wake up on a Wednesday morning and be fresh headed and feel fresh mentally, I created this space to be able to think of only positive things. The things, the ways that I could help people to how can I achieve my dreams, to how can I achieve my goals, because how can we actually create space for ourselves if we’re hungover and we’re tired and lethargic all the time. So actually having that peace in mind and that clarity in being alcohol and poison-free really changed my whole mindset from one of “go, go, go, go, go” and like in the moment and short term pleasures and drinking and chasing girls and partying and having fun like that too. How can I get joy and derive pleasure from my life as a whole on the long term?
Ben: Yeah, rather than racing down the highway on a motorcycle with a loose woman hanging off the back of the motorcycle type of thing.
James: That sounds pretty good as you’re describing it. [laughs]
Ben: I’m so sorry man, I don’t want to turn you back to drinking. So I’m curious, you talked about poisoning your system and that type of thing, and I’m sure you’ve probably got this question before because you know I’m not the first person you’ve talked to the fact that you don’t drink alcohol, but what do you say to the people who are like “well, maybe you just have a self-control problem, maybe you should’ve just learn to have one drink so that it wasn’t poisoning your system.” I mean why or did it ever cross your mind to say ‘ok I’m just gonna be one of those guys who has a beer or a glass of wine with dinner every day’, why didn’t you just use that kind of glass of wine a day type of approach instead of quitting cold turkey?
James: Yeah sure, well I used to smoke cigarettes Ben. I smoke cigarettes for about ten years. A packet of Benson & Hedges Extra Milds when we were down in Australia or a Marlboro Lights, probably about a half pack a day for about ten years.
Ben: Were you one of those guys in the like Australian horse commercials, like you ride the horse down the wilderness and with the cigarette hanging outside your mouth?
James: [laughs] I was the city version in the newspaper with the certain type of cigarette.
Ben: With a Hugh Jackman-Wolverine look?
James: Yeah, exactly. So I smoke cigarettes and I had tried to quit a few times; I quit a few times and then start it up again. And I always remember that it was a slippery slope, so I would quit and say it like I smoked for eight years and then I quit for six months and then I’d go out and then someone’d have a cigarette and I’m like “just give me a little puff” and I take a little puff and that was fine. And then a couple of months later, because I had that puff a couple months earlier I’d say “let me have a couple puffs” so I take a couple puffs. And then the next night I’m like “ah you know what, I’ll just smoke half a cigarette” and I smoke half a cigarette and the next night it was like “you know, I’ll just have one and then it was this slippery slope.” It was just a slippery, slippery slope and so then a week/2 weeks later I was back to smoking half a pack of cigarettes again. And so I just knew that for me and drinking, the minute that I started having a drink, I would probably go on that slippery slope; I was comparing to my smoking days. Now, your listener might be thinking “well this guy’s got no self-control, this guy got no self-discipline.”
Bear in mind, I was not an alcoholic. People like to think that I was because it’s a nice story, right? Why would this guy just quit drinking just because he enjoyed the health benefits and the clarity benefits and all that kind of stuff? I was never an alcoholic; I never drank in a crazy way where I cause damage or harm. I was just a good, fun, solid binge drinker but when I quit the alcohol and started to really see the benefits and I enjoyed the benefits and I loved the clarity and I loved the fact that by helping people that indirectly, or directly rather, lead to me realizing a 20-year journey of hosting SportsCenter on ESPN and I realized that I looked better and I realize that I was attracting better women into my life and I realize that I was getting more productive and that I then was making more money and I was focused I was like “why go back on this?” Why even put a beer to my mouth just once a night or once a week and because it’s a slippery slope. Now I don’t know where, I mean I’m sure… well, here’s the thing: I’m gonna drink again, Ben. I’m sure I will drink again one day and I’m sure that it will just be a couple drinks here or couple drinks there and I’ll enjoy it and I’ll savor it but right now, I just enjoy the positive benefits and they outweigh the immediate pleasures that I get from drinking.
Ben: And you may also be interested in the research that they did on red wine in which they found that all that beneficial heart-healthy effects of red wine were due to all the components of red wine that were besides alcohol, and so in one study they actually compared non-alcoholic red wine to alcoholic red wine and it was found that all the health benefits were actually derived from the non-alcoholic red wine. So, it’s interesting from a health standpoint too.
