Be Aware of the Pot Belly: Alcohol and Your Waistline
Summer will eventually make its appearance and you know what that means? Patio, BBQ, and cottage time! For many this means a little extra snacking and usually A LOT more boozing.
If you follow my blogs, you know that I’m all for moderation; a glass of wine or a pint of beer included. There are even some touted health benefits to moderate consumption of beer and red wine due in part to their antioxidant content.
BUT there’s also a host of negative effects, including liver disease, malnutrition, high blood pressure, increased triglycerides, diabetes, poor athletic performance and more.
Furthermore, for those of you on a weight loss plan, beware. Alcohol can be uniquely problematic, and here’s my shortlist on why:
People tend to eat and drink more than they set out to, especially as their inhibitions wane, (usually not in the form of salad, I might add)
People often underestimate and under report their consumption. This may be due to lack of knowledge of what a serving is, self-denial, or fear of being judged. Have you ever taken the time to measure what’s in your glass? You might be surprised. One standard drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in (1):
For some reason, people tend not to track or count their beverages, especially alcohol intake so daily energy intake exceeds needs.
Drinking your calories is associated with weight gain. Sweetened liquids cause rapid blood sugar fluctuations, causing food, cravings and are less filling than food.
People often binge drink on weekends which they write off and justify as “cheat days”. A night of drinking can easily add up to a day’s worth of calories.
Alcohol affects metabolism so eating and drinking excessive amounts simultaneously means easy weight gain, especially belly fat! (read on for the physiology)
When it comes to planning a daily energy budget I always look for balance and nutrient density. I take a look at the three main macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrate and make sure there’s sufficient amounts. As far as calorie distribution, this is key: fat contributes 9 calories per gram, protein 4 calories per gram and carbs also 4. For example, 1 tbsp of oil contains 13.5 g fat. Multiply that by 9 and you get 120 calories.
So where does alcohol fit in?
Alcohol itself contributes a whopping 7 calories per gram. This is almost as much as pure fat and almost double that of those “demonized” carbs! Remember too that mixed drinks and coolers are considerably higher calorie due to the additional carbs and sugars from mixers like juices and sodas. Even a dry-tasting beer or wine can have some sugar in it. Take a look.
Alcoholic drink , Calories
Beer, light, 12 oz. 100
Beer, regular, 12 oz. 150
Frozen daiquiri, 4 oz.216
Gin, 1.5 oz. 110
Mai tai, 4 oz. 310
Margarita, 4 oz. 270
Rum, 1.5 oz. 96
Vodka, 1.5 oz. 96
Whisky, 1.5 oz. 105
Wine spritzer, 4 oz. 49
Wine, dessert, sweet, 4 oz. 180
Not only is alcohol itself devoid of nutrients, it can impair your body’s ability to absorb them. For this reason it’s a double whammy as far as health, sport performance and weight management - you can gain weight from it, but not get any good stuff from it, and it impairs muscle recovery.
In addition to the empty calories and mindless eating correlated with alcohol intake, there’s a couple of physiological things going on when we drink alcohol that explain the freshman 15 and the notorious pot belly, which as it turns out isn’t a myth.
Our body can’t store alcohol like it can fat and glycogen (storage form of carbs), so it must metabolize it right away. It is directed to the liver to get processed. Because your body is dealing with the alcohol, it puts a pause button on all other metabolic processes and so fats and sugars are metabolized less efficiently. Since you’re often eating and drinking at the same time, fat gain may be more likely, especially if your portions and food choices aren’t smart. To add insult to injury, it has been shown that the weight gain is preferentially deposited in the abdominal area, hence the pot belly phenomenon. Not good on many levels! Lastly, if you’re drinking after a game or your training, think twice as you won’t recover well at all.
Does this mean you can’t have your wine and eat too? Not exactly, it just means be smart about it.
Tips for the Patio
Have a healthy snack before going out, or order healthier menu items to avoid food cravings and curb drink consumption. Totally avoiding eating to leave room for alcohol backfires. It can wreak havoc on blood sugars leading to poor food choices. Greek yogurt, nuts and berries, or a plate of veg, with lean protein and whole grains would be appropriate options.
Set limits before you go out on how much you’re going to drink. Maybe a friend or partner can help keep you accountable.
Drive. If you’re the designated driver you’re hopefully not drinking and have a good excuse not to in the case of peer pressure
Once you’ve had your alcoholic drink or two, order virgin cocktails or soda water with lime. You’ll look like you’re partaking socially, but without sabotaging your plan.
Stick to simple drinks. All alcohol has calories but sugary drinks have way more and can also make you hungrier (not to mention more hungover!) Wine in moderation has some health benefits so not a bad choice, or try vodka with soda water and lime juice.
Start tracking your alcohol consumption in your daily food app. Seeing how the calories add up may be an eye opener and also help keep you accountable.
Stay hydrated with water through the night, and instead of indulging your hangover at the local greasy spoon, plan for a healthy breakfast to start the next day off right.