Article by Paul Batman PhD
I always like to go home at night put my feet up for a few minutes and have a beer just to finish off the day. I never drink to excess but find that one beer every now and again makes me feel good.
Is this because I really want to drink that beer or have the alcohol companies hoodwinked me into thinking this?
Can we afford this luxury if we are on a weight loss journey?
People often say “I am getting fat because of the extra Kcalories that is in the alcohol” or “I would rather drink my Kcalories than eat them”.
What is the real reason why more than light drinking of alcohol can sabotage our weight loss journey?
What do we know?
We know that:
An alcohol drink contains about 15 grams of ethanol alcohol
15 grams of alcohol is found in 5 ounces of wine, 1-1.5 ounces of spirits such as vodka and whiskey
15 grams of alcohol is in 12 ounces of beer
Every gram of alcohol counts for approximately 7.1 Kcalories
So when I got home last night I drank 15 ounces of beer (20 grams of alcohol) with dinner. The number of Kcalories I consumed was 7.1 x 20 grams = 142 Kcalories. This about average Kcalories per glass of alcohol irrespective of the form it takes.
Obviously mixed spirits that contain additional soft drinks would be even greater again.
While the extra Kcalories is important it just does not stop there….
What happened to the alcohol once I drank it?
My body quickly recognised that the alcohol needed to be eliminated from my body. It released a specific enzyme used to break the alcohol down to acetate, which is highly reactive especially in the liver.
My body is getting worried that these by-products are dangerous and decides that the best way to get rid of it is to use it as fuel as soon as possible rather than store it.
At the same time my body begins to stop any carbohydrates from being used as energy. It also blunts my fat burning capabilities by 80% after only one-two drinks.
Very little of the alcohol that I have been drinking will be stored as fat and will be quickly modified to be used as fuel while the carbohydrates and fats that my body has been previously using as fuel for energy will now be stored as fat for use at a later time. This cannot be good!!
My liver is working tirelessly to neutralize the alcohol with the aid of many vitamins and folate.
After a couple of drinks my brain increases an inhibitory neurotransmitter and makes me feel a lot more relaxed. This is paradoxical as my body relies on more of this neurotransmitter to go to sleep. Now that my brain has been using more of it than usual because of the extra alcohol, I don’t have enough of it to help me remain asleep. I get up in the middle of the night interrupting my diurnal rhythm and normal hormonal release.
This neurotransmitter is critical for the brain to help me have a restful night’s sleep.
Drinking in excess sometimes results in behaviour that is totally out of character for some people. This is mainly due to the higher processing centres of the brain called the cerebral cortex now being down regulated in response to the additional alcohol putting me in a depressed state.
We know that when we drink we also go the bathroom more frequently. This is due to the release of a hormone responsible for regulating my fluid balance and assisting in removing the alcohol from my body as soon as possible. My kidneys are now working overtime to get rid of the alcohol as well as some minerals and electrolytes are lost as they are released to help keep my body in balance.
If the fluid loss becomes too great I will then become dehydrated, give me a massive headache and take me a couple of days to recover.
If I continue to drink above the normal recommendations on a daily basis the breakdown of alcohol continues on a regular basis permitting less glucose to the brain and muscles making me tired and lethargic.
In summary, alcohol can sabotage our weight loss on many levels. It can force our body to store more fat and carbohydrates, cause dehydration, interrupt hormonal activity and stop me from having a good nights sleep.
It can also create obstacles in maintaining our movement program, affect our motivation and commitment to weight loss, change our sleep patterns that are so important for hormone regulation and recovery.
If you are drinking more than a couple of alcoholic drinks per week and also trying to lose weight, it is now the time to take stock of what you really want and either give up the weight loss goal or the excess alcohol.