Ben: Some people think it’s the alcohol that’s actually healthy for you and maybe if it destresses you a little bit that they could be the case, but in fact we’re talking about polyphenols and resveratrol and all that, that it doesn’t actually have to be ethanol that goes hand-in-hand with that in order for you to get a health benefit. But that’s kind of why.
James: I’ll tell you what’s a good de-stressor, a better de-stressor than drinking the alcohol? exercise. I mean my exercise just went through the roof as soon as I quit drinking, probably because I wake up earlier and fresher, I didn’t have anything to do and I’m like “alright, better go do some exercise, better do something.”
Ben: Might as well.
James: So exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Trust me, I drank for years, it’s awesome, I love drinking, it’s great, and there are times where I miss it and you know all these studies come out Ben, that point to the probability that light drinkers live longer and healthier than strict teetotallers like me. I mean I read those studies like a glass a day is actually healthy for you but I don’t know; I stopped drinking completely, I eat better, I’ve become much more health conscious, I exercise a lot, my relationships are better. If it’s working, I’m just going to keep going.
Ben: And I think part of that too is personality relationship and a few other things that you touched on because I do think that there are certainly a lot of people who are drinking but who also don’t have any social life whatsoever and that potentially could be holding them back from the longevity standpoint. You’re actually one of the few guys I know who doesn’t drink but, and I’m not saying this to kiss up I’m just making a point to our audience, but is also fun to hang out with and also knows how to go to social events and have a good time and not necessarily drink. And so I think that there’s something to be said for that too. And that actually leads me to the next thing I wanna ask you is what in the heck you do at a party or at a bar to make other people around you not feel uncomfortable when you’re standing around at a social event and you’re not the guy drinking coz I’m sure it has to go above and beyond like holding an Aquafina water bottle or something like that.
James: [laughs] Well, you know what? I used to worry about it when I first thought of doing it and my friends didn’t really warm to the idea initially. They were like “what are you doing? Piss off, you’re an Australian who doesn’t drink, are you serious? Just have one, just have one, come on, don’t be a clown. What are you doing?” And then some idiots would actually go to the bar and get me a drink and they say “what do you want?” and I’d say “get me a soda water” and they’d come back they would’ve slipped vodka in it and luckily, I would put it to my nose and smell it first and I was too smart for them but…
Ben: You’re like “I’m Australian I can smell booze a mile away.”
James: [laughs] Yeah exactly, so you do run in to that issue in the beginning depending on who your friends are and who you hang out with obviously, but I just got through that first little hump in the first couple months of that pressure of people saying “what are you doing, I don’t understand” and after that it actually became quite easy. So I’ll tell you this Ben, there’s a big difference between telling someone that you don’t drink and telling someone that you quit drinking. So someone says to me “why aren’t you drinking alcohol?” When I said I don’t drink, people would look at me and go “what?” And I actually see in their eyes it’d be like “this guy’s like douche, this guy’s a pompous, this guy thinks he’s too good for us.” But if I said I quit drinking, the reaction was very different. Their reaction was “oh really? Tell me about that.” Now, initially they were thinking that I was an alcoholic and I say “I was never an alcoholic, I just drank a lot on occasion as a good binge drinker and then I stopped” and “I just like the health benefits of not doing it” and they’re like “oh really? Tell me more” and then they become quite interested.
Ben: You’ve never used like the, coz I’ve done this before, ordered like a soda water with a splash of cranberry and a wedge of lime just to make it look like you’re drinking like a vodka cran or something like that?
