Friday, 10 January 2014

It's Christmas!

This post was originally written by Natasha Clarke and taken from her personal blog, which you can find here.

So Christmas is over once more. It’s been a month of overindulgence and excessiveness particularly with alcohol, made acceptable simply by using the phrase “It’s Christmas”. I’ll give you some examples:
  1. My Grandma replacing her morning tea with sherry
  2. My orange juice (alright 3 orange juices) containing more bubbly than fruity goodness.
  3. My friend drinking a whole bottle of wine on the train before arriving on New Year’s Eve. On his own.
These are things that are not normal in everyday life; if I started every day with a bucks fizz I’d have a serious problem. Yet, over Christmas, it is almost weird not to do these things. Thankfully it’s not just me; as a nation we drink 41% more in December than the monthly average. Furthermore, a recent survey of over 2000 adults by the British heart foundation (BHF) found that 58% of Britons think it is standard behaviour to drink by 1pm on Christmas day, and 16% want to have a tipple earlier, at 11am. I’m also guessing many of these first drinks will be top-ups from the night before, after a Christmas Eve spent drinking at the pub.

There are many explanations as to why we consume more alcohol: tradition, sociability and relaxation are an obvious handful. However, reasons may not always be so celebratory. For example the survey mentioned previously found that 9% of people drank so they did not feel left out of family celebrations, and this rises in the older generation, with 12% consuming alcohol on Christmas Day to fit in. I can emphasise this using a conversation my Grandma had with a teetotal family member- “You don’t drink?” – “I don’t like people who don’t drink, they’re boring”. Thankfully this didn’t lead to him reaching for the whiskey bottle, but pressure by others can be a core reason for non-drinkers changing their behaviour on this special day. Another reason for increased drinking is pressure and stress, with one in five of those surveyed by the BHF consuming more than they would usually to help them de-stress.
santa beer
What does this overconsumption mean? Starting with the bleak death statistics, figures in 2010 and 2011 where the underlying cause was alcohol and drugs were 13% above the daily average between December the 21st and January 19th. Some of these deaths are due to drink driving; in 2012 the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Christmas anti-drink and drug driving campaign showed 7123 drivers tested positive, failed or refused their breathalyser. Being over the limit significantly increases reaction times and therefore your risk of crashing. There is also the “holiday heart phenomenon”, this is the incidence of cardiac arrhythmias following excessive alcohol consumption, which most often occur on Mondays (e.g. after a particularly heavy weekend) or between Christmas and New Year’s Day. These are grave facts which may only affect a minority of us, but are extremely important to keep in mind.

Of course there are aspects of increased consumption likely to relate to all of us. Firstly there are the things we do when drunk that we wouldn’t usually, when the excitement of the festive period lead to illness, injuries or a night spent in a cell for being drunk and disorderly. To highlight this on Mad Friday Manchester Police used the hashtag #MadMancFriday on Twitter to expose some of the humiliating and regrettable things we get up to on the biggest night out before Christmas. Then there are long term effects on our body, a month of overindulgence leads to noticeable effects on our appearance. In particular I’m referring to the extra weight that slowly creeps up on us. We eat more, we don’t exercise, and we are too hung over to exercise. Although many of these calories are more attributable to the box of quality streets and the dozen mince pies, a lot of them can be due to alcohol’s empty calories. For example: three glasses of Buck’s fizz, one bottle of red wine, three beers, one baileys and one port equates to just under 2000 calories, nearly a woman’s daily allowance. It’s also around 25 units, more than the recommended allowance in a week for both males and females.

Obviously overindulgence is something of a normality when it comes to Christmas and New Year celebrations, and it definitely wouldn’t be as joyous if we spent our time calculating our units and calories, replacing our champagne with Schloer and our roasties with a salad. But, it’s fascinating just how much our behaviour can change depending on the time of year. All I can say is thank the lord for Dry Jan and post-Christmas diets.

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