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Rob’s challenge: Drink less alcohol

Focused on Health - December 2013

by Adelina Espat

Take this challenge in the Healthy Bites series. Rob Yates did it. And so can you!

Rob Yates was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer, more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s been trying to make healthier food choices.

drink less alcohol“I drink green tea every day for its antioxidant benefits and soy milk to keep my cholesterol in check,” Rob says.

He’s also added more fruits and vegetables to his daily diet and rarely eats red meat. He exercises regularly and gets at least seven hours of sleep each night. Rob hopes these changes will keep him cancer-free and avoid heart disease, which runs in his family.

“I want to take better care of my body,” Rob says. “I’ve made a lot of positive changes, but I know I can do more.” So, he decided to join the Healthy Bites challenge.

Rob takes the challenge

After meeting with Rob, Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach, assigned him the “drink less alcohol” challenge.

“I have a hectic — and often stressful — schedule,” says Rob, who works in Pain Medicine at MD Anderson. “After a long day of seeing patients, I usually unwind in the evening with an alcoholic drink or two.”

Rob learned that drinking even a small amount of alcohol increases his risk for oral and colorectal cancers.

healthy bites challenge“The best way to keep your cancer risk in check is to limit the amount of alcohol you drink each day,” Mary Ellen says.

Research also shows that drinking alcohol increases a woman’s risk of breast, liver, oral and colorectal cancers.

Play it safe, says Mary Ellen, by having no more than:

  • one alcoholic drink per day if you’re a woman, and
  • two drinks per day if you’re a man.

“That doesn’t mean that if you don’t drink one day, you can double up the next day,” Mary Ellen says. “And, it’s actually better if you can avoid alcohol altogether.”

READ ALSO: Your guide to alcohol and cancer

What worked for Rob

“The hardest part was breaking out of my old behavior,” Rob says. “It took a little work to move in a healthier direction.”

Rob offers this advice:

  • Keep a log: “I actually found it helpful to keep a log. It made me more aware of how much I drank, so that I was able to slowly reduce the number of alcoholic drinks I had each week.”
  • Go easy: “Be patient and forgiving toward yourself. If you don’t hit the mark every day, that’s okay. Remember, you’re working on changing a habit.”
  • Get creative: “Have fun with it! Play around with different options and look for new ways to unwind. If you’re not able to enjoy your new healthier lifestyle, it won’t be sustainable.”

READ ALSO: Alcohol and cancer: Know your risk

“Now, drinking alcohol is more of a conscious choice than a routine that I fall into,” Rob says.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center