James: It’s funny that I did exactly that in the first week that I stopped when I went out on the first date with a lovely girl called Andrea. Went to the Jones bar on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood and I felt a bit awkward at first, that was my first date and so I did exactly that and I tried to disguise it and I went out with her and I got through the night she didn’t realize that I wasn’t drinking alcohol. Unfortunately we went to the Coachella Music Festival about two weeks later and I was there with her and her friend and her friend said “I’ll get us some drinks and what do you want?” And I said “nothing, just a Coke” and she goes “come on, I’ll get you a drink” and I said “I don’t drink.” And Andrea the girl who I’ve taken on a date said “what? What do you mean? What do you mean you don’t drink?” I said “I kinda quit drinking.” She was “no, you were drinking alcohol with me when we had our first date” and I said “uhh no, I wasn’t actually, I was drinking… that was just soda with cranberry juice.” She goes “so you tricked me” and I said “yeah I kinda did” and she was really angry but she was upset and I learned a very valuable lesson there which is just own it.
Don’t try to hide it, just own it and don’t like put it in people’s face like “I quit drinking, I don’t drink, look at me, I’m so great.” Don’t do that, just order whatever it is you want to order and then when they ask you “oh you’re not drinking?” just explain it very matter-of-factly “I quit drinking, I’m only gonna drink soda, I’ll have a ginger ale, I think I’m gonna drink water.” And as long as you say that you quit drinking and you just explain that it’s a health thing, people are very understanding. And if they’re not, quite frankly they’re not the type of person that I want to be hanging out with.
Ben: Yeah, or it seems to me, I dunno if you ever thought about this, but just to say I’m not drinking, what about that because I’ve certainly, for example eight weeks before I go do Ironman Hawaii or some killer physical event, I am literally not drinking. It’s not that I quit drinking or it’s not that I don’t drink; it’s that at that point in time, I’m not drinking. Have you used that strategy before to gauge people’s response to that type of phrase?
James: I didn’t at the time and I think it would seem a little bit strange right now because it’s been 4 ½ years in where I haven’t been drinking, so to say I’m not drinking sort of implies that I’m not drinking in the last couple of weeks or the last little months. So I’d be curious to find out what reaction people get when you say that.
Ben: Usually people think you’re the D.D. and that is just coz you’re driving.
James: Hmm, yeah.
Ben: But yeah, interesting.
James: But you know, I’ve met other people out and about who say “I’m not drinking, I’m just taking a couple of weeks off” and I’m like “cool, that’s awesome.” And it’s no big deal. A lot of this thing is just changing your mindset, Ben. It’s just like “what is the norm?” If you’re hanging out with a bunch of friends and you’re drink a lot, and the drinking culture is very prevalent; I would just test it, do a little two week test where you don’t drink and just tell them that you’re not drinking and see what they say, see how they react.
James: I mean people are pretty good; some people are not. Some people will chastise you for it and make fun of you for it, but most people, you’d be surprised, most people are very understanding and okay and like “oh yeah, alright, let’s move on.”
Ben: I believe you. The self-quantification nerd in me wants to try to tell as an experiment and using either myself, and I’m typically a “glass one-a-day” type of person, or someone else and actually do a premeasurement of total and free testosterone, all the liver enzymes, hs-CRP for inflammation, thyroid, and basically just go a year or even six months and see what happens from a laboratory standpoint; that’d be interesting. And by the way, if you are a listener listening in, perhaps you can contact me and we can convince WellnessFX or one of these other lab testing companies to give us some lab tests just as part of some grand experiment. So unfortunately James, you’d be out since you already quit.
James: Yeah, I mean I would have loved to have tested my pre-drinking and post-drinking, but I tell you this: if your listener wants to see a photo of me pre-quitting alcohol and a photo of me today, you can just see it in my face.
Ben: Yeah, I have that photo. I linked over to your website where you wrote an article but I also put that photo over on the show notes for this episode. If you’re listening in you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/booze, and I actually have a photo of James and a link over to his podcast and his website as well. But there actually are some pretty interesting photos, you’ve got a before and after photo of yourself which you can see, your face is fatter but it’s also obviously inflamed.
James: Yeah, absolutely inflamed, that’s exactly the word. I call it my fat photo, and my face is just very full, isn’t it? It’s just puffy, I mean it’s not like I’m obese but there’s a bit of marshmallow man going on there. You could see the double chin, you can see the puffiness around the cheeks and around the eyes, and then you look at the photo of me today and all that fat’s been stripped away, and the jaw line is exposed and I just look exactly how I feel like I’m supposed to look. So again, I would’ve loved to get my hormones checked and that would be a fascinating test to see, but I just do the mirror test. Have a look in the mirror, how do you look; that’s a good indicator.
