Your loss is their gain

With FebFast, Dry July and Ocsober, there are now three months in which we can avoid alcohol for the sake of good causes - and our livers.

Now, along comes Droptober, which is about trying out new eating and exercise habits. The aim is to lose two kilograms for charity - and our health.

Do these months have any lasting value?

I think dry months are a great way to rethink our drinking habits. They're not about giving up alcohol for good (although they can help normalise not drinking) but are a reminder that a break from alcohol doesn't necessarily take something away but can give something back. A clearer head, for example, or better skin, or more money.

As for Droptober, now in its second year, the hope is that some of the changes people make will stick around for good. They have for Sara Howard, a 40-year-old copywriter with two children. The habits she picked up last year helped her peel off five kilograms during the course of the month. Importantly, the weight is still off 12 months later.

''I liked the idea that Droptober was about dropping just two kilos. I thought I could do that,'' says Howard, whose new habits began with downloading a food diary with a kilojoule counter to her phone.

''Once I could see what I was eating - and how many kilojoules there were in things like three full-cream lattes - it became easier to make smarter choices. They weren't big changes: I switched to low-fat milk; I ate an apple instead of a muffin; if I was making lasagne for the family, I ate a smaller portion but with more salad. After two weeks, I had a new way of eating.''

A food diary app also worked for 36-year-old Lindsey Hoad, who, after losing almost six kilograms during Droptober last year, went on to lose another 17. All the weight has stayed off. The diary helped her monitor what she ate and kept her accountable, she says.

Research backs up these experiences; keeping a daily record of what you eat and drink can help keep you focused. A study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in the US found that women who kept food journals for a 12-month period lost more weight than those who did not.

Another useful strategy is taking lunch to work, rather than buying it there. Howard takes either leftovers from dinner or a salad. ''It means I'm not nipping out for a BLT or buying chicken and chips,'' she says.

Hoad has focused on only buying healthy food. She also checks restaurant menus before going out to eat. ''If it looks hard to find the right food, I'll ask friends if we can go somewhere else,'' she says.

For Hoad, it was also important to make time for exercise. ''Everyone finds an hour to go on Facebook or watch TV. You can always fit in a 30-minute run. This is the first time in six years that I've been able to maintain my weight. The hardest thing is getting started. You keep putting it off. You say to yourself, 'I'll have this pizza and then I'll do something about it tomorrow.' The whole premise of Droptober is about getting started and changing habits that set you up for success - and the fact that you're raising money is an extra commitment factor.''

Droptober raises funds for children's charities Variety and the Kids for Life Foundation. The website offers weight-loss advice from experts, including Droptober's organiser, personal trainer Mike Jarosky, and nutritionist Joanna McMillan.

See droptober.com.au.

Paula Goodyer blogs at smh.com.au/chewonthis.

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