How Does Alcohol Contribute To Weight Gain?
Alcohol is probably the main reason why most people cannot lose weight effectively. Mainly due to the fact, that we are never honest when asked “How many drinks did you have?”
Drinking is an important part of social life, especially here in the UK, where “a drink after work” or “a day out at football” are one of the main social events.
Majority of people also drink, because they like the drink they have chosen. It’s not always just to get drunk. I, myself, cannot imagine evenings without great wine, food and friends in a cozy wine bar. I love wine, I am interested in wine and I can recognise the subtle flavour differences in there. That said, I am not an expert, but definitely a seasoned taster 🙂
Alcohol, however, has many negative effects on human body, but I believe that if we understand these effects well, we can enjoy our favourite drinks and lower the effectiveness of these negative impacts.
IT HAS A LOT OF EMPTY CALORIES
As most of you probably know already, alcohol doesn’t have any nutritional value. Not even a little bit. And yes, we have all heard the facts like:
- Guinness is high in Iron
- Lager is high in B Vitamins
Guinness does contain Iron, in fact, a pint of Guinness has 0.3 mg. Most adults fail to consume enough Iron in a day, which, however, doesn’t mean that we should be drinking a keg of Guinness a week.
It is also true that Lager is high in B vitamins. Yes, it is, so are legumes, grains, seeds and nuts, which actually do other things to human body, than just increase the waistline. They contain much-needed fiber, which is also something that 90% of the population fails to consume.
Just because there was one benefit found in beer, doesn’t mean there are more benefits than downsides.
Especially beer has been linked to increased adipose tissue in central regions (belly fat).
Belly fat is metabolically active, which means it can throw your hormones off balance. This can effectively lead to a potential Type 2 Diabetes risk, due to the hormone Insulin being impaired.
The reason, why beer has been linked with obesity the most is probably its low alcohol volume. Because of that, we are able to drink a lot more of it. Some can down 10 pints without batting an eyelid.
Good rule of thumb is to count every drink you have as roughly 170 kcal. Beer has around 150, wine 170, mixers around 180 per drink. If you stick to 170 kcal, you will get a pretty good average.
Pure alcohol conains 7 kcal/g, but this doesn’t really mean much, since nobody drinks pure ethanol. We also have to be aware of mixers, such as Coke, Lemonade and Tonic. Soda contains basically no calories and makes an ideal mixer.
IT TAKES A LONG TIME TO BURN 300 KCAL!
How many drinks do you usually have after work? Or during the weekend? Do you go out every weekend? Do you go out every day after work?
Let’s take two beers, which is 300 kcal. How much physical activity do you think it takes to burn this off?
According to my Garmin Fitness Tracker, it takes to run 5k to burn off 300 kcal. If I wanted to walk it off, I’d have to walk 6km. I don’t think many of us realise how difficult it actually is to burn calories. I bet you that most of us probably think that it’s really easy to burn off a chocolate bar, in fact, if you want to burn off a KitKat Chunky, you will have to walk around 5km.
A cup of tea with two biscuits is around 200 kcal, which take around 2.5 km walk to burn.
Here is a little table of day-to-day activities and how many calories they burn:
- 1h walking – average 300 kcal
- 30 mins running – average 350 kcal
- 1h cleaning – around 200 kcal
- 1h resistance training – 300 kcal
These numbers are, obviously, average. It depends on your weight and fitness level. The more fit you are, the more calories you burn, even at rest. Also, the more heavy you are, the more calories you burn, because your body has to work up a considerable effort to carry you around.
That’s why very overweight people generally lose weight very quickly. It only takes a little change in diet and more exercise to start losing weight. Unfortunately, this is also dependent on other factors, such as age. As the age progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to lose accumulated weight, due to metabolism slowing down.
ALCOHOL RUINS OUR SLEEP
Show me one person that feels refreshed after a night out. You don’t have to drink yourself senseless to experience the hindering effects of alcohol on your sleep.
According to www.sleepfoundation.org, even as little as 2 units of alcohol can decrease sleep quality by 24%. More than 2 units decreased the sleep quality by almost 40%.
Try avoiding drinks close to the bedtime, as this can help the body to process the alcohol before you fall asleep. Usually it takes about an hour to process one unit. But this can vary extremely from individual to individual, and I don’t recommend taking this time for granted. It depends on many factors, including your experience with alcohol and the current energy levels.
You’ve probably noticed that you can handle different amounts on different days, depending on how “fresh” you feel that particular day.
When you come home from a night out, you probably fall asleep fairly quickly. This, however, doesn’t mean that you are getting a decent sleep. After drinking 6+ units in one session, we enter deep sleep straight away, skipping the most important sleep stage – REM (Rapid Eye Movement). During this stage, everything that happened to us during the day gets “filed” into correct parts of our brain. Apart from this obviously important function, REM stage of sleep also restores the whole body, including muscles. Alcohol slows down this recovery and muscle protein synthesis, therefore very active people, who care about their performance drink excessively only on occasion.
But how does this link to weight gain?