Ben: Yeah, I’ve got one other question for you, as far as giving up alcohol, you mentioned how you used to smoke cigarettes, but I’m curious if you found that you have a tendency towards other vices once you stopped drinking alcohol. If somehow psychologically, you were like “I’m not drinking alcohol so that means that I am going to start tying fireworks to cat’s tails or doing some other vice that took the place of alcohol.” Was there anything else you found?
James: [laughs] Yeah, exercise.
Ben: Hmm, so a positive vice?
James: Yeah, I mean I know vice is negative but it’s a habit. I didn’t pick up any bad habits other than maybe eating a bit too much white rice in Thai food; maybe the portions of my food went up ever so slightly because I wasn’t drinking. But in terms of something positive, exercise. I mean I became addicted to exercise, which was quite interesting. I mean not addicted to the point where I’m like 7 days a week, every single day, one hour, but like… I played rugby, but I trained on a Tuesday, I trained on a Thursday then I played on a Saturday, and it was three days a week, and that was it. But then when I quit the drinking, I went to gym on a Monday, training on a Tuesday, gym on a Wednesday, training on a Thursday, day off Friday, playing rugby on a Saturday and maybe going for a run on a Sunday. I also ran a marathon in New York, I ran a couple of half marathons, one in Los Angeles, one in the Bronx in New York, and I just became addicted to waking up in the morning and going to the gym.
I became addicted to the endorphins that I felt from exercise, so a vice, a negative that came out of me quitting drinking, maybe the portions of my food went up ever so slightly, but it didn’t really matter because I was still dumping so much weight from not putting in the bad calories and not eating the crap food that I would eat with the alcohol that whatever extra food I was eating was just countered by that.
Ben: Yeah, and I think that’s the big one for people is a lot of folks say “well, whatever I’m drinking healthy versions of alcohol, I’m just drinking red wine” but that’s what I see is so often there are so many other things that go along with a drinking habit that come back to bite you.
Ben: And honestly it’s not just calories, a big part of it is money. My wife and I are at the point now, we keep a box of organic red wine, and it is purposely a box because when you open a bottle you wanna finish the bottle, right? Because if you cap it, it might only last a week and that’s crappy, but these box wines actually last a pretty long time and taste really good. I dunno if this box technology has come a long ways or what, but we keep a box of red wine, we have one glass anything from 5-7 days a week. And we don’t go out and spend money on alcohol or go out and do cocktail hour at the bar and stuff like that. And I think a lot of people may or may not realize how much of a dent it puts in your wallet too.
Ben: When you’re out spending nowadays, $8-16 easily for a cocktail. And so I think that’s a big part of this too is not just all the added calories you’re probably going to take in from peanuts or hors d’oeuvres or whatever else when you’re drinking, but also the money. And then if you don’t stop at one at least also, the health effects, so there’s a lot to be said for quitting or reducing, for sure.
James: I would say about $10,000 a year, conservatively.
James: I think is what I saved in just alcohol and alcohol-related costs, and when I say alcohol-related costs it’s…
Ben: You’re breaking in people’s windows with sledgehammers after you get raging drunk downtown? Is that what you’re referring to? [laughs]
James: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. No Ben, I wouldn’t do that. You know, the late night burgers, the late night fries, getting a taxi home coz you can’t drive.
Ben: Yeah, that’s a big one.
James: All of these things add up, and then of course you’re gonna get sick if you’re hung over, right? Your body’s gonna get run down and so you’re gonna go and buy antibiotics to make you feel better, you’re gonna go and buy cold and flu tablets coz you’re gonna be sick. You’re gonna lose work days or productivity if you’re running your own business because you’re sick so you lose a few days here, a few days there, which directly affects your incomings, your ability to generate revenue. I mean all of these things really add up, and imagine if you had some kind of long-term problem like liver disease or cancer, gastrointestinal problems or high blood pressure, dementia. Also, drinking is a depressant; it puts you in a negative mood, so if you’re in a negative mood, that’s obviously affecting your ability to do your job effectively. It’s affecting your ability to be able to generate revenue for your own business, it’s affecting your relationships with people. So I’d say 10 grand in saved cost in alcohol and alcohol-related activities, and I can’t even put a price tag on the health benefits or what I would have to spend on my health correcting problems if I continued with the way a regular drinker over a lifetime does.
