Whisky Advocate

A downside to drinking, and what I’m going to do about it.

January 1st, 2011

I enjoy life. I love drinking (that includes good beer and wine), and I love food. I also exercise regularly to keep from gaining weight. But, in 2010, I found myself losing this battle. It was a combination of factors: knee surgery in the spring, lots of travel for business in the fall, the stress of selling our business,  a slowing metabolism, rotating beers on tap at home, an endless supply of other great things to drink, and then the holidays and all the parties.

I’m not grossly overweight, but what I always jokingly refer to as the “five pounds of fun” around my waist has now turned into ten pounds of fun. It’s beginning to not be funny anymore. I either have to lose weight or buy a completely new set of clothes. (And I hate shopping.)

So, the lesser (and better) of the two evils is to cut the weight. This isn’t one of those New Year’s resolutions. The timing is mostly coincidental. I just finished reviewing all my whiskies for the Buyer’s Guide in the next issue of Malt Advocate, all those holiday parties are over, and I’m not traveling anywhere until February 8th, when my wife Amy and I are going on vacation. It’s time to right my wrongs of the past year, and then continue my usually balanced lifestyle after that.

So, here’s what I am going to do. I always here doctors say that it’s not healthy losing more than two pounds in one week, so I have set a goal of losing 10 pounds over the next five weeks. That’s 10 pounds by February 5th.

To jump start this, I’m going to do something I haven’t done in a long while: no booze for the first 20 days! Because of my whisky and beer review schedule, there’s only a few times throughout the year where this would even be a possibility for me. There is a break in my tasting schedule right now, and I’m going to take advantage of it.

Why 20 days? On January 20th, I’m going into New York for an editorial meeting with the editors of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazines, and I have this feeling there just might be a nice bottle of wine (and perhaps a good cigar) enjoyed by all before the day is over. That’s something I don’t want to miss out on.

Normally this is something I would just do and not even tell anyone. My personal life is just that: personal. Why spill my guts here on WDJK? Well, if I am dealing with this issue, I’m willing to bet some of you are too.

If so, I invite you to join me.

Which brings me to another topic: my relationship with drinking. Fortunately, I never felt like I needed a drink. (If I did, I would stop drinking.) It’s just something I enjoy and look forward to. I believe it was Steve Beaumont, one of our excellent writers and a guy with great perspective, who likened his relationship with drinking to a appreciating a fine painting on his wall. He certainly doesn’t need the painting, but if it weren’t there he would miss it–and his day might be the lesser for it.

That’s how I’m going to feel for the next 20 days.

68 Responses to “A downside to drinking, and what I’m going to do about it.”

  1. John Hansell says:

    I would also like to add that weight gain doesn’t need to be a “down side” to drinking if, like everything else, it is kept in check. But, as I constantly keep proving to myself, I’m not perfect and I sometimes lose perspective. It’s time for me to regain some of that perspective.

  2. Adam says:

    Sounds like a great effort, and I should probably join in though, I figure I have more like 20 to 25 pounds of fun around my midsection. But it all basically started after I hurt my knee for the second time and just did not have the focus and time to get completely back in shape after that. Perhaps it may be getting close to time now.

    • John Hansell says:

      I have a very small frame. Ten pounds is a lot to me for this reason. That might be the equivalent of like 15-20 pounds for someone who’s 250 pounds total. They say taking the first step is the hardest part. It took me an entire year to get around to it.

  3. Barry Jay says:

    Guess we will not be seeing a post “What will you be drinking on vacation? LOL…
    Somebody must have stashed some kryptonite over at Hansell Libation Central!
    Make me feel better..thought I was the only one…

  4. Mike Dereszynski says:

    ” I feel your pain”,
    I also have a small frame and have that old year metab. When deciding on cut backs and carb cutting,I find choosing between a great craft beer or homebrew and a distilled whisky/ey,the distilation wins out . My fellow members of Madison Homebrewers & Tasters Guild think this strange.
    For me its a pleasurable choice and a win win decision.

