Alcohol and Weight Loss – A Comprehensive Review

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Studies show that regular drinkers actually weigh less than those who don’t drink regularly…surprised? I sure was…

In today’s post, you’re going to learn the real story behind alcohol and its impact on fat loss as well as some tips for enjoying your Friday happy hour without destroying your Cut the Fat results!

What could explain the fact that regular drinkers may actually weigh less than non-drinkers?

Admittedly, we don’t have a full understanding of this phenomenon, and it probably doesn’t apply to those who are on the “alcoholic side” of the spectrum…that being said, we have enough science to get a good idea as to how alcohol might improve fat loss.

Alcohol and Weight Loss – Evidence In Favor of Alcohol

As you know, one of the most important factors in keeping a healthy metabolism is keeping your insulin receptors happy so that your body will limit the amount of insulin produced. Alcohol appears to make your insulin receptors work better, which in turn decreases insulin and may improve your fat burning metabolism. I’ll explain why this may be in just a moment…

When your body wants to send excess calories into the fat cells, the liver produces triglycerides, a package of three fatty acids bound to glycerol, which carries the fat to the fat cells to be stored. Well, it turns out that alcohol seems to lower triglycerides in addition to insulin! Not too shabby, so how does it do it?

It turns out that alcohol appears to stimulate the activity of an interesting enzyme called AMP Kinase (AMPK for short). AMPK appears to increase insulin sensitivity, increase glucose uptake into the muscles, lower blood glucose, increase fat burning, and thus lower body weight. In fact, a lot of research is currently being directed towards ways of activating this powerful enzyme through nutrition and drugs.

But wait, there’s more…

Alcohol has one final mechanism by which it appears to improve fat loss. It turns out that alcohol increases the amount of catecholamines, fat burning neurotransmitters, by decreasing the clearance or removal of these fat burning compounds!

So far, alcohol sounds like the fat loss wonder drug that we’ve been searching for all these years!

But, wait…there’s more…and not in a good way…

Evidence Against Alcohol

The munchies aren’t just for pot-heads, if you’re a drinker, you know what I mean…

Researchers used a special type of scanning equipment to see just how alcohol impacts the brain, what they discovered was quite interesting and may make you a bit uncomfortable…

Many people believe that alcohol makes you do stupid things. Unfortunately, thats not exactly accurate. What the researchers discovered is that alcohol just makes you not care about doing stupid things…

So, the “you” who danced on the table, half-naked, at the last office christmas party was actually not some sort of alcohol demon that took over your body, it was simply “you without the brakes”.  Which brings us to the first big “down-side” to alcohol consumption…

The “You without the brakes” eats everything in sight because “You without the brakes” doesn’t care about your body fat percentage. In fact, the alcohol-intoxicated-you doesn’t really care about anything, thus the dancing on the table fiasco…

On top of the fact that the self-discipline parts of your brain are passed out in the gutter while the Mr. Hyde version of yourself is running around causing havoc; the extra 500 calories of alcohol that you drank will not register with the satiety centers of the brain, so you will be hungry despite having consumed a BigMac’s worth of calories in alcohol. On top of that, the “You without the brakes” hates salads and loves pizza.

Alcohol Shuts Off Fat Burning

In the body, alcohol gets converted into acetate. Acetate is a much easier fuel to burn than carbohydrates and fat, so your body will leave the fat alone and burn the acetate instead. The result is you can’t burn the fat when your body has alcohol in the blood.

The final issue with alcohol is the fact that most alcoholic drinks, especially “girly drinks”, come with other carbohydrate calories (sugar) that increase insulin and promote fat storage. It’s these collateral calories that are probably to blame for the majority of beer guts out there!

So, which is it? Does alcohol cause fat loss or fat storage?

The Dose Probably Makes The Poison

Regular alcohol consumption does appear to have benefits to the hormonal system, and these effects may be even more helpful for some of us who are a bit on the “high-strung” side. A little alcohol appears to lower cortisol and thus get us “high-strung folks” to relax and let go for a while…That being said, a little is probably ok, more than a little is likely not ok…

On our Facebook page, I asked, “What is the single stubborn habit, that if you could change it, would have the most dramatic effect on your fat loss?” a number of our fans answered “Wine!” or “Alcohol”!

So, is a glass of wine with dinner a problem? I’m not sure it is…in fact, it may help lower cortisol, increase catecholamines, and activate AMPK; all of which could make you a better fat burner (I can’t believe that I’m saying that)

Is a bottle of wine with dinner each night a problem? Yeah, I think we may have to have an intervention…

Unfortunately, we really don’t have any good guidelines for how much alcohol is too much and how many alcohol drinking session is too many. The truth is, it’s probably different for all of us. So, we have to base our recommendations on a little bit of science and a little bit of common sense…So, here are my suggestions…

Guidelines for Drinking Responsibly for Your Fat Loss

  1. Don’t eat greasy bar food when drinking – Remember, alcohol will inhibit fat oxidation (burning) and so any fat you consume will likely go right into the fat cells. Combine fat, carbs, and alcohol and you’re REALLY asking for trouble.
  2. A glass of wine or beer at night has been shown to lower cortisol, which can help with fat loss. So, don’t stress over a glass of red wine or a low-carb beer at night with dinner.
  3. In general, 1 drink a night is fine and possibly even beneficial…2 drinks, however, may be too much, if consumed most nights.
  4. Try to limit “Happy Hours” to once a week when you’re in the maintenance phase of your fat loss lifestyle. Avoid binges (i.e. happy hours) altogether when you’re trying to burn fat, especially as you near the final 10 pounds.
  5. Alcohol can interfere with deep sleep, so plan on getting a little extra sleep the following night in order to pay any sleep debt that you accumulate from the poor sleep quality caused by alcohol. Remember, poor sleep can quickly cause insulin resistance.
  6. Build up a catalog of low-sugar, low-cal drinks.
    1. Low-carb beer such as MGD 64 and Michelob Ultra (my personal favorite)
    2. Dry red wines. Try to avoid white wines as they are higher in sugar.
    3. Paleo-Rita

Summary:

Alcohol and weight loss is simply not as black and white as many experts claim, there are arguments on both sides. Now, I’m not suggesting that you drink alcohol to lose weight, in fact, if you’re not a drinker then please don’t start! I enjoy a couple of bottles of beer on a Friday, I limit it to 2 (on occasion 3) and I drink them with total confidence that my fat loss efforts will not be harmed.

Those of you who beat yourselves up for having a glass of wine at night to “unwind” – stop beating yourselves up…enjoy it! It turns out that it may actually be an ally rather than a foe.

Look, as long as you keep alcohol intake to a reasonable level, follow the guidelines provided, then you can enjoy it without guilt or worry that it will destroy your fat loss efforts. It turns out that a little alcohol and weight loss are not mortal enemies, so make peace and find the balance that works for you!

References:

  1. J Clin Epidemiol. 2002 Sep;55(9):863-9.
  2. Physiol Behav. 2010 Apr 26;100(1):82-9. Epub 2010 Jan 22.
  3. JAMA. 2002 May 15;287(19):2559-62.
  4. Med Hypotheses. 2001 Sep;57(3):405-7.
  5. Addict Biol. 2012 Jan 19. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-1600

 

 

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