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Can Alcohol Consumption and Weight Loss Co-exist?

February 19, 2015 2 Comments

happy-woman-drinking-wineFar be it from me to cast the first stone as I do enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, but when it comes to your health or more specifically, weight loss, there’s simply no room for argument. I know. I know. We’ve all seen and heard of the studies that come out reporting the benefits of alcohol consumption all ending with the safety clause of “when consumed responsibly and in moderation.”  Sort of an ambiguous way to say, “Hey, don’t say we didn’t warn you!” Couldn’t that same warming be applied to French fries or ice cream? Those who want the answer they want to hear will seek that answer to no end. Now, before you stomp off and go to your Happy Hour or sit down with your favorite cocktail and ignore this, here are just a few true things you should know about alcohol and its effects on the body if your health and weight loss are a priority. Ultimately, it all still comes down to your choice.

Alcohol Is A Toxin  

There’s simply no argument here. Alcohol is recognized by the body as a toxin and since it has no nutritional value or needs digestion, it is metabolized differently than other foods and beverages. Under normal conditions, your body gets its energy from the calories in carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which are slowly digested and absorbed within the gastrointestinal system. However, this digestive process changes when alcohol is present. Alcohol molecules diffuse through the stomach wall quickly and can reach the brain and liver in minutes. This process is slower when you have food in your stomach, but as soon as that food enters the small intestine, the alcohol grabs first priority and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. As the alcohol reaches the liver for processing, the liver places all of its attention on the alcohol. If you drink very slowly, all the alcohol is collected by the liver and processed immediately—avoiding all other body systems. If you drink more quickly, the liver cannot keep up with the processing needs and the alcohol continues to circulate in the body until the liver is available to process it. When the body is focused on processing alcohol, it is not able to properly break down foods containing carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, these calories are converted into body fat and are carried away for permanent storage on your body.

Alcohol Is A Diuretic

Alcohol consumption causes water loss and dehydration. You may have heard the term “beer muscles” which is not too far off from the truth. The water that was once stored in the muscles is pulled out thus giving the feel at least of having taught, strong muscles. But make no mistake about it, you’re not any stronger than you were before you had a drink or two but your brain doesn’t know that. Along with this water loss you lose important minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc. These minerals are vital to the maintenance of fluid balance, chemical reactions, and muscle contraction and relaxation. Not a good thing for the avid exerciser or weekend warrior about to enter an event.

Alcohol Is Not Calorie Free

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (carbohydrates yield 4/gram, protein 4, and fats 9) and offers NO nutritional value, otherwise known as empty calories. Here is just a sample breakdown of the calories of some common alcoholic beverages, but be forewarned: notice the serving size and that different breweries/distilleries/wineries vary greatly in their caloric content.

Drink                                      Serving Size                        Calories

  • Red wine                                           5 oz.                100
  • White wine                                        5 oz.                100
  • Champagne                                      5 oz.                130
  • Light beer                                          12 oz.             105
  • Regular beer                                     12 oz.             140
  • Dark beer                                           12 oz.             170
  • Cosmopolitan                                   3 oz.                165
  • Martini                                                3 oz.                205
  • Long Island iced tea                        8 oz.                400
  • Gin & Tonic                                       8 oz.                175
  • Rum & Soda                                     8 oz.                180
  • Margarita                                           8 oz.                200
  • Whiskey Sour                                   4 oz.                200

Alcohol’s Affects On Physical Processes

Aside from the obvious of impaired motor coordination and lowered inhibitions, drinking alcoholic beverages may help induce sleep, but the sleep you get isn’t very deep. As a result, you get less rest, which can trigger you to eat more calories the next day. Alcohol can also increase the amount of acid that your stomach produces, causing your stomach lining to become inflamed. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to serious health problems, including stomach ulcers, liver disease, and heart troubles. Furthermore, alcohol actually stimulates your appetite. While you might be full from a comparable amount of calories from food, several drinks most likely will not fill you up. On top of that, research shows that if you drink before or during a meal, both your inhibitions and willpower are reduced. In this state, you are more likely to overeat—especially greasy or fried foods—which can add to your waistline. 

Alcohol can easily be the enemy when it comes to your health and weight loss. It adds extra calories to your diet, encourages you to eat more food, and alters the normal digestive process. Not only are the extra calories a hindrance, but the changes in food breakdown sends turns those extra calories into unwanted body fat. Alcohol does have a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss, and rightfully so, so be smart about your alcohol choices if you’re watching your weight. As with all things, moderation is the key.


Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

Comments (2)

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  1. Pam R says:

    Thanks for writing on this topic. I needed some motivation!

  2. Seth H says:

    Excellent read and motivation. I had been looking in this direction as my next “vice” to shed.

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