  5. Gary says:

    I’ll join you. 20 days of no drinking. I’m in. I could lose 10 pounds myself so this should jump start it. Happy New Year and good luck John.

    • John Hansell says:

      Excellent Gary!

      Anyone else?

      • Steve says:

        Yes, I cut out booze for the same reasons starting December 21 (except New Year’s Eve, which i exempted up front!) through January 21 as that’s the day I start a dive trip in the Caribbean. This holiday season wasn’t kind to my midsection, so I cut the booze one month before the trip and have run every day except New Year’s Day to trim that 10 pounds. Now that I’m not eating turkey, sides, and dessert constantly I’m looking forward to a slightly thinner me. I think the guys at my favorite local pub think I’ve died or moved.

      • Gary says:

        Day two coming to a close. I had my first gym visit and it went well. I look forward to going 3 x’s a week plus the walking I do every day.

  6. Jason Pyle says:

    Oh man, I’ve gained 10 pounds this fall as well and had no room to gain anymore to begin with. My wife and I are doing our regular resolution to get some weight off to start this new year, but the whiskey has to stay for now. I’m going to have to add another 30 minutes a day or something to overcome the brown stuff.

    Happy New Year to all.

    • John Hansell says:

      To be honest, I think most of my weight gain is from the beer and the unhealthy snacking (which I am also giving up), but enough is enough. The weight has got to go. I’m giving it all up for 20 days.

  7. Ian Gray says:

    John,,, you are on,,,,, I’m sitting here drinking a wonderful Springbank and eating home made Truffels,,, as from tomorrow its the good life for me (not) untill I get to Islay 1st week in Feb,,,, do you recon I will have a 6 pack by then?

  8. Scribe says:

    John, good for you — and good for separating your new initiative from New Year’s Day…that should make it more long-lasting than a typical New Year’s Resolution! I went through something similar 18 months ago — and, after joining a gym, following “Runner’s World’s” eight-week guide to go from “couch potato” to a mild runner, and cutting out all snacking, I dropped 30 pounds…and have kept all but five of it off (gained in the last two weeks!!!) 🙂

    I’ve still got another 10 to go and I’ll be under 200…my goal as a six-footer. But for me, doing regular exercise and knocking out the “wasted-calorie” snacks that I used to love really did the trick…even with some drinking tossed in, although I am not as much a craft beer aficionado due to the inherent calories. It is easier than I thought to enjoy a tasty single malt without having to snack on things at the same time!!

    For me, mild running and the gym did it. Whatever you may choose beyond “no drinking,” which admittedly is a short-term solution, sticking with it is the hardest part…but, the most rewarding as well as time lapses and pounds melt away!

    Good luck!!

    • John Hansell says:

      After 30 years of running, my body said “enough!” But I switched to biking and (with moderation in everything else) it’s working. More power to ya!

  9. Rob allanson says:

    Right you are on John. Like you editorial tasting schedules never seem to offer a break, even during lent. However the first 20 days for me are free, before the second round of awards judging and a trip to whisky live India….so I say let’s do it. It has to be good to detox every now and again to refresh the senses.

  10. Mike M says:

    My girlfriend and I are in – but we are going for 27 days! We have been in Argentina and Chile for almost 3 weeks drinking wine everyday. We land back in the US on Jan 4 and have committed to be “dry” for the rest of the month to try to shed some of our vacation pounds. Those extra pounds are simply a case of input > output. We plan to reverse that trend with some healthy walking, smart portion size and exercise. Once we get back to our good habits we plan to start enjoying the 95 or so bottles of scotch and whiskey that we have stockpiled over the past year. We will try not to let history repeat itself!