Ben: Yeah, it’s very interesting when you weigh up the pros versus the cons. I think that when you talk about the health effects of not drinking, I’m of the camp that is still at the “glass of wine a day.” I’m into that because it doesn’t cost a lot of money, and I do feel there are destressing and health effects when you’re not drinking to the point where it becomes a depressant. But the reason that I wanted to get you on the podcast James, is I talk to so many people like triathletes, my own clients in many cases, and they just get to the weekend and they’re doing five glasses of wine, between Friday and Sunday a couple of bottles of wine or going through four beers on a weekday after a stressful day at work. And I think it’s important that people realize that “hey, you can fit in socially and be a cool person like James” and again go look at all his photos and stuff over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/booze. He’s not an introverted loser, he’s actually out there having a good time but not drinking.
James: Well thank you Ben.
Ben: Yeah, no worries man. That’s the best compliment you’ve received all year, right? “He’s not an introverted loser.”
Ben: But also, it can be done; you can still fit in socially and in James’ case, when you look at just his body and the way that everything changed when he stopped, maybe you do need to make that choice to stop. With James, for you it started with a day and turned into four years; who knows if that’ll happen to you if you’re listening in. But at least try it; try it for a week, see what happens. I think it’ll be interesting. So James, thanks for coming on man and sharing this stuff with us.
James: Ben, it was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Ben: So check it all out at bengreenfieldfitness.com/booze, I’m gonna link over to James Swanwick’s website on there too and also his Alpha Male Club podcast which is a pretty cool podcast to listen in to. So check all of that out and thanks for listening.
In recent podcasts, I’ve talked a lot lately about alcohol, and what it does to the body, both good and bad. My friend James Swanwick, who wrote the article below and is the host of the Alpha Male Club podcast, has a very interesting take on alcohol. So in today’s podcast, you’re going to learn how quitting alcohol helped James lose 30 pounds of fat, make more money, attract better friends and lovers, and got him a job hosting SportsCenter on ESPN – and get a formula for reducing or quitting alcohol.
-Why James quit alcohol…
-What happens to your body when you stop drinking, physically and mentally…
-The biggest challenges that happen when you stop or reduce drinking…
-What to do when you’re at a party or bar if you’re not going to order a drink…
“I am four years alcohol-free today.
What started as a 30-day challenge, turned into a four-year lifestyle change. Friends often ask me about this so I figure I’ll quickly share my story, assuming others may be interested.
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 get a good “buzz”. On a handful of occasions over many years, I would say I got “drunk”.
It was all good fun. There was no drinking to excess. I never had a drinking problem.
But I awoke with a shocking hangover one morning four years ago at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas after a particularly fun night. I walked into an International House of Pancakes 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 big, fat, overweight people sitting at tables next to me made me ill.
I decided then and there to see if I could go 30 days alcohol-free. It was simply a personal bet with myself to test my self-discipline. I didn’t plan to go more than 30 days. But I eventually would.
The first two weeks were hard. I went out with friends and ordered water or diet coke and they’d give me a hard time. “You’re un-Australian!” they’d say to me.
But I got through those two weeks and I was off to the races. I felt better, slept better and had much more mental clarity.
After 30 days, I’d lost an incredible 13lbs (5.9kg) of fat around my stomach. Just from stopping drinking. I had more money in the bank balance, my skin looked considerably better and I actually enjoyed getting out of bed early morning to exercise.
James (left) a few years before he quit drinking at 218lbs (98kg) and James (right), today, alcohol free, at 180lbs (82kg)
So I said to myself, “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 an ice cold beer right now!” But I breathed deeply, downed a diet coke or 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 some lean muscle in the gym. People were complimenting me on how good I looked.
I also realized that despite not drinking, I was still managing to have wildly entertaining nights out – even with my drunken friends slurring their words around me. Conversations with women became much more interesting.
