I always knew that alcohol and weight loss don’t go hand in hand, but I had always secretly wished that somehow, sometime, there would be some kind of research or a new drink that doesn’t impact the weight loss process, or more so, helps you lose weight, a.k.a what dreams are made of. Since I have always struggled with weight – not obese, not fat, but not thin either, and on the other hand, hey, a girl enjoys a good night out with the girls, I started to research more on the topic.
Almost every research or article I read, implied that when it comes to losing weight and alcohol, it’s basically like playing Russian roulette with your metabolism. Not that I didn’t know, but my reaction to the news, was the same as when I heard Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie was filing for divorce, so I needed a glass of wine to let that sink in. (It was water on a wine glass btw since I was on a diet, but I had to make it more dramatic because that’s just who I am as a person).
As I continued to sip in and scroll down, it read that people trying to lose weight, or not gain weight, are frequently advised to just completely lay off the booze. But, there are also sources, in this case, organizations like Weight Watchers who offer ways to drink wisely without packing on extra pounds.
It is almost always after the winter holidays that I hear people blaming alcohol for those extra pounds, and not because of its caloric contribution alone, but also because it can undermine self-control and stimulate the appetite and desire for fattening foods. I’ve listened to friends vent about this a million times, nodding in approval, pretending I didn’t do precisely the same, and I couldn’t help but wonder all the times I binged on pizza or French fries after a few drinks. I thought if it’s late at night, the calorie counter in my body should be asleep, so it doesn’t count, right? Wrong. My abdominal area proved otherwise.
Yet, I do know people who routinely drink wine with dinner, or a cocktail before it and never put an unwanted pound. Given that moderate drinkers tend to live longer than heavy drinkers or abstainers, I knew I had to dig in deeper into the topic, since to this day, remains the most controversial and confusing topic for people who want to control their weight.
The definition of moderate drinking is something of a balancing act, meaning that it sits at a point which the health benefits of alcohol outweigh the risks. Moderate sits at the point of consuming no more than one to two drinks per day for men, and no more than one drink per day for women, a definition used by the U.S Department of Agriculture and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
But, let’s just face the fact that sometimes (note: sometimes), there’s nothing better at the end of a long day than a glass of wine or beer. However, sipping more can seriously wreak havoc with your shape, and not just by simply adding extra calories to your diet. Alcohol temporarily keeps your body from burning fat.
The reason behind that is that your body can’t store calories from alcohol to burn later, so your metabolism must stop what it’s doing, e.g. burning off calories from the last thing you ate and starts getting rid of the booze.
I understand you might be overloaded with information as I was, and left in a state of confusion, so let’s break it down from the very beginning of the process.
What happens to your body when you drink?
Once you swallow the drink, the alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the blood, 20% through the stomach and the 80% of it through the small intestine and the effects are usually felt within 5 or 10 minutes after drinking. The peak of the effects in the blood is felt after 30 to 90 minutes and is carried through all the organs in the body. Almost 90% of the metabolism working to break down alcohol from a toxic substance to water and carbon dioxide, is performed by the liver. The rest is out through lungs (thus alcohol breath tests); kidneys (urine); and sweat.
Too many numbers and statistics? Let’s take Jenny as a fictional character to describe how alcohol intertwines in weight.
When Jenny had a drink or two, her body now starts digesting it, and it is split into two compounds; fat, and acetate. The fat is taken through Jenny’s bloodstream and right into wherever Jenny tends to deposit fat. The acetate is also taken into the bloodstream but it is used for Jenny’s primary energy fuel. This means that instead of burning carbs or fat, Jenny’s body now relies on the acetate for energy and stops whatever else it was burning. But if Jenny ate something prior to drinking, where does that surplus of carbs and fat go? Straight into Jenny’s waistline. Ouch.
Should you completely ditch alcohol if you’re trying to control your weight?
As painful as this is to say, alcohol is not a diet food, meaning that, when alcohol is in your system, it is much harder for your body to burn fat that’s already there. But if you do it the right way, there is little to be concerned about. In fact, studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggest that middle-aged women and older women who drank moderately, about one drink a day, gained less weight over time and were less likely to become obese than those who ditch alcohol altogether.
However, JoAnn Manson who is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the above-mentioned studies said that moderate drinkers showed they were more likely to eat less when they were occasionally drinking, thus balancing calories. Simply put, when they had a glass or two, they didn’t dive into a bowl of Cheetos afterward.
There is a big misconception regarding alcohol. Nope, just because you can go weeks without alcohol, does not mean you can down seven drinks per night and be good on your belly department. Sorry. Especially since we can’t choose where our fat ends up, it usually tends to accumulate around the abdominal area. Plus, a recent animal study found that when given ethanol over a period of three days, the food intake signals significantly increased in the brain, leading to an increased urge to eat more food.
So can a girl enjoy both a glass and a tiny waistline?
Before I say yes, let’s go through an easy-to-follow strategy and then we can raise our glasses in celebration. First of all, if you go out, scout out the bar or restaurant menu ahead of time and note your picks on the phone. Or even more, before you go out and you’re pre-partying, opt for food that is high in fiber, protein, and healthy fat, so in that way, your blood-sugar levels will be kept in place. As for the drinks, stick to something simple. The simpler the drink, the better. The fancier the cocktails, they usually pack more calories, plus, the additional sugar will make you hungrier. Thus, sticking to a beer or wine will not make your sugar-levels (and cravings) skyrocket as more complex drinks will.
When you drink three or four drinks on one night, your body has hundreds of calories to break down, let alone if there are topped with more food calories that your body will not digest at first, thus they will accumulate as fat.
Tip: The morning after. As if a hangover isn’t enough punishment by my body reminding me it’s not having it, it always comes with cravings. Usually greasy fast food, that is to be blamed due to dehydration from alcohol consumption. To avoid that, for every drink you have, drink a glass of water. Then, before going to bed, have some more water. You’ll thank me later.
So to break it down real simple, can a girl enjoy a drink or two without worrying about extra pounds? I say a girl should listen to her heart, have a drink or two, but pay attention to food choices and calorie consumption prior, during, and after drinking.