Liquid courage, my best friend, uncle Jack, and a party in a bottle are all names that we love to use when it comes to our National Pastime…drinking! Alcohol is the main attraction at most sporting events, parties, and gatherings, but something that we aren’t aware of is how alcohol truly affects externally in our waistlines by what it’s doing us internally from that first drink. We all have seen the commercials where we can keep our ripped abs all while enjoying that low calorie, low carb, no guilt beverage; but there’s a few sneaky little tricks happening inside of us from the first sip of our best friend that will IMMEDIATELY cause our hard earned results in our health journey to stop and possibly take a turn for the worst!
Several aspects about alcohol are beginning to become common knowledge among the masses, alcohol has “empty” calories, stay away from mixed beverages with lots of sweeteners in them, and if you do drink make sure to eat something beforehand, these are all somewhat true, but I’m here to give you the “not so ordinary’ reasons why alcohol will wreak havoc on your waist, and could possibly lead to other health problems.
- Contrary to what you like to tell yourself alcohol is recognized by your body as a POISON! Once you consume alcohol every single effort is made by your body to GET THE POISON OUT! Alcohol directly affects your bodies’ ability to maintain healthy blood sugar levels by messing with the hormone insulin. Insulin is important because it’s excreted whenever you have a blood sugar spike by eating something that’s processed by your body as a sugar (carbohydrates, desserts, fruit, etc). If your body can’t bring down these blood sugar levels due to a decreased effect of insulin you will store those extra sugars in your body in the form of body fat! Besides the decreased insulin sensitivity alcohol can have on your body it can also lower your blood sugar when you eat on an empty stomach which could lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). If you have as little as 2 drinks in a day and go to work out your body will have lower blood sugar levels to begin with and working out naturally brings blood sugar levels down. If you already have low blood sugar levels from alcohol and try to work out you will feel run down and not have enough energy to get a proper session in. This lack of energy will be a detriment to your fitness goals and possibly cause even more life threatening health problems, besides the possibility of passing out on the treadmill….funny on YouTube, but not in person!
- Your body requires a certain amount of calories to maintain your weight based on your height, weight, and gender called your basal metabolic rate (bmr). A surplus of calories will increase your weight because your body can’t utilize those calories as energy and in turn stores them as fat. Besides the obvious excess calories and sugar alcohol adds when you drink during a meal it has been shown to increase the amount of calories you eat in that meal by 20%, when you add the calories from the alcohol with the food calories the average individual will have 33% more calories in a meal with alcohol than without. The “hypothetical” beer belly isn’t so hypothetical at anymore, in fact a study of over 3,000 men who drank on a regular basis had excess amounts of belly fat leading to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. When we drink our hunger increases and with a lowered inhibition we are more likely to crave bad foods late at night and make bad food choices, a cocktail recipe for disaster!
- Another less than obvious risk of alcohol consumption is a decreased level of testosterone! Testosterone is responsible for muscle growth, energy, sex drive, and helps increase metabolism. When alcohol is consumed it disrupts the release of free testosterone, think of the free testosterone as the fuel in your tank you want to use immediately. Besides the disruption of testosterone the hops in beer are known to be extremely estrogenic, yes the female hormone! An elevated level of estrogen in a man will decrease your overall testosterone; hops are even being studied to lower the symptoms of hot flashes in post-menopausal women.
- Alcohol affects our circadian rhythm, now why does this matter? When we don’t have a good night sleep our bodies can’t produce growth hormone (responsible for bone and muscle growth), we are more likely to have inflammation, less likely to have muscles repair themselves, and it also increases hunger the next day for not having enough sleep leading to consumption of more calories than our bodies need.
- Reason number five for the contribution of alcohol and weight gain is probably the least known, how alcohol is metabolized. We focus on calories, carbs, and sugars in alcohol but never really look at how the alcohol is metabolized by our body. Once alcohol is consumed our bodies start to make it a priority to get it out, not such a bad thing right, wrong! Since alcohol can’t be metabolized by our body it will put the brakes on metabolizing protein, carbohydrates, and fat. So while you are worrying about the amount of calories you are drinking your body simply registers the foreign substance in your body and won’t let you break down any calories, making you more likely to store fat! Once you stop drinking alcohol leaves your body at about .01% per hour, so if your blood alcohol content is .08 (legally drunk) it will take you 8 hours to get all of the alcohol out of you, then maybe you can start losing some fat! Don’t think that coffee, a cold shower, or greasy food will help you get rid of the toxins in your body, TIME is the ONLY thing that will help!
Now that you have the reasons why alcohol can contribute to weight gain, lack of testosterone, dehydration, blood pressure issues, and even more (I can keep going) you won’t drink anymore right?….come on, I’m a realist, we are all going to have another drink at some point, but what can we do to prevent maximal weight gain?
- Never drink on an empty stomach!
- Do NOT drink before a meal, you will eat even more calories and crap food, save the booze for after the meal!
- For every one drink you have drink a glass of water between to stay hydrated and limit the overall amount of alcohol you consume in an evening.
- Stay AWAY from sugary mixers; if you want to add something to your drink add water, soda water, lemon, lime, orange slice, or fresh grapefruit juice. Or simply have a vodka or tequila on the rocks, which will save you calories.
- Don’t think a bottle of red wine is good for you; yes a glass may have some “beneficial” properties, but so do grapes.
- No shots!!! Look, I loved shots in college, but one reason I liked them is because I got drunk faster, before I knew it I had 10-15 drinks in a night, you lose track of how many you have and it’s a detriment to your waistline, health, and your hangover!
- Drink slowly, see number 6 above!
- Stay away from peer pressure, wait we aren’t in high school anymore! Look, we are social beings, and with that social drinkers. It’s OK to say NO thanks! Put on your big boy or big girl pants and politely turn down that drinks your friend just brought you, it will be ok!
- Set a limit for yourself! If you say you are only going to have 2 drinks tonight, only have 2, you will be proud of yourself in the morning when you feel great and not like a truck hit you!
- Talk to yourself! What? Next time you get ready to have that occasional drink after work go over this article in your head, is that drink really worth all of the hard work you have put in to get healthy, is it worth me feeling bad about myself when I didn’t reach my goals, is it worth increasing my risk of diabetes, is it worth the hours of fun for the hours of regret the next day? If so drink away, I am here to give you the tools necessary for you to say yes to a drink……or NO!