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Alcohol - The Link To Weight Gain

What is it really doing to you body?

Alcohol is an important issue for anyone trying to lose weight. For most people, they want to be able to accommodate it in their diet. Sharing a drink with friends is a sociable and enjoyable thing to do. It’s relaxing and may well have positive health benefits in the form of stress management and human connection.

The impact of alcohol on weight is not straightforward, so let’s take a look…

It's not about calories

Alcohol contains approximately seven calories per gram. Calorie theorists (of which I am NOT one) might think that alcohol will make you fat from the calories it contains. BUT, the body cannot store alcohol. There is no mechanism by which alcohol itself is turned into body fat.

So how can the calories in alcohol make us fat if they can’t be turned into fat?

There are 3 issues with alcohol and weight:

1. Alcohol impairs the hormone glucagon and stops fat burning.

The issue with alcohol is not its calorie content, but the fact that alcohol impairs the workings of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon works to maintain blood glucose levels, by accessing stored glucose to deposit back into the blood stream. It also breaks down body fat to use as energy. But this becomes less of a priority when you have been drinking.

The body sees alcohol as a poison.

The liver therefore prioritizes getting rid of alcohol before doing the many other important and useful jobs that it must do.

If we have alcohol in the evening (which is when we tend to consume it), we stop glucagon from working for some hours afterwards (usually when we are asleep). Exactly how many hours will depend on how much you’ve had to drink, how quickly your liver gets rid of alcohol and other individual factors (your size, weight etc). Generally, it takes approximately one hour for the liver to process one unit of alcohol. During the time that the liver is getting rid of the alcohol, we won’t be burning fat.

And night time is the KEY time for fat burning.

Importantly, we won’t be burning glucose either because a) the body will preferentially burn alcohol instead of glucose (more below) and b) the liver is too busy dealing with the alcohol to bother with glucose or body fat.

2. Alcohol impairs glucagon so blood glucose can remain low and stimulate hunger/cravings.

Because the body prioritizes getting rid of alcohol above regulating blood glucose levels, alcohol drives those carb cravings that appear out of nowhere once we’ve had a drink. While the liver is processing the alcohol, it is not topping up blood glucose levels and hence they can fall, which makes us hungry.

Quite literally, our hormones are driving our hunger.

But we know this, we have all been there. We know that the kids crisps and chocolate only ever look enticing when it’s late at night and we’ve been drinking. We have lost our resolve. In the broad light of day, those same crisps and chocolates don’t have the same appeal.

This is why some alcoholic drinks are called an aperitif. They are intended to stimulate the appetite before a meal.

3. Alcohol calories will be preferentially burned.

Whilst we cannot store the calories in alcohol and so these calories can’t directly cause weight gain, there is an indirect issue. Alcohol calories will be preferentially burned and so anything else you have eaten won’t be used up until the alcohol calories have been. So, if you have a large plate of pasta with wine, the body will use up the alcohol calories first.

Life is so unfair.

The body won’t start to burn the pasta energy until the alcohol energy has been used up. Hence, it’s more likely to be stored as fat, rather than being used up for energy.

The bottom line is unfortunately, watch the amount you drink. Especially if you want to lose weight. Alcohol should be used in moderation. And I haven't even started on the effects it has on your liver health.......I'll leave that for another post.

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