Living In Ab-stentia

On Jan. 20, a New Orleans Times-Picayune blog post popped up on my Facebook feed. In the piece, “No Booze for 40 Days: Take This Challenge to See Health Benefits of Popular Lenten Sacrifice,” New Orleans dietitian Molly Kimball issues a challenge to New Orleanians to give up alcohol for 40 days from Feb. 10 to March 27 — conveniently situated after Fat Tuesday, when many are already planning to lay off the booze for Lent. Kimball proposes to approach it as an experiment, and encourages participants to establish the following baseline metrics:

• Record your weight.

• Take a close-up photo of your face so that you can see the details of your eyes and skin in particular. 

• If you want to see what's happening inside your body, ask your doctor to run the following labs. Some of these labs are indicators of overall health; others are specific markers of inflammation, liver health, and alcohol toxicity: 

·       CBC (Complete Blood Count)

·       CMP (Comprehensive Metabolic Panel; includes liver enzymes AST & ALT, as well as electrolytes and indicators of kidney function)

·       Lipid Panel (includes triglycerides, which can be affected by alcohol)

·       GGT (Gamma glutamyl transferase, a specific liver test that's most affected by alcohol)

·       Vitamin B12 and Folate Panel

·       hs-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein; a marker of inflammation)

·       ESR (sedimentation rate; a marker of inflammation)

Kimball writes, “A few of the benefits you can expect to see: Better sleep, clearer thinking, improved energy, less puffiness, less inflammation and all-around improved mood. Added bonus: You might even lose a few extra pounds.”

With results like that, my first thought was to accept the challenge. I’m especially excited about the possibility of more energy. Will I get more exercise? Will I be able to stay up later and get more reading done? Then I remembered St. Patrick’s Day falls during the 40 days and we’ll have family in town for the festivities. Also, I already had committed to the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge by author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. It seemed like overkill to do both, but never one to back down from a challenge or two, I decided to go for it.

You might be thinking, “Why and how do you do a meditation challenge during Mardi Gras?” I answer that question in my blog post, “Metta Gras: When Meditation Meets Mardi Gras.” But in summary, you do it with a big sense of humor. Since the meditation challenge began a week and a half before the Alcohol Free for 40 Challenge, I think it helped mentally prepare me for the coming weeks of abstention. Also, as anyone who has lived through a Carnival season or two knows, giving up alcohol for awhile is fairly welcome after weeks and weeks of parties and so many drinks. Admittedly, there is one notion that, as I write this sounds truly wretched: No champagne for 40 days. No cocktails? No problem. Brushing off the beer? Big deal. Even giving up wine doesn’t seem that bad, but I love champagne. The festive bubbles and elegant simplicity are a veritable metaphor for my life philosophy. What was I thinking?

Drama aside, I think this will be an interesting experiment and I’m confident that Bon Vivanting without the booze will be similar to life with it, albeit less bubbly. I’ve already lined up a coffee crawl and a mocktail happy hour with friends who are joining me in the challenge. Needless to say, our livers will thank us, especially after the Carnival debauchery of the past several weeks. Click here for my post about mocktails and here for another Times-Picayune story with a list of local watering holes, including Compere Lapin and Bar Tonique, offering fabulous craft mocktails for abstainers. Follow me on Twitter (@melaniespencer) and Instagram, as well as here for updates and if you decide to participate, use the hashtag #AlcoholFreeFor40 and share your progress in the comments. For questions, you can email Kimball at or follow her on Twitter at @mollykimballrd.

If I needed further proof that it’s possible to Bon Vivant without alcohol, I need look no further than the definition of the phrase. The literal translation is “good liver.” Which in the case of abstaining from alcohol definitely pertains to the organ, rather than the actual meaning of one living a good life. For the next 40 days, it’ll be all about embodying both concepts.


Good luck and cheers to a fun and festive 40 days! 



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