While many of us can happily give up our fatty or sugary favourites, I find that certainly many of my clients find more difficult to give up alcohol, especially at weekends. It is built into our culture and it is a large part in how we enjoy time with friends and loved ones.
Apart from an obvious case where a person may be an addict, for vast amount of people alcohol has become a lot more than just an activity to partake when we are in social environment in order to perhaps celebrate something. Many use it to take an edge off a rough day, some do it almost on a daily basis. It has become a way of life. There is possibly even an emotion attached to it. Coming home from a hard day, pouring a large glass of Pinot Noir (or whatever your poison is) to sip whilst you are cooking your healthy dinner for your family or your partner, then another one over dinner and perhaps even one more as you snuggle up on the sofa to wind down. It s almost like a scene from a movie that glorifies this lifestyle. It may help you relax and you rely on alcohol to achieve that state.
This is only one of million other scenarios, however, one thing that strikes me regularly when starting a client on their nutrition plan is their excitement to change their diet and start their plan and then their equal reluctance to give up their drink. Sometimes the decision whether to go ahead with my coaching or not depends solely on how much their alcohol habit will be affected if they were to embark on a healthier & fitter self-betterment journey. It can easily sound like an addiction. And sometimes giving up alcohol is just one change too many they are not prepared to make.
Of course, it is OK not to be ready, it is our call when we are going to decide to change. And I am not in any way saying that alcohol should be avoided by absolutely everyone and at every circumstance. However, alcohol addiction is a reality for many. And obesity can be accelerated or even caused by alcohol, including many diseases. So, having any alcohol in a diet is a problem for many.
As a health coach, alcohol is one subject that is unavoidable when talking to clients and, whilst I used to tip toe around it knowing how sensitive it might be for some, experience has tought me that you can not tip toe around something that is fundamentally detrimental to client’s success. It is like avoiding an elephant in the room.
This particular article is about the effects of alcohol on your quest to lose fat and keep or build metabolism-boosting lean muscle… So, if you are on that quest and alcohol is your vice, here are the hard truths you need to be aware of about alcohol and then make up your own mind on what to do. Reality is, those wishing to drop their body fat, build lean muscle and increase insulin resistance – body’s tolerance for alcohol is big, fat zero.
And here is why…
Alcohol has no nutritional value
This is known as “empty calories”. Lots of calories for nothing in return (and those who enjoy it may disagree with this, I get that).
One gram of alcohol provides 7 calories, which is more than both protein and carbohydrates which provide 4 calories per gram.
One unit of alcohol contains 8g (or 10ml of alcohol) which provides 56 calories. However, if you add more ingredients to an alcoholic drink, like when sugar, cream and fruit juice are added to a cocktail – this adds even more calories. Like a glass of Margarita, as an example, that can cost you over 500 calories! Even a small serving of spirits can be around 200 calories, equivalent of 4 biscuits.
Because we now know that all calories are not equal and alcohol can set you back by 2-3 days after you stop drinking before metabolic activity is restored to normal.
Alcohol is an appetite stimulant
Research shows that if you drink before or during a meal, both inhibition and will power are reduced. When this happens, it can lead to overeating at mealtimes and late at night as well as making the body crave more alcohol, greasy or fried foods and simple carbohydrates.
Alcohol affects our sleep & unbalanced hormones
Genetically, we are all wired for acute stress (fight or flight, if tiger was chasing us), but we are not wired for a long-term chronic stress, which many deal with on a daily basis. It can be stress related to work, financial situation, family situation, etc. When stress is chronic or on-going, our body releases cortisol, which is a stress hormone, more often and for longer periods of time then it should. The more cortisol we release – the harder it is for our bodies to handle stress.
Alcohol is one of many things that releases cortisol because it is perceived as stress on the body. Elevated cortisol disturbs our sleep, then we go into our day tired, which further elevates stress which further raises cortisol. It is a vicious circle as the disturbed sleep itself makes us more prone to stress, which, you’ve guessed it – raises cortisol again, which suppresses immune function, elevates blood sugar levels, decreases sex drive and decreases insulin sensitivity. And once sleep gets out of balance, it can put our body in serious trouble.
