A couple walks together outside.
Daily walks with a significant other can bring a twofold benefit—a healthier body and a stronger relationship. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Seasonal and holiday celebrations bring gatherings of friends and family—and that sometimes means alcohol is involved.

This can sometimes entail a sampling before the event as you get ready, then at the event when you walk in—and then during the event itself.

Summer and fall events and holiday parties are sometimes worse, with alcohol served over a weekend or a few days of celebrations.

In moderation, alcohol is usually a fun part of festivities.

As a doctor, I also tend to think about alcohol in terms of how it affects women’s health.

In moderation, it can lower blood pressure. But too much alcohol in a short period can lead to depression, anxiety, weight gain, poor sleep, high triglycerides and plenty of regret.

To avoid these unwanted consequences, it’s important to have a plan in place before the party begins.

Worrisome changes

A patient I’ll call Deb, 44, came to see me for PMS and irregular heavy periods.

But her real concern related to how she’d been feeling. She didn’t feel good and she had become worried about her marriage.

She and her husband, once active and healthy, had lately been acting like her 75-year-old parents.

Deb felt they were losing their happiness and spark. She suspected alcohol and midlife changes were the cause.

She and her husband used to do plenty of things outdoors. They used to have a good sex life, too. They both worked jobs they liked and, at one point, they also had been more involved with family and friends.

But that all changed.

Deb felt her body changing at age 42.

Her periods became irregular and she became anxious and suffered poor sleep about seven days before the start of her period.

She lost her morning habit of exercise and she gained weight. As she gained weight, she felt less motivated and felt less attractive to her husband.

Sex became less frequent because she never felt in the mood.

When he wanted to go on a hike, she felt too tired. They started watching more TV and drinking an after-dinner glass of wine.

Over the last two years, Deb’s husband gained weight, too. He stopped asking about sex.

She felt like their life was spiraling downhill.

She wanted to fix it.

Plotting a roadmap

I provided Deb with some information about alcohol and calories:

  • A 12-ounce glass of beer has about 150 calories.
  • A 5-ounce glass of red wine has about 125 calories.
  • A 1.5-ounce shot of gin, rum, vodka, whiskey or tequila has about 100 calories.

We talked about the consequences of drinking too much alcohol and discussed the impact on weight gain, fatigue and behavioral changes.

Deb wanted to reconnect with her husband, but she knew she had to figure things out for herself first.

We talked about lower-calorie options, such as an ultra-light beer or half a shot of vodka in club soda, or 2 ounces of wine with club soda and an orange slice for a spritzer.

With this information, a plan began to take shape:

  1. Deb would use the end of summer to get in some fun hikes before the cold weather set in. This would allow her and her husband to once again enjoy some fun activities together.
  2. She and her husband would talk about their game plan to prepare for winter—and the plan would not involve TV or excessive alcohol.
  3. They would exercise every day together, even if it involved just a long walk.
  4. They would limit alcohol consumption to one item per day or seven items per week, even if it meant drinking club soda with cranberry instead of alcohol, or a wine spritzer with only a splash of alcohol.
  5. They would eat healthy before parties and at parties to feel better and lighter overall. This would help Deb focus more on the people at the parties, not the alcohol.
  6. To make sex fun again, I recommended they not make intercourse itself be the goal. Rather, they could remind themselves that sex is about pleasure and intimacy. To get things restarted, they could go dancing together.
  7. Rather than focusing on weight loss, they would make it a goal to live a healthy and active life.
  8. After a pelvic ultrasound, Deb could decide best options for heavy irregular periods, knowing that many options existed, such as an IUD, birth control pills, progesterone pills or an ablation.

Deb knew how much fun she and her husband used to have.

By avoiding or limiting the alcohol they drank during the week and weekends, it would help everything.

She felt happy to have a plan in place that would help her get back to an active life, which could in turn help her rekindle her relationship with her husband.