One of the trickiest things to master as you are trying to lose weight is balancing consumption of alcohol with keeping the weight off.
I wanted to write this article because I am a real wino. I also lost 65 pounds and work to keep it off every day. I enjoyed alcohol and wine as I lost the weight, but I certainly wish someone would have told me the inside scoop on it long ago. It is probably one of the things that sidelined my weight loss progress more than any other habit.
First, let’s talk about the science and physiology side of the equation. Alcohol is a toxin. (That’s why we say we are “in-toxic-ated” when we drink.) Our bodies want to rid themselves of the toxins consumed in alcohol as quickly as possible, so it is immediately converted to a quick energy source called “acetate.” Acetate can’t be stored, so it must all be burned off before our bodies return to burning carbs or fat.
You can think about drinking as pushing the pause button on your metabolism. What compounds this problem further is that alcohol has more calories per gram than carbs or proteins, clocking in at 7 calories per gram.
There are other factors with alcohol consumption that create problems for weight loss, too.
One of the things that happens in your body as it tries to rid itself of alcohol is that it sheds a lot of water and vital minerals — like potassium, magnesium and sodium — in the process, leaving you dehydrated. Dehydration can often be confused for hunger the next day, and the loss of minerals drives us to look to replace them as efficiently as possible, often through high-calorie, high-fat and high-sodium foods. This explains you’re always craving a burger and fries or a big, fatty breakfast after a night of drinking.
Loss of Inhibition
Alcohol helps us let our guards down and releases inhibitions. This can be fun for socializing and parties, but it can wreak havoc one’s diet plan. I know from personal experience that after more than one drink, my diet goes out the window and I’m subject to wild blood sugar swings. Several studies even point to the fact that alcohol can increase appetite in the short term.
Lack Of Sleep
You may have experienced this before: You fall asleep quickly and soundly when you’ve had a few drinks, only to wake up in the middle of the night. This is because alcohol can disrupt our most restorative sleep of the night, called REM sleep. Lack of good sleep is very bad for weight loss, having been linked to an excess production of cortisol and other hormones that disrupt metabolism. Additionally, our bodies crave extra energy in the form of food and calories when we are tired and it’s nearly impossible to hit the gym and get a good workout in when you’re exhausted.
Alcohol affects blood sugar levels each time it’s consumed, which means even occasional drinkers can be negatively impacted. Consuming alcohol cause a spike in insulin secretion, which leads to low blood sugar, and low blood sugar results in sugar cravings. You may find after a night of drinking or even during you want high-carb treats, like chips or pizza; carb cravings are just a biological response to having low blood sugar.
Having said all of that, I don’t necessarily believe you have to give up drinking altogether in order to lose weight.
Here’s a set of general guidelines I’ve set for myself so that I can be happy and healthy, while still enjoying a glass of wine every now and again.
Keep in mind that these rules may not work for everyone. However, I’ve found that they’re a good foundation for keeping my alcohol consumption in check.
5 Tips For Managing Alcohol And Weight Loss
- You probably already know this one, but it bears repeating over and over again: Moderation is key. For myself, I’ve learned that I can’t drink more than once a week if I want to maintain my weight, and I can’t have more than three drinks at a time. Figure out what your equation is. It may be less or it might be more, but be honest with yourself about the amount of alcohol you are consuming and the affect it is having on your diet and exercise.
- Always try to eat food with your drinks. Look to a protein and fat combo to help stave off hunger and keep cravings at bay — think salami and cheese or hummus and carrots. Whatever you do, do not drink on an empty stomach! Enjoy a healthy meal of lean protein, fats and vegetables before heading out for a cocktail.
- Enjoy a glass of water in-between every drink.
- Get a buddy to help keep you accountable. I often rely on my husband or even a close friend to make sure I’m drinking enough water, and that I don’t exceed my promised number of drinks in a night. It’s a lot easier to stay on track if you’re not going it alone.
- On nights where I really can’t afford to drink, I volunteer to be the designated driver. Not only is this an ideal excuse for not drinking (no one will ever question why the designated driver can’t have another round), but it ensures that I’ll stick to my no-drinking plan.
Remember, alcohol and weight loss do not have to be mutually exclusive; it’s all about finding balance and discovering what works (and what doesn’t) for you.