Alcohol And Weight Gain

How you can enjoy drinking alcohol and still achieve your weight loss goals...

The association between alcohol and weight gain is well known. However, the mechanism behind what causes weight gain from alcohol is less known. In this article we will cover the reasons why alcohol may contribute to weight gain and why alcohol and weight loss is often difficult.

Any organic (carbon-containing) compound that has one or more -OH ions (hydroxyl group) attached to it may be classified as an alcohol. Alcohol is one of the most abundantly produced organic chemicals in industry.

The type of alcohol we are concerned with is ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol. Ethanol is a 2-carbon chain with an -OH ion attached to it. It can be manufactured by the fermentation of the carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, molasses, grains and other agricultural products and is the same alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol and Weight Gain

Alcohol consumption is common in most cultures of the world and it is not necessary to avoid it totally in order to get a great body. Nevertheless there is a strong association between excessive consumption of alcohol and weight gain.

I am not going to bore you by going into detail about the negative effects excessive alcohol consumption has on our body, I'm sure you will already be well aware of them. What we will be examining though, is the effect of alcohol and weight gain.

The body considers alcohol a 'poison'

An important point to keep in mind regarding alcohol and weight gain is the fact that it is a 'poison' to the body, which therefore must be metabolised as quickly as possible. Accordingly, the metabolism of alcohol takes priority over the metabolism of the macronutrients; fat, protein and carbohydrate.

This means if these macronutrients are consumed at the same time as alcohol, the alcohol will be metabolised first whilst the foods that are eaten are stored in the body. This may then contribute to weight gain.

A low alcohol intake won't affect your weight-loss efforts

A low alcohol intake, however, will not hinder you progress towards losing weight. By a low intake I mean having 1-3 standard drinks once a week. Consuming alcohol in excess of this figure, will certainly limit your results. The amount your results are limited by alcohol consumption is in direct proportion to how much you drink. The more you drink, the more alcohol will negatively affect your body's ability to lose weight.

Alcohol doesn't get converted into fat

The fact is, any alcohol consumed must be metabolised immediately, mainly generating heat. Despite the fact that very little of it is converted into fat itself, it does promote the production and storage of fat in the body because much of it gets converted into an energy source called 'acetate', which then enters the Krebs cycle to be used as a fuel source. Such is the association between alcohol and weight gain.

Effects of alcohol

Alcohol is energy-dense

Every gram of alcohol contains 7 calories (29 kilojoules), almost double that of carbohydrate or protein and even though it is not used as a fuel source, it certainly contributes to an increased calorie intake.

Alcohol doesn't suppress appetite

Also, because alcohol doesn't trigger satiety signals in the body, which tell us to stop eating, we may find it easy to consume an excessive amount of calories. Furthermore, since alcohol lowers our inhibitions, it may lower our inhibition to over-eat as well!

Alcoholic beverages generally have additional calories associated with them

When you drink, not only are you consuming additional calories from alcohol but you are also consuming additional calories from carbohydrates because most alcoholic beverages are associated with sugars. For example, the hops in beer, the sugar in wine or the cola with bourbon. The extra carbohydrates certainly increase your calorie intake and because you are drinking the calories it is much easier to consume too many.

Alcohol removes water from the body (diuretic effect)

Alcohol also has a diuretic effect on the body resulting in increased fluid losses. This loss of fluid negatively affects cellular function by promoting catabolism (breakdown) in muscle cells (remember over 70% of muscle tissue is water). Alcohol's diuretic effect results from its inhibition of ADH (anti-diuretic hormone).

ADH works on the kidneys to prevent excessive water loss and there are a number of substances that block its effects, alcohol is just one of them. Also, as mentioned previously, if the body loses water its ability to burn body fat decreases. Despite the negative effects of alcohol and weigth gain, moderate consumption has shown to slightly elevate HDL levels (the 'good cholesterol') in the blood, reducing the risk of heart attack.

If you like to have a drink, don't stop yourself, go ahead and enjoy it! Just try to limit your alcohol consumption to your 'Treat Day' if possible and try not to have more than a few. If for some reason you can't limit your consumption of alcohol to your 'Treat Day' or you simply don't want to, then fine, just do the best you can.

As far as preferences for alcoholic beverages go, I recommend red wine. Red wine contains powerful antioxidants, which play a very important role in our body. Suffice to say that places in the world that have a relatively high consumption of red wine (for example, Southern France), also have a corresponding low incidence of heart disease. Not only this, but learning about the different types of wines, tasting different varieties and visiting wineries are thoroughly enjoyable experiences.

Alternatively, if you want to have a portion of alcohol with a non-caloric mixer that is also a good way to go, i.e. vodka and soda water.

Even though there is a strong association between alcohol and weight gain, if you drink responsibly the alcohol weight gain will not occur and you can enjoy alcohol and weight loss simultaneously!

If you would like to discover some strategies to help you reduce your drinking habit, please get a copy of How to Change Your Drinking: a Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol (2nd edition).

For more information about alcohol and weight gain, please watch this video:

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