  11. Barry Jay says:

    You know, I was thinking about John’s post during the day as I puttered in the basement. Had the laptop fired up, streaming beer and whisky podcasts ad nauseum. The one distinct thing that I noticed was how cold and formal they were. From time to time during the week, I’ll check out other blogs, but find them banal and “ipso facto” always coming back to WDJK for that feeling of camaraderie with you, my fellow bloggers and our legendary and fearless leader and keeper of the dram. This posting however, takes it to a whole new level.
    John always amazed me. His love of the culinary arts and libations seemed to have no bounds. I often teased him (and attempted to taunt him) about things I was eating…places I was visiting….always enjoying his reaction thru verbal rejoinders which were always sheer delight. As John said, he had a small frame….seemingly one of those folks lucky enough to have good genetics. Each time I saw him, most recently at Whisky Fest NYC, he looked great. I was beginning to think he was a gastrological Superman. This posting really stuck home. Not for the fact that even he was susceptible to the gods of weight gain….but the fact that he wanted to share it all with us.
    Many of us are not spring chickens. As we get older, we have to be to so diligent to not let our love for whisky and beer exacerbate or bring on conditions that affect our health. I turned 55 on the 30th and it’s constantly on my mind that all things need to be done in moderation. Over the past year, I’ve become somewhat of a mental calorie counter, losing 25 pounds (11.3 kg for my friends in the UK). It was all a matter of balance…making sure that if I planned to enjoy a dram of my favorite whisky or bottle of beer, I had to give it up somewhere else.
    John’s posting was timely and shows that he more than a whisky aficionado, more than a pundit…he is a man that sees the big picture and wants to ensure all his friends are in the loop with his thoughts. A true mench for sure. (I was drinking a Dogfish 90 IPA while writing this, gave up a great sandwich during lunch).

    • John Hansell says:

      Barry, yes it is true. I am just like everyone else. And you will appreciate that I think of everything I eat or drink in terms of “beer equivalents” when it comes to calories. 🙂 (And thanks!)

  12. Stevie Zanders says:

    John, et al,
    well said, timely and apropos. Appreciate the healthiness of putting your personal life out there. This “thing” we are going through with weight, life, great and less great, sometimes bad spirits can only be shared and healed through the gift of friendship and “group” therapy. Writing about what you are going through lets us all know that we are not alone, we are not bearing a unique burden and nothing lasts forever.
    Will partner with you through this and see what happens….after all, we have so much time….
    Peaceful, perspective and joyous new year John–thanks for your friendship.

  13. Chap says:

    Heh. I’ve been dry due to other meds for months. And then maybe deployed under that [opinion deleted] General Order One for a while.


  14. lawschooldrunk says:

    Sorry, John. I’m not joining you on this one.

    If I lose anymore weight, you won’t see me when I turn sideways. All my family members are always screaming at me to gain weight. You see, I’m a competitive cyclist and a chronic aerobic exerciser (with occasions of anaerobic exercise!) and alternate every day with a different mixture of curls, pushups, crunches, and chinups (no need to go to a gym for these). If I go somewhere on foot, I inevitably run. I don’t ever take elevators (I’m known for running up 20 flights in NYC). I commute by bike, and either run on the treadmill or ride my road bike indoors on the trainer. I also watch what I eat almost to the point of weighing everything to get the exact caloric value.

    Quickly, and in a nutshell, my subjective view is it’s better to not change what you are eating and significantly exercise aerobically than eating less and not exercising. Best is to eat less/slightly less/more healthy and exercise aerobically and weight-lift. (Weight lifting builds muscle, and thought you won’t lose weight, your resting metabolism will increase and consume your fat. For older people, weight-lifting also retards your natural muscle loss.)

    I am ecstatic, though, that you and those you inspire are doing this. I am a big proponent of, and advocate for, aerobic exercise. If anyone needs tips or advice, email me at or tweet me @lawschooldrunk.

    Good luck, John, and everyone. It’s hard, but it’s worth it! Not just for you, but also for your spouses!

    • Daniel says:

      Not changing too much about my eating habits, starting to exercise. Worked last year to get rid of 5 kg in 3 months. Unfortunately 3 of them are already back due to stopping to exercise and falling back to “unhealthy eating behavior”.
      So for this year my plans are a little different:
      – Change my diet a little (reducing the soft drinks and fast food, no more heavy breakfast)
      – Start to exercise again (in a gym, not in front of the TV. Paying for something you don´t regularly go to would be wast of money, so this increases motivaiton)
      – Take time (1-2 kg /month are enough)

      And finally: MOTIVATION
      Glenglassaugh 1972/2010 38yo for Germany
      This baby sits in my shelf and will only be opened when I am below th 80kg benchmark.

