“Cheat days don’t work! Find your balance!”
On Thursday night, I was with my friend Amandine. Before dinner, we grabbed drinks at my favorite terrace bar in the 1er arrondissement, Le Café Marly which sits right in front of Le Louvre. At any hour, the pyramid appears slightly different than the minute prior since its glass panels reflect upon changing colors of the sky. Over the years, I’ve sat at the café, with or without a laptop, with or without friends.
Amandine and I spoke about the idea of alcoholism versus alcoolisme mondain, the latter referring to a French expression which depicts the concept of social alcoholism. In a culture where alcohol consumption often occurs at parties and events that reaches a daily routine. French doctors say alcoolisme mondain mainly concerns 4 million of the national population, between ages 40-60 and affects more men than women.
Our conversation couldn’t have arrived at a more fateful time. It’s a continuing topic of discussion between my friends and I, especially during post-COVID period. After we’ve been isolated for so long that all of us have indulged in a packed social calendar during the most recent year, most of these outings involve alcohol especially in Europe. ESPECIALLY in Paris.
A lifetime ago, I had a boyfriend who was an alcoholic. Witnessing his painful battle with a cruel disease up close and personal; I knew that I, myself, maintained an extremely different relationship with alcohol. My first taste of it was during university, sorority life was an introduction to America’s college drinking culture but only on weekends. Ever since then, alcohol has never once consumed my life in an out-of-control manner. I don’t have an addictive personality, I’ve never blacked out, I have a high tolerance, I always know when to stop drinking at some point during the night, I don’t truly suffer from hangovers, I don’t gain weight from it. In other words, when it comes to social drinking, I’ve never had to pay a huge price.
But something about the decade 40. If I were to examine my life in a 360-degree angle, then I want to ameliorate my heart and mind’s relationship with my body, which means all that I consume deserves a closer look.
A few weeks ago, my friend Alexis gifted me a Silhouette Massage at Biologique Recherche on Champs-Elysée. The treatment – apparently, vastly popular among models during Paris Fashion Week – is meant to drain and reduce cellulite but my aesthetician, Sarah, took one look at my waist, grabbed onto my love handles and said in French, “This isn’t normal for you, not for your body type. This is from alimentation.”
“I knew it!” I rejoiced, “it’s the wine!” The love handles disappeared a month ago after I caught a cold in Montenegro and stopped drinking wine for two weeks. It had to be the wine!
For weeks, I’ve had a little voice whispering in my ear. Am I drinking too much? Too much is defined differently for each person, but if I were to look at a balance sheet for all that my body digests weekly, alcohol might tilt on the “more than it should be” category.
I relished on Sarah’s honesty as she continued to ask what I consumed in a day, but I also explained to her, “Part of my job is to try new restaurants and taste different wines.”
“Then you find a balance,” she explained. “Just remember that wine turns into sugar. You’re Asian, so think about the kind of food your ancestors ate. For example, your body probably processes rice better than other types of carbs. There’s a lot of cooked vegetables in your culture’s dishes, so your body might digest that better than a cold, raw salad.” Sarah is 52 years old with the face of a 35-year-old. So I took her words to heart and busily jotted down mental notes.
After the massage, I decided to try a different tactic: Cheat Day! I allowed one day in a week to consume alcohol and reduced my social calendar down to one event per week. Well, as I had to learn the hard way, all that pent up desire hazardously released on cheat day didn’t work out so well.
Last Friday night, my friend Mathieu’s 40th birthday party was at an underground art studio in the 19e arrondissement. As soon as we arrived, flutes of champagne and glasses of white wine flawlessly flowed. There were drag queens, friends I hadn’t seen in a good while, bartenders offering free glasses of bubbly; I was living my usual Parisian life and went home at a descent hour. Feeling great, not even slightly tipsy.
The next day, I woke up in a somewhat sluggish state. Not hungover, just operating on a slower pace. So I dragged my feet around the apartment and decided to watch Apple TV on my laptop while making breakfast. Clearly, my mind spaced since I mindlessly propped the laptop on top of the stove which I turned on to make eggs. Wondering why the pan wasn’t heating and without realizing what I had done, the odor of burnt metal fumed the apartment before actual smoke appeared from the bottom of my laptop.
For a few hot seconds, I stood in the middle of my tiny kitchen, staring at the smoke, the computer and its sad screen of death that shut down to a dismal black. Yup, I precisely burned my computer to a crisp, as the Brits would say.
Just like Carrie wrapped her laptop in a shawl in an episode of Sex and the City, I veiled mine in an old rag since the melted metal was staining everything else. On my way to the Apple Store, I knew what this incident was here to teach me. But the sign couldn’t have been evermore explicit when I spoke to the Apple Store technician in three languages: French, English and Mandarin. His name was Hubert, he was Taiwanese and we shared the same birthday!
What were the chances? As if God was screaming from above: Cheat days don’t work! Find your balance! I’m literally giving you all the signs that you need!
Some doctors suggest that drinking slowly and not too early may reduce the number of glasses consumed in a night. Staying hydrated with water for each glass of alcohol may also help. For me, I stopped cheat days and have taken the time to enjoy wine, one sip at a time. Not that I never did before, but when it comes to a good bottle, I want to take my time. Savoring is an art form. Rather than drinking in a rush, I want to taste and enjoy the good stuff.
And this approach, goes far beyond wine.