This is a common question and I too had this same query many years ago. We all intuitively know that drinking alcohol can be a barrier to losing weight and it can be a large contributor to weight gain. Many wonder why this is exactly and how much they can drink while trying to lose weight.
This is probably not what you want to hear as I'd love to say that alcohol is good for you...but read on for a 'balanced' approach.
Alcoholic drinks contain empty calories and have no benefit to your body. They contain zero nutrition, therefore your body cannot store it and it must be metabolised straight away. Your body goes through a process of oxidation, detoxification and prioritises metabolising alcohol, over other metabolic processes.
How does alcohol affect your body?
After your first alcoholic drink, your body starts to process and send the alcohol to your liver. The body recognises these by-products as toxins and will try to burn and eliminate them out of your system. While doing so, fat-burning is switched off. Your ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) is released resulting in more trips to the bathroom and your kidneys are in overdrive. Certain vitamins, such as B1, B3, B6 are increased to process the toxins and as a a result, other vitamins can be depleted, which can result in loss of energy, cloudy thinking, headaches, pain and low motivation.
You body tries to maintain blood sugar levels and this is a function of a healthy metabolism, but when overloaded with alcohol, this is hardly possible, especially when drinking on an empty stomach. Thus weight gain occurs.
On top of this, cortisol (the stress hormone) increases through moderate alcohol intake and the more you drink, the more stress you are adding to your body. When you are stressed, your body is in a constant state of fight or flight and thinks it is in threat. In this state, your body will not prioritise weight loss, in fact it often prioritises storing fat as a means to 'survive'. Your metabolism slows down and the empty calories from alcoholic drinks can then contribute to weight gain.
On the flip side, excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to weight loss - but this is a significant sign that you are at risk of further dis-ease. When drinking excessively for a long period of time, your body becomes so over-worked and stressed, that your gastrointestinal tract can hinder your ability to assimilate nutrients from your food. Therefore you become malnourished and have increased inflammation in your body and then significant weight loss.
So what are my options?
If you are going to drink alcohol, choose to drink in moderation and limit your intake. You do not necessarily have to abstain from alcohol entirely to lose weight but you must be mindful of how much you are drinking, the types of drinks you are choosing and be aware of how much added sugar and carbohydrates are in each drink. Having 1 or 2 drinks a couple of times a week will not put too much extra strain on your body as you will process, metabolise and eliminate these quite quickly.
Choose your drinks wisely and opt for organic preservative-free wines (when possible), clear spirits mixed with soda's or water or a couple of red wines should not harm you. Add lemon or lime for added digestive support and drink plenty of water in-between your alcoholic drinks. If you're having a cocktail, ask them to hold off on adding sugar syrups. Always try and eat a nutritious meal before drinking, to avoid temptation at buying deep-fried carb heavy snacks and opt for fresh cheeses and nuts to snack on while drinking, to support blood sugar regulation (to help reduce the amount of fat storing in your body).
So in summary, 1-2 alcoholic drinks a couple of times per week should not inhibit your weight loss goals too much. If you choose to drink more than that (due to celebrations, etc), opt for clear spirits with clear mixers and add lemon or lime to support digestive health. My favourite is a vodka, fresh lime and soda (with mint for added fresh flavour). Alcohol consumption throws blood sugar levels out of balance so snacking on healthy food and good fats can help to regulate blood sugars and assist with metabolism. Ensure that you drink enough water before, during and after alcohol.
Be mindful that...
...The more alcohol you drink, the more stress you are adding to your body and this will affect weight loss, increase your chances of gastrointestinal inflammation and put your liver and kidneys into overdrive. The effects this has on your body can last days, weeks or even years. Make healthy choices the following day to help support positive metabolic functioning. Get adequate quality sleep, replenish your hydration, move your body to help flush out any remaining toxins and nourish your body with quality food.
Just remember, that when trying to lose weight, nutrition is only one powerful component and there are other important factors that can be added in and removed from your lifestyle to achieve your goals.
For more information or if you have any queries, please contact me and I'll happily get back to you asap.
Yours in health,