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No Need for Dry-January With 5:2 Your Life

20/01/2014 14:42 GMT | Updated 22/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Why do I feel more cheerful this January, no longer counting the days until February 1 rolls by? Could it be something to do with ditching dry January and looking forward to a glass of something chilled and white on most evenings - what a difference that makes.

Rewind a year and my husband and I stare at each other miserably across the kitchen table, sipping mineral water and looking forward to bed by half 9. By the end of February we were back to a our old habits - drinking a few glasses of wine most days and learning nothing from the self-denial of January, except that it's an unpleasantness to be endured which has absolutely no positive effect on your habits for the rest of the year.

So, for the first time, I've ditched dry January. We know abstaining doesn't really work. It's human nature that what is forbidden is always much more desirable and irresistible once you're allowed it.

So I've found a much better alternative - 5:2 your alcohol - a moderate plan that enables me to pretty much drink what I want most of the time, albeit sensibly, as long as I abstain completely just twice a week. No more annual self-imposed purgatory, instead I've got a moderate and realistic plan for life that means I can enjoy, within reason, my favourite tipple.

After trying the 5:2 food diet last January - with impressive results - I began to wonder if this cardinal principle could be applied to all areas of your life. The good news is, it can - particularly your drinking - I've outlined exactly how in my new book '5:2 Your Life.'

I never found going dry for January was that difficult, just miserable. The real - and much more beneficial - challenge was changing my daily routine permanently, which I have now managed. Discovering a plan that doesn't involve the pointless misery of complete self-denial feels like such a breakthrough.

By moderating my behaviour; consuming less twice a week, I feel I've found the perfect way to drink sensibly all year around. Along the way I've noticed some unexpected benefits - on the days that I do drink - a couple of units, and always white wine - my attitude has changed. I tend to splash out on a more expensive label but drink less of it. After two days 'off', I sip and savour, and never gulp.

Now I actively look forward to how I feel the morning after my two or three days off, knowing I'm being kind to my liver by resting my system for a minimum of two days each week, and slashing my overall units as a consequence. Not to mention, I can enjoy a little of what I like for more days 'on' than 'off' - which is the real incentive of the 5:2 ratio.

Not that I'm saving up my units for the rest of the week which is not to be recommended. Instead, I find that a small amount of self-discipline twice a week inevitably permeates the other days. The result? I don't want to drink that much the rest of the time. Instead I drink more sensibly for my other four or five days, thanks to a few realistic and moderate 'rules':

1)Leave more time between sips, and refills.

2)Alternate drinks, particularly when you're out. For each glass of wine, have a glass of fizzy water.

3)Try and delay your first drink of the evening by at least fifteen minutes, and combine it with your meal, not on an empty stomach.

I no longer view AFDs (alcohol free days), as 'vanilla' days - empty hours to be endured. I see them as a time to do something different, go to the cinema or a yoga class. I also make sure my fridge is well stocked with plenty of appetising non-alcoholic mixers, juices, syrups and decent fizzy water.

Thanks to 5:2, you don't have to say no to drink, but you can say no to dry January.

Emma Cook is editor of the Guardian's Do Something magazine and author of '5:2 Your Life' published by Hutchinson.