Research shows that just one night of a missed or inadequate sleep can make us insulin resistant as a Type 2 Diabetic. Research by the scientists in the UK has shown that obstaining from alcohol on a short-term basis can improve insulin resistance.
It makes you retain water and it also washes away important minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc essential to the maintenance of fluid balance, chemical reactions, muscle contraction and relaxation.
You may have woken up feeling lean after a night of alcohol consumption, but you would also be dehydrated for sure. Chances are you are retaining water and, after rehydrating, you will find yourself bloating at a fast rate, which is a sign of water retention and this can add several pounds of excess weight.
Alcohol hurts muscle growth
As our muscles consist of 70% water, so dehydration can massively impact our training and will reduce muscle growth and repair. Also, when we drink alcohol, testosterone, needed for muscle-building, is lowered and oestrogen is raised, which, in turn, causes your metabolism to slow down. Slower metabolism leads to an increase in body fat. Hangovers lower your workout intensity and alcohol, in general, can lower your protein synthesis by 20%, so not only that alcohol destroys previously existing muscle, but also robs your body of the ability to build new muscle.
Alcohol stops fat burn
As alcohol is presumed by the body as poison, your liver, organ responsible for metabolising fat, will be too busy to do its normal job of getting rid of fat, it will process alcohol first and body will work on eliminating it out of the body before it processes fat, protein, or carbs.
Up to 20% of alcohol ends up in the blood stream via stomach before it reaches your heart, brain, muscles and other tissues in under one minute. The rest ends up in the liver, why drinking in excess is the main reason for liver damage. It takes body one hour to get rid of each unit of alcohol out of the bloodstream.
Alcohol causes cravings
Alcohol, as any sugar based substance or food, causes fat gain by creating cravings for more alcohol as well as other carbohydrates or other addictive substances such as smoking.
In summary, it is best not to consume alcohol in any amount from any source. Really, that is the bottom line and especially so if you are trying to lose weight and drop body fat.
Alcohol has no role to play in leading a truly Healthy, Active Lifestyle. Big, fat zero.
I have no tricks or tips to give you to get great results whilst you keep including alcohol in your diet, however, here are some tips how you can avoid alcohol:
- make a decision that you will not drink, in the first place and know what is at stake – your results – so, go out with heaps of great attitude;
- be a designated driver;
- drink sparkling water with some lemon or lime
- avoid fruit juices or non-alcoholic drinks that are still just sugary drinks
- enjoy company of your friends and family and remember why your health and wellness goals are important to you.
If you find yourself in a situation where you must drink, like on special occasions – stick to alcohol derived from fruit, like wine and champagne, and plan to stick to one glass only. And make sure you increase your hydration immediately and drink water before bedtime.
It is very difficult for me to give advice and truly understand how hard someone may feel when trying to reduce or eliminate alcohol. I never buy it for myself and my husband, I do not have a single bottle of it in the house nor there is a cabinet assigned to it, which, I know, is a thing for many households. Actually, now that I think of it, I may have a bottle or two in the house that I was gifted for birthday or one of last few Christmases, which I will most probably use to pass on to someone else on some other, or same, occasion. I do not find it difficult to refuse drink or to stick to one glass. It takes no real effort.
But, it has not always been like that. I remember my student years. And my 18th birthday, my first taste of alcohol and not remembering anything the next day. But, it has not caught up. Thankfully. So, I will not pretend I know the pleasure of it or how difficult it is to kick the habit, however, my job is to give you the reasons why it is a good idea to find strength within you to do so. That is all. The rest is up to you.
I always think knowing the science will help us make the right choices, however, I know it is not always enough as I also understand that emotions play a big part too. So, if it is difficult to reduce or eliminate alcohol, think about why that is. It is an addictive substance as sugar and drugs are. And it is damaging to your body. And, if losing weight or reduction in body fat is your goal – eliminating alcohol is essential to reaching your goal. Dig deep why you should.
I believe in you reaching your wellness goals whatever your challenge!
I hope this was of a value to you and, if it was, if you feel someone might benefit, please share.
Until next time, yours in health,