      This in combination is my plan to get rid of 10kg and be back at 80kg till summer.

    • Gary says:

      I completely agree. I exercise every day. But at age 53 with a ruptured disc in my back and a high stress desk job…sometimes I am not as diligent as I should be. Thought this would be a fun way to kind of jump start the year. At least until I go in for my third back surgery later this year. 🙁

  15. Thomas Mckenzie says:

    No need to worry. Just do what I did. My 5 pounds of fun turned into about 40 pounds of fun. The dr gave me a b-12 shot and 3 months later I have lost 43 pounds. No change in diet or what I drink at all.

  16. Scribe says:

    Given your last two posts to the website, John, perhaps you ought to consider temporarily re-naming the site to, “What Does John Weigh?” 🙂

  17. Jun Nunez says:

    What worked wonders for me is just changing my diet. Shifted to multi grain bread and pasta, brown rice, more veggies and fish. Cut down on the chocholate and desserts. I still enjoyed my whisky and cigars but had to cut down on the stout and porter beers.
    Needless to say I lost a lot of weight, my cholesterol and sugar went down, and I kept my doctor and my wife off my back. I hope things go well for you.

    • whiskymonique says:

      Hey Jun,
      LIttle known fact, you can keep the stouts and porters and lose some of the “lighter” beers. Porters and stouts are actually lower in calories and carbs due to the fact that they have alot of the sugar roasted out.

  18. Jun Nunez says:

    Just to let you know I gained 8 pounds during the Holiday season. I am 52, 183 lbs and also have back problems and can not excercise as much as I want to.
    In solidarity with you, plus the fact i want to go back to 175 lbs, I’ll loose the 8 lbs and try to do it in 2 weeks. I’ll still enjoy my whisky and my occasional cigars while on my diet.
    Keep us posted with your progress. 😀

  19. two-bit cowboy says:

    Gee, John, another weekend post. Thought you gave THAT up! Anyway, I’m a day late reading your latest.

    Last September Barbara and I tore the roof off our kitchen, knocked down the two exterior walls, ripped up the floor, dug down four feet for new footings, and started over. We finished painting the new walls today, and I shoveled a sixty-foot-long, truck-width path of 18″ – 30″ deep snow out of the driveway (nearly a weekly exercise — not that we get that much snow but because of the wind piling it up). Since September I’ve gone from 6’4″ / 250 to 6’4″ / 228.

    That said, I’m with you through January 20th (right after I finish this glass of Talisker 10).

    Relating to another of your recent posts, though, I wonder what the whisk(e)y industry folks will think of this — your latest — blog entry. Hmmmmm.

    • John Hansell says:

      I did the weekend post, because I skipped all of the weekday posts. 🙂 Sort of inverse posting over the holidays.

      I’m exhausted just reading your house renovation comment!

      I know a lot of whisky industry folk (including fellow writers) who are in a lot worse shape (weight-wise) than I am or have ever been. Hopefully, some of them will think: “I’m going to join him!” The reason why I am nipping this in the bud now–while it’s still a relatively small issue.

    • John Hansell says:

      I am getting emails from people in the industry every day telling me about their health issues and that many of them have also taken time off (mostly for weight reasons, but also sometimes for other health-related issues),

  20. Gllaguno says:


    Not much by weight but a lot by the sodium, I need to cut off some drinking! Usually when I drink I get a lot of snacks and as I have a little bit of high blood pressure. I will stop eating stuff that have high sodium content and will limit my drams to 1 or 2 to help lower the pressure.

    John did you know something about this news from Macallan?