When I told women I wasn’t drinking, far from them thinking I was an alcoholic in recovery, they actually told me they were impressed with my self-discipline.
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 always thought I was a recovering alcoholic who “obviously” had a problem. I just smiled.
Between three and six months I was in the zone. I felt energetic and healthy and I actually started to thrive on telling people I had temporarily stopped drinking.
But many people – particularly guys – still challenged me. They called me a “Pussy!” Or said to me, “Just have one!” Or “An Aussie that doesn’t drink?!?! F$%k off!”
I just laughed, pointed to my head and gave them my stock response, “I’m too strong in mind!” Some idiots even tried to secretly slip vodka into my soda. I had to make a point of always sniffing before drinking if they’d ordered for me.
Six to 12 months was fairly easy to be honest. And this is where I noticed the most dramatic changes.
I found that my relationships were considerably better – romantic and platonic. For example, I was constantly thinking about how I could help my friends rather than how they could help me.
I was more inclined to help people generally and was more considerate. I was calmer and noticed I made better decisions.
My work productivity soared. My business made more money.
More opportunities – like an ESPN audition to host SportsCenter – came my way. When it did, I was clear in mind, energetic, and seized the opportunity. I ended up getting that gig and hosted SportsCenter for two years.
I did, however, find I got tired at night time and went to sleep earlier. Listen, I could still burn the midnight oil until 5am during my sobriety. But I found I didn’t really want to. I felt like nothing that good really happened after 1am anyway.
So I would party hard – alcohol-free – until 1am. Most people who just met me weren’t even ever aware I wasn’t drinking. I could still be the life of the party with nobody even knowing. Then I headed home to be asleep most Friday and Saturday nights by no later than 2am.
James still James partying late – alcohol free
I was up at 8am or 9am on weekends to hit the gym, showered, had breakfast and was ready to tackle the day by 11am when my mates were just dragging their lazy hungover backsides out of bed.
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.
For James, no alcohol means more energy for exercise It smelled good.
I had every intention of drinking that beer. But something stopped me from taking a sip. I paused and thought about it for a minute.
I decided that all the pros of not drinking outnumbered the cons. So I said to myself, “I’ll just keep going.”
So I did. I put the Budweiser down and haven’t picked up a drink since. March 12, 2014, is four years to the day since I gave myself that initial 30-day challenge.
I’m 20lbs (9kg) lighter today than I was when I started on March 12, 2010. I’m 38lbs (17kg) lighter than when I was at my porkiest (See fat face photo above). Drinking definitely kept fat around my waist. Stopping drinking eliminated it.
This is likely due to three main things: 1. Alcohol contains a lot of carbs 2. Drinking makes you eat a lot more food, especially bad food like fries and desserts 3. Quitting drinking gives you more energy which turns you into a fat-burning machine.
I’m not for one moment suggesting you should quit drinking entirely like I did. Obviously, I am an extreme case. But my story clearly shows some of the positive benefits you can get if you do quit. Even just reducing your alcohol consumption by a few drinks a week, I believe only positive things can happen.
If I have a drink today, no worries. I’ve accomplished my goal. But I just don’t feel like having a drink.
PROS: I feel better, look better, work better, act better, am better, have more money, have better quality of friends, really enjoy a nice ice cold water, don’t miss alcohol, realize I CAN party like a rock star WITHOUT alcohol, friends who’ve known me a long time say I’m a considerably nicer and more agreeable person
CONS: It is sometimes awkward explaining to new friends or business associates why you don’t drink. BUT…that initial awkwardness is mostly felt by THEM, not by you. And you can’t control how they feel.
If you decide you want to give it a try, trust that the pros will likely outweigh the cons. Set yourself a 30-day-goal. Or a two or three-month goal. Test it. See how you feel. See if it works for you. Or go for a year.
Or don’t do it at all. If you’re happy drinking, keep drinking! I love drinking! I love to drink a six-pack of beer and a bottle of red with the best of them.
I’m sure I’ll do it again one day. But for now, I’m happy with water and soda and feel like I am the best version of me.”
Read more at: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/lifestyle-podcasts/how-to-stop-drinking-alcohol/