Summer, winter, spring or fall; there’s never a season that comes without social events with occasions to partake in an alcoholic beverage or two. The holiday season always comes to mind when one things of the hazardous seasons for over-indulgence. But really summer parties and barbecues, boating season, vacations, or just getting the kids to bed at a reasonable hour; happy or sad, in good times or bad, there’s never a shortage of reasons to have a drink. My point is that alcohol is a regular part of many cultures and traditions and for some just a part of everyday custom. In light of that, there are a few things I think that people should understand about how alcohol affects your mind and body in ways that lead to potential fat gain. But I also offer some tips on how to navigate them if you’re prone to partaking.
1. Fat Burning Stops
In the absence of alcohol, your body has choices of substrates to use as fuel. Typically this goes between burning fat and carbohydrates depending on your bodies’ propensities as well as exertion level. But in the presence of alcohol, that all changes. There are no mechanisms for your body to store the alcohol, so the only option is to metabolize it immediately. So for the time that there is alcohol in your bloodstream, that will be the only fuel source that will be utilized until it’s all burned off. That means all the fat burning and carb burning is on pause.
Tip: Don’t drink to the point of excess. Just one beer probably isn’t going to throw you off. But if you’re drinking enough to be drunk, you’re likely to be setting yourself up for a backslide in your fat loss. The best plan is to have a plan. Set your limit beforehand and stick to it. Or just have a self-imposed rule of thumb that you only allow yourself X amount of whatever type of drink is being offered or ordered.
2. Big-Time Calorie Hit That Goes Down Easy
At 7 calories per gram, alcohol is almost as energy dense as fat (9cal/g). So the alcohol calories add up pretty quick. Most beers, wines, and mixed drinks also come laden with sugars and carbs that go into the fermentation process or just to make it taste all kinds of yummy. I’ve come across some fancy microbrews, heavily laden with sediments that come in at over 700 calories a bottle. WHAT?! That is one drink. And they do go down oh so easy.
Tip: Avoid sugary mixers or overly indulgent accoutrements on drinks. You don’t need a stack of sliders on your bloody Mary on a Wednesday. (Unless you do, in which case I will be praying for you, lol.) If you’re a hard liquor kinda person, choosing a diet soda mixer, on the rocks or straight up are your three best options for calorie control. For you beer and wine drinkers, avoiding the thicker stouts and heavily sedimentary products is a wise choice. And if it’s from a bottle or tap, watch the pour size!! Portion control is your friend here.
3. Beware of Lowered Inhibitions
Catching a bit of a buzz can make a lot of bad ideas seem, well, kind of OK. “I would never” can turn to “I could do that” over the course of an evening of drinks with friends. Lowered inhibitions can let your guard down and make you more open to food choices that would not be awesome for your health goals. Greasy food and booze go together like macaroni and cheese.
Tip: The best way to keep your head on straight when you’re throwing back a couple is to not go into it hungry. Plan to have a nice, filling, healthy meal before you indulge. Don’t start a meal with a drink. Wait until you’ve at least gotten something in your stomach so that you’re level headed when it’s time to select your food. Plan to have a meal that is highly satiating that includes a decent serving of protein, a moderate amount of fat and a good serving of veggies. This will help you avoid pointlessly searching for some junk food to wash down.
4. Increased Appetite
As if the pitfalls weren’t plenty enough, drinking alcohol increases hunger as well. So while your inhibitions are down, the hunger goes up. The more you drink, the more you want to eat. So while sticking to the rule of not drinking to get drunk can keep you fairly safe, it does seem that a drink and some nibbles is just the way it goes.
Tip: Get yourself a game plan. If you’re meeting at a restaurant, you can go on the old Googles and look up the menu. Find some choices at the place you plan to go to that are less likely to blow your day way over the line in the calorie department. Most places are none too happy about you bringing your own food in, so that’s not an option. But most are very pleasant and accommodating when it comes to special requests. You can cut out LOADS of calories by asking for selections to be broiled instead of fried (sidebar: most places that do fish tacos will blacken the fish for you instead of frying. So. Good.), have them leave off the butter or heavy sauces, or just swap out a high calorie side dish for a salad or steamed veg (minus the butter). Plan what you’re ‘allowed’ to eat and stick to it. Don’t deny yourself the fun, just keep it in the realm of control.
Does all of this sound like a ginormous pain in the rear and way too much to plan and think about? Are you even the littlest bit sober curious? Well, you’re not alone if this is the case. It has become super trendy to be a part of the so-called sober movement. Whether you’re ‘sober curious’ or ‘sober sometimes’, you can go full-in and make it a lifestyle choice or just take breaks from the booze to give the old liver a rest. You can make your choice without the fear of stigma or harassment. In fact, right now it makes you kinda cool. (Nevermind that I just lost all street cred by saying ‘cool’.) With all the trendy n/a fizzy drinks and mocktails around, there is no shortage of ways to still have something fun to sip on while hanging with the crowd. Just watch the sugar and calories on these puppies too and you’ll be a-ok. With all of the negative health effects of regular consumption or overconsumption of alcohol, an avoidance approach is the smarter choice for a go-to, everyday policy.
The nice thing is that the overall awareness of the pressures that often exist for folks to participate in drinking to fit into the social setting is allowing us to actually think about it and make choices with intention. You don’t just have to accept a drink because you don’t want to stand out. Only drink if you actually enjoy the beverage and you know how to use control and act responsibly. Just like you don’t have to eat for entertainment, you don’t have to get a little sauced to have a good time either. And also like foods, it’s all good if done on occasion and in moderation. Party on, Wayne!
Owner, Well Hello Fitness
Master Personal Trainer/ Sports Nutritionist/ Coach
Kristin Kuykendall is a Master Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist. Her credentials are backed by a BFA from Kendall College of Art and Design and further studies in Human Health Sciences from Oakland University.
With a passion for helping people acquire skills to promote the longest possible health span, Kristin has coached numerous clients to feel their best. She has brought this passion to her work as a private nutrition and exercise programming coach, personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and nutritionist. Kristin has been responsible for helping a wide range of clients achieve their individual goals, from competitive athletes to individualized healthy fat loss.
She has personally achieved professional and world standing both as a Physique and Figure bodybuilding competitor. All this while raising kids with her loving husband/partner in this crazy life. When she’s not playing in the kitchen or spending time with her family, you may find her working as a judge and promoter for natural bodybuilding competitions.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.