Alcohol in Weight Loss Program: Yes or No
Can I consume alcohol on my weight loss program?
If you go by the “Chug-chug-chug” party animal vibe, I’m sure you must’ve heard that alcohol and weight loss don’t usually have a flawless relationship like Gin and tonic. Among the list of dietary restrictions of any weight loss program, “No Booze” is the biggest fear for several individuals.
Why is alcohol a villain for weight loss? Should we completely abstain from alcohol? Why does our fitness always come at the cost of our social life? If you are looking for answers to these questions then read on.
Here are 4 things to expect if you consume too much alcohol or have it regularly.
- No Nutrients Just Calories
Alcohol consumes your calorie allowance while providing you with nothing in return. Let us break it down for you.
1 gram of fat gives us 9 Kilocalories, which is higher than Carbs and Proteins (4 Kilocalories/gram). Whereas, each gram of alcohol provides 7 Kilocalories. Alcohol is a calorically dense beverage. Calories coming from alcohol give us zero nutrition, and thus when you end up having one too many drinks, you end up consuming hundreds of empty calories. It gets even worse when you add a sweetened mixer or opt for a cocktail.
- Welcome Belly Fat
There are different ways alcohol can contribute to increased fat in our bodies. Here are two ways.
Leptin is called the hunger hormone. It’s responsible for telling our brain that we’re full. Alcohol reduces this hormone which may cause over-eating and makes weight loss a challenge.
Alcohol can change our body’s normal metabolism. Our body cannot store alcohol, that’s why it prioritises breaking down alcohol for energy, rather than using carbs and fats. This causes the extra macronutrients i.e. fats and carbs to be converted into lipids as the body no longer needs them to produce energy. We can’t choose where these extra lipids are stored, but it usually accumulates in our abdominal area leading to the infamous “beer belly”
If this continues, you are also at risk of developing Fatty Liver due to the accumulation of these lipids.
- Disrupts your sleep
Alcohol is known for its sedative effects. It calms your nervous system and helps us doze off quickly. But this effect is only temporary. In the first half of the night when there are high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream, you will have a sound sleep without any dreams. But as the alcohol levels keep dropping, you may end up tossing and turning around. Additionally, due to its diuretic effect, it increases urine output, and you’ll wake up frequently to go to the bathroom.
- Hormone Imbalance
Continuous consumption of alcohol over an extended period of time has been found to increase the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, this happens while you’re drinking and also while the effect of alcohol starts wearing off.
Cortisol has a role in affecting focus, and attention and increasing blood pressure, but in the long term, it can affect bone growth, irregular menstrual cycle, digestive issues, bone growth, and cause an imbalance in testosterone and oestrogen levels.
- Type 2 Diabetes
Alcohol improves insulin sensitivity (this means how responsive your cells are to insulin) and increases the overall secretion of insulin. This is a good thing but when alcohol is consumed regularly in high amounts then this effect can have a negative impact on our body. It can result in a drop in blood sugar levels also known as hypoglycemia which can cause fatigue, giddiness, headaches and sweating.
- Digestive issues
Drinking can also cause digestive issues, by raising your stomach acids causing acid reflux (heartburn). It also irritates the gut lining and kills beneficial bacteria that the body needs to support digestion and good health. Due to an imbalance of the good bacteria, the body is unable to absorb all the nutrients adequately affecting our immune system ultimately.
The verdict: Should you stop consuming alcohol completely?
Not really. Surprised that we’re saying no?
Giving up alcohol is not a solution for many but perhaps managing it is. There’s no problem with having a few drinks. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption has shown to have some health benefits including improved insulin sensitivity, raising healthy cholesterol levels, helping in the process of blood clotting (1) (2) and improving gallstones (3). In contrast, heavier alcohol consumers have the reverse effects.
Now what? How do we manage the drinking?
Tips for healthy drinking
Don’t drink on an empty stomach- Consume a snack or a full-fledged meal with a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fibre and fats. This will slow down the absorption of alcohol (4). Additionally, you will not munch on a lot of snacks while drinking since you’re full.
Cut the mixers- such as fruit juices, tonic water, and ginger ale, as these can increase the calorie count of each drink. Consider using water or plain soda as mixers.
Hydration: sipping on water in between alcoholic beverages will not only prevent you from dehydration but also minimises the effects of alcohol
Opt for low caloric drinks- such as rum, vodka, gin, whisky, white wine, tequila or martini over unlimited servings of beer and cocktails.
Drink in moderation- drinking in moderation is recommended irrespective of your goal being weight loss. Set a limit for yourself before you head out, for example, if your usual quota is 4 pints of beers keep a target of limiting to 2.
To some, drinking alcohol is associated with having a happy time with friends and family, while for others it may be a solution to divert their attention from real-life problems. Be it as it may, As long as you follow the above hacks, there’s no reason you can’t have a few drinks while working towards your health goals.