  21. Leorin says:

    Hi John,
    do you ever taste whisky or beer without swallowing? I’m asking because I know some professionals in the wine and whisky industry who do that (it would probably be a stupid thing to do with beer though).
    You have my respect for doing the full monty, and not just abdicating the beer for some time.
    I think that first drink after the period of abstinence will be a cracker 🙂

    • John Hansell says:

      When I am reviewing beer, I don’t swallow. I think it’s important to swallow. And when I review whisky, I spit most of it. I also try to enjoy the whiskies “for fun” too. After all, that’s why I do this for a living.

      The culprit is not my evaluating, It’s mostly the beer drinking and snacking, which I have put an end to for the time being.

  22. MrTH says:

    After thirty years of being a daily beer drinker, I’d gone from 175 lbs at 21 to 240 at 51 (I am 6′ 3″). That’s when I joined a gym, five years ago. I’m now steady at 185-190, having got as low as 181. I do not diet, have never dieted–don’t believe in it. I do watch what I eat more now, try to stay away from junk. The point is to find an equilibrium you can maintain. That means not going overboard with either dieting or exercise–if you can’t keep it up, you will fail. I’m continually trying to add a little more to my exercise routine, but I’m also continually finding myself starting over. That’s okay–I just keep on keeping on.

    Two years ago, my New Year’s resolution was to take 100 alcohol-free days in 2009, a big leap for someone with such a longstanding daily habit. It turned out not to be as hard as I thought it would. Did the same for 2010, and will again this year. (I’d go for 120, but my month in Scotland is a lost cause….)

    For those of you with bad backs and knees, take up swimming. (I had bad shoulders, but surgery fixed that.) Do something! You’re in a self-perpetuating cycle–you weigh too much because you don’t exercise, you don’t exercise because your knees/back are bad, your knees/back are bad because you weigh too much. Find some way to break the cycle.

    Best of luck to all–life generally, and the really nice things in it like whisky, are all the more enjoyable when you’re healthy.

    • John Hansell says:

      The good thing I have going for me is that I’m only about ten pounds overweight. Fortunately, I don’t need to lose the 50+ pounds that you did.

      I also exercize regularly–probably about 5x/week on average. Mostly biking (for aerobic) and weight lifting (for strength training). I used to be a runner–for 30 years actually. Those days are over, after two knee surgeries. So, the exercizing always helps.

      Most importantly, I want to do this. Normally I have all this in balance, but I experienced a sort of “perfect storm” this past year which I described above in my original post.

      • MrTH says:

        You’re a good example of how to stay on top of things–a ten-pound crisis is not an overwhelming one. I hold myself up as a bad example for younger folks of how it can get away from you if you let it; and as an example of how an older person who has let it all slide for years can get back in control. Mostly it’s a matter of wanting it enough to make it a priority.

  23. Brian Bradley (Brian 47126) says:

    I stopped drinking for 2 months earlier this year. It was all about the weight issue, and I lost it. Sadly, the holidays came and I found it. I will be taking a break again till February.

  24. Vince says:

    I thought you were having whisky reviews every day in January? I dont see one today.

  25. Jim says:

    It appears many of us are in the same boat – good beverages and food, and perhaps not enough exercise (my excuse knee injury like Adam). A test I found on the web suggests my frame is large but I don’t buy it as old photos in my late teens and early twenties certainly don’t support such a conclusion. So I have to shed about 25 lbs. and spirits, wine and beer are restricted to the odd sampling until I’m satisfied I’m on a successful weight loss path. For those with knee issues I find that cycling is the least problematic fat-burning exercise. We eat well – my wife it a great cook and this is her passion (glass of wine in hand of course) so I’m cutting out a few items, reducing portion size and cutting out late night snacks. A number of years ago I cycled around Scotland, visiting distilleries and eating and drinking whatever I pleased while the weight fell off me. In five weeks I lost at least 15 pounds. Cycling five or six hours a day with a loaded touring bike will do that I guess! All the best to everyone trying to get their weight in hand and improving their overall fitness. We’re not getting any younger and I’m realizing it is more and more important if I’m going to continue the lifestyle I prefer.

