You may remember Helen Van Berkel from previous weight loss adventures such as diet for a middle-aged bridesmaid and Journey to Sexytown. Today, she reveals how her lastest challenge, Dry July, is shaping up.

The train to Sexytown has left the station. I thought announcing my exciting plan to the world would grease the rails and the fear of failure would have me there in minutes. And I was fairly confident that writing publicly about my journey to a defined jawline and visible thigh muscles would bring me:

A) Free offers of fabulous things
B) Invitations from wealthy and handsome blokes wanting to become a part of my life and
C) A ticket to a life as a writer of luxury and international first-class travel experiences

Yeah, nah: none of the above happened.


Instead, my exes and other enemies can now Google my name and read about how fat I am. Worse, my exes are probably not googling my name.

And so I sit - okay, sprawl - on my couch, sad and fat, having failed yet again. My bangers and mash dinner is sending smoke signals from the stove. All I can do is contemplate my failure as the train to Sexytown pulls out of the station, trailing the laughter and glass clinks of the fun, skinny people who can graze like buffaloes from life's cheese and charcuterie platters and still fit their Size 0 pants the next day.

I top up the glass of wine in my hand from the bottle at my side - just in case the answer is in there. A second top up fails to produce answers or give me back my joie de vivre.

Maybe I have a slow metabolism – or maybe I don't have one at all. I take another mouthful. Maybe I'm just destined to be fat. Who wants to be skinny, anyway? All those jutting clavicles and pointy cheekbones just induce anxiety. What if you accidentally blind a small person with your coxa? Doesn't bear thinking about.

And it's not like I didn't try: there was the personal trainer and the boxing classes. I might have gotten derailed on my holidays but, frankly, my fitness angels should have been clearer that training to a sweating puddle doesn't grant you open season on the breakfast buffet. Reminders every class, an eating plan, Facebook groups, recipes, texts and food diaries just don't cut it, I'm afraid.

I eye my newly filled glass of chardonnay. Maybe I have a drinking problem. I chuckle to myself. And raise my glass in honour of myself. No, I don't. I am the mother of a Fabulous Teenager whom I have successfully steered through the shoals of teen horrificness. I have a Responsible Job. I have a Mortgage. I Mow my own Lawn. I have an Exceptionally Spoiled Cat. I have Responsibilities. I am Smashing It.

I quickly turn off my stove and salvage what I can from the blackened mess. I DO NOT have a drinking problem.

Ha ha ha. So ... I eye my brimming glass.


It's Dry July. The time of year we middle-aged dowagers dread.

I clutch my glass tightly to my chest as my calendar glares at me from the pantry door. An entire month of no chardonnay. Why July for heaven's sake? That's 31 days – why can't it be dry February? Or, better, Dry February 29? 31 days, that's 724 hours, that's like 50,000 minutes. I start to hyperventilate; suddenly I see why alcoholics have paper bags handy. I breathe into mine.

Still, I swear to myself that this year I'm going to last longer than lunch time. No biggie, right? No wine. No vodka, no gin. For a month. We can do this. We have had babies. We have university degrees. We are women; we can roar and all sorts. We have overcome – and we can do it again. I can do this.

July 1
Time: 00:00:1

So far, so good.

The month we dread but secretly look forward to is upon us and I have prepared well. I spent June 30 clearing my life of temptation so I have eaten all the junk food in my cupboard, I have cooked and eaten the last of the bacon and drank all the leftover wine. (Okay, there was no leftover wine, I had to go and buy that.)

But I am ready. It is Dry July and the transformation is about to begin.

And so far I have succeeded. And I am proud. Amazing how a small step of success gives one the stepping stone to another.

Dry July gives us the opportunity to be virtuous in the face of social pressure: "One has to do one's bit," one says modestly, trembling hand covering the wine glass declining the offered nectar from the gods, longing eyes fixed on the poised bottle.

Time: 1800 hours. In bed. Day One was a triumph over temptation. My virtuous plan of a return to the gym was washed away by the unexpected arrival of an out-of-town cousin: "Let's go for a wine!" she coos, temptingly.

"Ooooh, yes, let's! Oooh, no, Dry July," I amend.

Instead we go for a coffee and a brisk, prideful walk from her Parnell hotel into the city.

As the day wears on my surprised liver borborygmusly shrinks a few centimetres. (That is kind of a word, by the way, look it up.) Why am I in bed at 6pm? What else am I going to do in Dry July?

Day 2

Planning and preparing for Dry July this year meant carefully filling the hours formerly known as "wine time!" with more healthful activities. And so it was that I found myself back at my favourite boxing gym ready to pound my inner booze hound into silence.

At 6am I was strapped up, pulling on the gloves, realising I'd brought two left gloves, borrowing a matching pair and then spent the class inhaling the scent of a stranger. As I leave I note my North Shore gym is on Gladstone Rd – the same street name as the aforementioned cousin's hotel. This is clearly an omen. It means that technically, I went to the gym yesterday.

So it was that I found myself back at my favourite boxing gym ready to pound my inner booze hound into silence. Photo / Supplied
So it was that I found myself back at my favourite boxing gym ready to pound my inner booze hound into silence. Photo / Supplied

Day 3

Amazing how a successful few days makes one feel like Dry July has been conquered. Not only that, my two days at the gym have killed my thighs and I can therefore justify a glass of wine to celebrate/commiserate. Unfortunately I'd boasted too often and too loudly about how I was Doing Dry July and instead of a sympathetic ear and a top up, my loved ones frogmarch me into abandoning my car and instead walking to the bus station. It is a 50-minute walk. I hate my family. Secretly, I love them too.

Day 4

6am. Back in the gym. I resolutely drive past my local wine shop. Tumble weed rolls by.

Day 5

Catastrophe. Friday drinks time. My evening shift boss said to join my colleagues for a quick one. I did. I swear that I forgot it was Dry July. And once I fell off the wagon I decided to go the whole hog and have pizza for dinner. But even the hot office gossip that wins me brownie points on my return to my desk doesn't salve my tortured conscience. Technically, my failure was the boss' fault. I have to do what she says, right? But the excuse doesn't work for my inner wowser.

Day 6

I am so depressed at my failure all I want to do is stay in bed. I hate myself. This is why I'm not using Dry July to raise money. Imagine being that person, the one who lets down people whose struggle is not a choice.

Day 7-14

I am felled by a cold that quickly blocks the sinuses, turns the nostrils into twin Niagaras, clogs the chest and saps the spirit. The bad thing about coughing up internal organs every 10 minutes is that it means I have no energy for the gym. The good thing is that a glass of wine is the last thing I feel like. Maybe the gods are punishing me. I manage to make it through week two of Dry July without any further disasters.