If we are not rested enough, we are stressed. When we are stressed, our brain floods our blood with stress hormone called Cortisol. Prolonged exposure to this hormone can cause digestive issues and therefore weight gain or weight loss. It very much depends on every individual, some people gain weight when stressed, some people lose it. However, this probably comes down to food choices people go for under stress. I am more likely to skip a meal when disturbed, some people go the opposite way and look for comfort in sugary and fatty food.
If I get stressed for a long time, I lose weight. An individual, who turns to comfort food when stressed, will most likely gain weight.
ALCOHOL PROMOTES SNACKING
We all know this. Who has ever gone out and haven’t stopped over for a 3AM McDonald’s or a Kebab?
When drinking, we are also more likely to order food or snacks at the venue we find ourselves in, whether it’s nuts, crisps or a full-on meal pub meal.
It is believed that while drinking alcohol, blood glucose levels fluctuate, which makes us feel hungry at some point, even though we actually may not be.
Now, we probably don’t have to worry about it too much if we are a very busy professional and barely have time to sleep. I used to work nights, so going after work was not a daily thing, If I went out twice or three times a month I’d be amazed, and most of these “going out” session would have been a glass of wine after work.
I usually spent most of my free time recovering from the lack of sleep I’ve had the whole week. But if you are a student, or If your office crew goes out virtually every day after clocking out, maybe it’s worth thinking about it for a second.
Do you drink every day? Do you get a takeaway every day? Or every other day? Even a little “session” of two beers and a McDonald’s cheeseburger on the way home packs at least generous 600 kcal. Which is about a fourth of your recommended daily intake if you are fairly active, probably a third if you are sedentary.
According to a very highly regarded PubMed Journal; “Appetite and snack urge increased more following alcohol consumption, and decreased to a lesser extent following the taste test relative to the soft drink. Total calories (including drink calories) consumed were significantly higher in the alcohol groups. ”
“These effects were more pronounced in those who were disinhibited. While alcohol may not increase food consumption per se, alcohol may acutely disrupt appetite signals, perhaps via processes of reward and inhibitory control, resulting in overall greater calorie intake. Individuals who are generally disinhibited may be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and drinking environments on eating behaviour.”
ALCOHOL IMPAIRS OUR JUDGEMENT
Yes, this is not a secret ad we all know that, but how?
Human brain is a giant organic computer, controlling all operations through releasing chemicals, these are predominantly hormones and neurotransmitters.
Some neurotransmitters increase the activity in the brain and some inhibit (decrease) it.
There is an inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA. Its function is to decrease (inhibit) the neuron activity in case the body is under stress or experiencing anxiety. Without inhibiting neurotransmitters, our neurons would have become overexcited, causing a massive anxiety, leading to seizures.
Alcohol has a very similar structure to GABA and can actually attach itself to GABA receptors, causing us to relax. The more we drink, the more, obviously, relaxed we are, which could lead to neuron’s activity to become overly decreased, leading to impaired judgment.
This is the mechanism that makes us do stupid things when drunk. It also causes bad choices in food. Of course, we are going to pick up a takeaway, we are relaxed, who wants to get home and cook? Everyone just wants a quick snack and to hit the bed to get some incredibly bad sleep 🙂
The more often you drink, the more you are subjecting yourself to a possibility of a bad food choice. If you are trying to lose weight without much of a result, maybe it’s worth evaluating your drinking habits.
Not only alcohol adds empty calories to your diet, it also makes you chose fast food for dinner or a snack. This, for someone trying to lose weight, is a lethal combination.
I am not trying to make anyone’s life dry, especially not this year 😀
I love good wine and craft beer and I enjoy it.
I am also fairly active and if I happen to drink a little more than I would have wanted, I make up for it in the next few days.
Try to make a little more sensible choices when buying takeaway. Even if you decide to go to McDonald’s after all, do you really need a full meal which packs around 1 000 kcal? Wouldn’t a cheeseburger be enough? Or perhaps you can choose a different place and opt in for a healthier choice with more vegetables.
There are not many healthy takeaway joints you can visit at 3 am, true. But there are some, for example, Veggie Delite Subway sandwich is only 200 kcal per 6″ sub. Turkey breast is 250 with Turkey & Bacon being the most calorie dense, which, at a 780 kcal, was a total shock for me! But I guess I should have expected that, since it contains bacon.
Good rule of the thumb is, the less meat and sauce, the fewer calories. For example, there will be a lot fewer calories in a veggie wrap with a Vinaigrette than in a meatball sub or a BBQ chicken sandwich.
Obviously, if your choice of food at the end of the night is fried, there’s no question that you are probably consuming around 1 000 kcal in one go, which is half of an average person’s recommended daily calorie intake!
We all love a cheat meal and a night out once in a while, just try not to make it a weekly habit.
The point here is clear, whatever you do, whatever you chose, even if it happens to be 10 pints and a McDonald’s meal, as long as this is not a regular occurence, you should be fine to go nuts on occasion. But occasion is not every week, it’s not even every two weeks and it’s probably not even once a month. Occasion wouldmean once or twice a year. I am not saying to drink once or twice a year, but maybe limit the bad choices to this amount. We all have to grow up someday 🙂
Again, I’m looking forward to your comments.