“I feel like I’m so far ahead. I couldn’t imagine getting to the end of this year without taking the year off drinking alcohol. It’s given me a fresh perspective and it’s easily the best thing I’ve ever done, hands down.”
As Dave Nixon walks towards me in a busy café in Canberra’s inner north, the first thing I notice is the bold lettering printed across the front of his t-shirt ‘YOU SAID TOMORROW YESTERDAY’. He takes off his baseball cap, roughs up his blonde spikey hair, cracks a big smile and gives me a bear-like hug as he joins me at the table.
Almost two years ago Nixon did something that not many 23 year olds can boast. He opened his own business, FuncFitness Australia which now sees Nixon and his three employees work with a diverse range of Canberrans to improve their health and lifestyle.
Nixon believes that nutrition plays a bigger role in people’s overall health than movement does. He says the real problem Australia has on its hands is what people are consuming, not how much exercise we’re doing.
“When I talk to clients about what they eat, first thing’s first. I never use the word diet – it’s a dirty word! People usually associate it with the short term, and have negative feelings towards it. You’d never hear someone say “I’m going on a diet for the rest of my life”.
When it comes to food, I believe you should never reward yourself with anything to do with food, you’re not a dog. And it’s the same with alcohol.”
According to Nixon, many Australians use alcohol to relax and unwind, but he says that people’s perceptions of alcohol are often just as powerful as consuming it.
“A lot of people like to ‘reward’ themselves with a drink after a hard day’s work. But most of the time they get that feeling before they’ve even taken a sip. It’s a placebo, they’re still holding the full glass or bottle in their hand. People use alcohol as a vehicle to deal with their emotions, stress and other negative stuff in their lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way. They can change that habit.”
To test this theory and himself, in late 2011 Nixon decided to take a year off drinking alcohol. While he never considered his alcohol consumption to be particularly problematic, he thought it would give him the edge he needed to reach his goals, both professionally and personally.
“I made the decision to take 12 months off alcohol when I was coming into the second year of running my own business. After a friend’s birthday I realised that having a big weekend on the booze or a big night actually went against my values, what I stand for, and what my business is all about.
So I set myself a date that I could commit to, 1 January 2012 (I didn’t want to do it straight away) and said to myself ‘ok, no alcohol for a year from that day’. I set a target to raise money for Camp Quality and announced it publicly so it was a promise I had to keep.”
Nixon dedicated the first three months to training for a kickboxing fight, something he’d never done before. With an average weight of 79kg, he had to cut down to 66kg in order to complete.
His daily routine included 2-3 training sessions, working 14-15 hours on his business, and adhering to a strict nutrition regime. To really push the limits of his determination and will power during this period, Nixon also faced an emotional hurdle.
“I went through a breakup during the year, it was a significant relationship in my life. People would say to me “oh you need to get out and mingle”. But I didn’t want to run my emotions through the ‘alcohol vehicle’. I wanted to deal with it differently – and I chose my training and my business.”
This month he achieved another big personal goal, lifting three times his body weight in a local powerlifting competition.
Dave’s final lift at the competition – 225kg
I asked Nixon if he felt like he’d missed out on anything over the course of the last 11 months, and whether he has any regrets about his decision to go without.
“How did I feel? So much better than I would have if I chose alcohol! I’m now much more aware of people and read body language completely differently than I used to.
It’s really given me an opportunity to push my boundaries. I usually get up at 4am and work until 10pm, and then train a couple of times during the day. So it’s given me the chance to understand what I can achieve in a day, both physically and mentally.
To me, there has been nothing negative – physical, social or anything whatsoever from taking a year off.”
We may not all aspire to be a health coach, a kick boxer, or an entrepreneur, but perhaps if we’re to really understand our full potential, taking a break from booze might just give us the space we need to do it. Check out these Australian initiatives if you’re keen to give it a go: