Thursday, July 16, 2015

Alcohol inhibits weight loss, but maybe it doesn't

Most weight loss experts agree that 1-2 drinks once a week is okay.
A drink consists of 1 beer, or one glass of wine, or one shot.
The shot may be mixed with diet pop or seltzer.
A typical drink contains between 120-150 calories.
So as I continue on my quest to lose weight and get in shape there is one little thing that I need to work out around, and that is my love and respect for Whiskey and Diet Coke. This is particularly true after a tough day at work, a good day at work, or even an enjoyable day off spent with the family. A couple of drinks is simply a great way of ending the day. However, I have learned that alcohol, even one glass, has an inhibitory effect on weight loss.

John Leyva, of said that a serving of alcohol is:
  • 1 glass of wine (5 ounces)
  • 1 beer (12 ounces)
  • 1 shot of 80 proof/ 40% drink (1.5 ounces) 
He said it's easy to limit yourself to one 12 ounce beer if you are drinking from a can.  It's easy to monitor your whiskey or vodka intake if you are using a shot glass.  However, many bar tenders, for example, just pour wine into a cup, or whiskey or vodka into a drink, meaning you never know how much you are drinking.  It's important that you monitor your intake by mixing your own drinks is the point here. 

Even one beverage has the following effect on weight loss. It causes:

1.  Increased fat storage. Your body begins to break down alcohol fast.  It uses the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) pathway by converting alcohol into acetaldehyde which gets further broken down into acetate.  Acetaldehyde and acetate are seen as poisons, and therefore are broken down to create energy before carbohydrates. So while only 5% of the alcohol is stored as fat, any carbs you eat will be stored as fat.  It essence, it causes your body to stop burning carbohydrates for energy, resulting increased fat storage. 

2.  Loss of energy.  Your body will need to use water soluble vitamins B1, B2 and B6, folate and C to burn off acetate and acetaldehyde.  It may also require fat soluble vitamins A, E, and K1. This may result in lack of motivation, energy and well being. 

If you stop right there you will be fine.  Alcohol does have other effects if you continue drinking, such as it can:

3.  Inhibit Sleep.  It will increase in the usage of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA, which can lead to depression and addiction.  However, if you limit your intake of alcohol to 1-2 drinks once a week you should be fine.

GABA is what allows you to stay asleep. So while too much alcohol can make you drowsy, by using up your GABA supply, alcohol may make it so that you do not stay asleep.  This lack of sleep can have a disastrous affect on weight loss.  As John Hussman of hussman fitness says:
"Sleep deprivation causes significant imbalances in several hormones – cortisol, ghrelin, and leptin – and will increase your appetite for junk carbohydrates, reduce your metabolic activity during waking hours, and get in the way of muscle growth. Ideally, find a way to get 8 and preferably 9 hours of sleep a night during the main "transformation" part of your program.
4.  Inhibit desire to eat healthy. Alcohol intake can have an impact on the higher processing area of your brain (your cerebral cortex), while leaving lower parts of your brain unaffected.  This can make it so you still want to do things, although the ability to refrain yourself from doing things you might consider unacceptable while you are sober may be inhibited. 

Thinking of this reminds me of a poster one of my dad's sales representatives showed me while I was visiting him at work one day.  The poster showed a man all disheveled lying in bed the morning after a drunk with beer cans lying all around the bed.  Lying next to him was a dog.  My point here is that alcohol tends to make even the unacceptable seem like a good idea at the time.  (Note: I apologize if any dogs or women are offended by this paragraph.)

That said, it also has an inhibitory affect on what you eat.  For example, my wife buys me pretzels because I love to eat pretzels the way my dad loves to eat peanuts, only pretzels are fat free.  Still, while I'm dieting I like to avoid, or at the very least, to limit by pretzel intake.  However, after just two drinks last night, I found myself eating pretzels, and I know I ate more than one serving.  You see, this is not good if you are trying to lose weight.

5.  Causes Dehydration.  Another affect of drinking more than 2 glasses of alcohol is an increase in the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), and this makes you pee in order for your body to get rid of the alcohol.  Your desire to pee increases with each drink (about 100 ml per 10 grams of alcohol).  This causes dehydration not only due to loss of water but by loss of essential vitamins and minerals.  This can slow down your body's metabolism, thus having the opposite effect of drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day.

6.  Inhibits your desire to exercise. Plus, Leyva adds, "Finally, with heavy drinking, the breakdown of alcohol can occur for up to 48 hours after your last drink. This means less glucose is reaching your brain and working muscles, making you both more tired and quicker to fatigue if you do exercise."  Emphasis added by Leyva.

So, note to self, behave this weekend.

However, while all this sounds fine and dandy, there is evidence that alcohol may actually not inhibit weight loss after all, and many are listed at  This topic was also discussed by Rick Frea over at Respiratory Therapy Cave.  The cave notes that:
Dr. Charles F. Lieber, the same man who established a link between alcohol to liver cancer, said in 1991 that alcohol does not cause weight gain. He said that there is no evidence that alcohol causes weight gain. So, in other words, it's not the alcohol that causes weight gain, it's the other stuff you eat when you are drinking. It's not the fat free alcohol that makes you gain weight at a party, it's eating too many fattening cakes.
Plus there are obvious health benefits to drinking alcohol.  For instance, studies have shown moderate drinking may be good for the heart and prevent Alzheimer's disease.  So, in other words, our science regarding alcohol and weight loss may not be as accurate as we believe.

I am of the belief that it is better to have a night like last night than to not drink at all and have that result in you falling off the diet wagon, per se.  In other words, as my grandpa John used to say (per my mom of course, since he died when I was 3 months old), "Anything in moderation is good for you."

Further reading:

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