  26. Bob Reed says:

    Love the thread as I am in the same boat. However a short term approach will lead to short term results, at the end of 20 days if we return to our previous behavior all of the gains will be slowly lost.

    Rather I am taking your approach one step farther and trying to adopt better behaviors which will make a difference a year (and more) from now. A little less beer here and there, less dairy, skipping deserts and increased exercise will make a positive impact. I am right there with you John.

    After 10 days please let us all know how your progress !!

  27. Murrell Kinkade says:

    I am not giving up anything so pleasure giving to me, not for twenty days. I am/have cut back on snacks, my undoing. As far as drinking, I usually do not drink except the weekends anyway. Sometimes a beer with lunch if I am out somewhere. I have cut back how much I drink, expecially craft beer. Lots of calories there apparently. Anyway John, good luck and stick to it. I know how hard it is to lose weight as we age.

  28. John Hansell says:

    Well, I’m ten days into this, and it’s time for an update.

    The main purpose of this is to lose 10 pounds over the next five weeks. After one week, I lost two pounds, meaning I am on track.

    And, like several of you have commented, the long-term way to approach this is to balance what you do in life so you don’t have to give up anything. That’s been my philosophy over the years: balance. It’s just that an extraordinary set of circumstances that happened to me last year upset this balance. I recognized it, and felt I needed to do something about it while it was just a “small” problem. Ten pounds, in the broad scheme of things, is not much.

    Now, to update you on my progress. Well, there’s been an unfortunate incident. Last week, while snowblowing my driveway, I slipped and fell hard on my lower back thanks to some hidden ice. I’m in lots of pain. If there’s a silver lining here, after a few doctor visits, X-rays, etc., I found out there is no stress fracture, no herniated disc. Just lots of pain.

    Exercise is out of the question until I recover. It’s pretty hard losing weight and not exercising. But I have cut back on my eating, and have been very faithful about cutting out the drinking. Full disclosure: my best friend of 30 years turned 50 last week. I celebrated with him. Sometimes you have to weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision that’s the best in the long run.

    Bottom line though. I am on track, in spite of the setbacks, and will report back on the 20th.

  29. whiskymonique says:

    John, congrats for staying on track… sorry to hear about your fall. Thank you for sharing both the triumphs and the little setbacks. It is so important to realize that everyone will have both. Too often, people have a setback and quit, but they are natural and inevitable, so you just keep on going and do what you can!

  30. Jason Debly says:

    Mr. Hansell, the other benefit to taking a break from drinking is the wear and tear on the liver. Even if you limit yourself to one or two ounces per day, there is the potential of harm to the liver. I say ‘potential’ because everyone reacts differently to alcohol. Some people can drink regularly with no liver damage, while others are not so fortunate.

    I was at a whisky festival with a leading scotch critic and I noticed that person barely, I mean barely sipped the whiskies of the evening for that reason. Kinda a hazard of the occupation. I used to take comfort in the fact that I never got intoxicated, but a physician told me that technically there is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption for everyone with respect to liver health.


  31. John Hansell says:

    Tomorrow is Jan. 20th, so I thought I would provide an update. The short answer version: I am on track to lose my ten pounds in five weeks. (I’m not quite three weeks into this, and I’m close to six pounds down.)

    Not drinking was to jump start the weight loss. It was the means to the end, not the end itself. It helped. I cut out the alcohol calories for the first week or so, but I realized that I was actually ahead of schedule and that I could still enjoy enjoy the occassional drink, so I did.

    The lower back injury due to falling on ice while snowblowing my driveway has not been fun. It is very painful and has been an emotional setback, but I am adjusting and will meet my goal.

  32. John Hansell says:

    Another update here for anyone still following this. I’m 3 1/2 weeks in to this and 7 lbs down. So I am still right on schedule to lose the 10 lbs in 5 weeks. And I’ve been drinking daily now, but moderately.

    My back is largely healed now from the fall on ice a couple weeks ago, so I am exercizing again which helps.

  33. John Hansell says:

    For anyone still following this: mission accomplished. Down 10 in five weeks.

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