How Alcohol Affects Your Fat Loss


After reading an article in the women’s Health Magazine I felt motivated to write a blog on this very topic. Given I enjoy a sneaky glass or two at times and the fact that being a personal trainer I am sure I get judged for doing so. I guess the difference is I do believe that everything in moderation is important and when you understand what happens on the inside you can make an educated decision whether to indulge or not.

I am sure everyone knows that the amount of alcohol you consume has an effect on how much weight you lose or put on....right? The question is do you really understand why? If you are anything like me, I need to know the facts about why I should limit something I enjoy. I like to make an educated decision especially when trying to decide to drink or not to drink!

Alcohol and your weight have a complex and interesting relationship. I know some people who drink a truck load of alcohol and never seem to look any different, while others wind up with the dreaded spare tyre around the waist or butt. In fact if you think about it most alcoholics (not that I know many) are actually underweight which may make us think that perhaps it’s not the alcohol that is the problem, rather what we eat with it.

Not convinced? I’d like to share some things with you from which you can make your own mind up. Your average drink, by that I mean beer, wine, and champagne is a combination of ethanol which is pure alcohol, carbohydrates and of course sugar. When you take a sip (or gulp…), it makes its way down into your stomach, where some of the alcohol is absorbed through the lining and into your bloodstream. This is that ‘tipsy’ feeling we tend to get during that first glass. It is at this point when the body kicks into action and decides if what you’re consuming is safe and what is harmful. Without going into too much detail, the ethanol is diverted to the liver, given it is toxic to the body, and the sugar and carbohydrates continue their typical digestive journey. Sounds all quite straightforward really...

Don’t be fooled as this is when the fun starts. That one drink starts a love affair with your fat cells. The alcohol has absolutely no nutritional value, so it is dealt with first to get rid of it as soon as possible. That means any remaining calories in your stomach—whether they're from the mixer in your drink or the cheese platter you had with it—will likely be stored as fat. Once the fats are in your cells you have to work so hard to remove them.

There are two other factors that come into play here...the more fattening the foods you eat, the easier the calories are stored. It doesn’t help that our decision making whilst ‘tipsy’ is somewhat impaired! In a perfect world we would chose to eat lots of protein while drinking as metabolising protein requires more energy to breakdown and store than fats. Fat on the other hand takes no effort at all… so next time you grab a handful of chips remember that you can be guaranteed that they will be plastered to your thighs.

The other information you need to consider is the calories contained in your drinks and what you are mixing them with. The easiest way to count your ‘calories’ is by drinking pre-packaged drinks. Light beer of course is the best. Not only does it not contain sugar but it is portion controlled. It is printed right there in front of you on the label unlike wine and our mixer drinks. I don’t know about you but wine glasses these days are big enough to almost hold the whole bottle!

If you are going to choose a spirit, choose a white one. Vodka is a good choice as long as you mix it with soda water and fresh lemon. You can justify drinking as you get some hydration at the same time. My choice of poison is champagne or wine which has the school of thought that it is fattening. In actual fact there is no fat in wine and very little sugar. Most of the sugar from the grapes is converted into alcohol during the fermentation process and the sugar content will vary from wine to wine and season to season. Obviously a ‘dry’ white will contain less than a ‘sweet’ white and reading the label of a red wine will give you an idea. If the description reads ‘sweet’ then you can count on higher sugar content.

In summary, alcohol may or may not hinder weight-loss, only you can work that our by having a ‘dry’ month and then see what happens on the scales! For me I like the motto of everything in moderation and if you are going to drink try and make good food choices before, during and of course after.

Oh, one other point I would like to make…There has been some research saying that those who drink in moderation and regularly adapt to metabolising the alcohol better than those who save all their drinks up for that one night and drink themselves into

Some alcohol facts...Just so you know

  1. One shot (30ml) of vodka contains 65 calories which will take 18 minutes of walking to burn it off.

  2. The normal, healthy liver can process about 1/2 ounce of pure alcohol in one hour. Just so you know.....one glass of wine (150ml) has .6 ounces of pure alcohol in it, so you do the math!

  3. 4 shots of vodka is equivalent to eating a Mars bar, Small fries from McDonalds, 1 and a bit Krispy Kreme original doughnut, 2 ½ dim sims!!

  4. Calories and Champagne - Regular so-called Brut champagnes can have up to 15 grams of sugar per litre, whereas the bone-dry Brut Nature ones have up to 3 grams. Champagnes made without the addition of any sweetening dosage include Ayala Brut Nature, Jacquart Extra Brut, Pol Roger Pure Brut Nature, Tarlant Brut Zéro and Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut. They are ideal for the calorie conscious, with no more than 65 calories per 125ml glass, compared to 90-plus for regular champagne.

  5. Lowest calorie beer – Choose Beck's Premier Light (64 calories)

  6. One glass of Champagne (150ml) has 125 calories/525 kilojoules which will take 35 minutes of walking to get that one off as will a glass of Red wine (150ml) = 120 calories/502 kilojoules.

Source: The Australian Calorie Counter, Penguin Books, 2001

Written by Kirsty Robbie - Founder of StudioForty6 and CHEK exercise coach.

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