This is a big topic.
Obviously, most people know that drinking isn’t ideal for a slim waist line…and it is often one of the most common things people “cut out” in order to drop a few pounds. The main reason people do this is because most alcohol is pretty caloric and has no nutritional value…so it isn’t doing anything FOR you. BUT, many of us enjoy it! I know I LOVE a glass of wine with dinner and I have no shame in that. Plus it’s such a social thing and widely socially accepted. To be honest, if I’m at a party and turn down a drink most people ask why…like there’s a specific reason why I wouldn’t drink!
One big question I always had was this: will cutting out alcohol really do a lot for my body or will the results be minimal?
I did a lot of research recently after reading an article that really piqued my interest. The article basically said that drinking alcohol can affect how your body burns and stores fat, which will interfere with all the hard work you put in while at the gym and keep you from losing weight or toning up. Of course, reading this made me nervous….I didn’t want it to be true! And after I did some digging I found out that it isn’t 100% true….but it sort of is in certain ways. Now that you are thoroughly confused….let me explain what I gathered.
When we drink alcohol, our bodies can’t physically digest it but the body works to break down and metabolize the sugar alcohols that get absorbed directly into the blood stream. The liver is the frontman in this process and it goes to work to break down what you are drinking. The trouble with this is that the liver is also responsible for breaking down and storing the carbs and sugars (glucose) you eat. So, when you are drinking, the normal glucose storing and break down process gets put on hold while the alcohol gets taken care of. And if you know anything about how sugar acts inside your body, you know that floating glucose that is not being taken care of by the liver will be stored as fat…and that process happens pretty fast. On top of that, alcohol consumption causes an increased release of insulin in your body, which will set up your blood sugar levels to crash. A crashing blood sugar level will make you feel hungry (even if you aren’t) and you will probably reach for carbs or something that is a quick fix, which will eventually result in ANOTHER crash…and then the whole rollercoaster cycle starts all over again. Sounds pretty shitty right?
The other problem is that when your body is metabolizing alcohol, it has a harder time breaking down protein and fats too…so if you happen to eat a little too much or drink too much your body will start storing a lot of your food as fat, no matter how healthy it is. Sounds like a pretty major self sabotage right? If you are anything like me, your goal with fitness is to feel good, gain clarity, burn fat and build muscle. So I want to do whatever I can to make the most of all the work I do while still staying sane and enjoying a glass of wine.
The good news is this: our bodies can typically metabolize 1 serving of alcohol an hour, so if you have one glass of wine with dinner and eat a balanced meal with fats, greens and protein you won’t set yourself up for such a big spike and crash. It seems like the problems arise when you have a few drinks and have a carb heavy meal. Your body will be overloaded and over worked….which will lead to immediate fat storage. SO that pizza and wine “cheat day” is probably doing you more harm than you realize.
At the end of the day, it really all comes down to balance. If you indulge in a couple of drinks one night, try to take a couple of days off and give your body a break. When it becomes such a habit, it can become a problem internally and really derail all your hard work.
Also, another really crazy fact that I learned while doing this research is that alcohol is the SECOND most addictive substance out there. It is second to heroin (which is #1)…and below alcohol on the addictiveness list is cocaine which was absolutely mind blowing to me. Heroin and cocaine are illegal HARD DRUGS! How can alcohol sit right between those two when it is something so widely used and accepted in society? Nicotine wasn’t on the top five list, to put it in perspective. And you don’t have to be considered an alcoholic to be addicted to alcohol….actually the addiction process happens very quickly and you probably don’t even realize it….I know I didn’t!
So why is it so addictive to any normal person?
“It turns out ethanol, the type of alcohol inside of adult beverages, is not addictive in and of itself. The chemical reactions ethanol causes in our brains are addictive.”
“Research suggests that alcohol increases the production of endorphins. These are the brain’s natural painkillers. They are also associated with pleasure and reward. They tend to accumulate within the portions of the brain linked to addictive behaviors.
In essence, alcohol can make the brain tell lies. The brain says there’s an intense amount of pleasure going on when alcohol is consumed. In reality, however, there is no external cause for this response. At the same time, alcohol is turning off portions of the brain that handle other important functions, like impulse control and decision making. Together, this chemical activity can lead to even more drinking”
Alcohol also causes dopamine to be released in your brain, which is the pleasure and reward hormone. This hormone makes us feel good (it is also released during sex wink wink) and we tend to crave that feel-good feeling! The interesting part is that studies show that when you drink fairly regularly, your brain has a hard time producing dopamine on its own without alcohol…leading you to that feeling of “I really need a drink tonight”. How many times have you said that or come home from a long, stressful day and thought….oh man I really want that glass of wine. You think it’s just because you’re stressed and it will help you unwind, but the truth is it goes much deeper than that. Your brain is addictive to the chemical releases that alcohol produces. Your brain tells you it needs the alcohol to feel happy. CRAZY RIGHT?!?
So when I found out ALL of this information, I decided to cut out alcohol for an entire month. I just felt like it was something I needed to do after all of this wealth of information. The first week was hard. I craved a glass of wine so bad and I had a hard time falling asleep at night. But after the first week it was a total breeze! I no longer craved it and I found I was much more productive with my time in the evening haha! I also felt better- nothing crazy drastic, but just a little bit better in the morning. A tiny bit more spring in my step I guess.
That dry month ended a few weeks ago and now I try to just limit my consumption to one glass of wine at a time and not every night. I don’t want to cut it out for good forever, I just wanted to challenge myself and see how it felt. I also don’t like feeling like I am addicted to anything so I wanted to break the habit and start fresh with my new found knowledge about alcohol and how it affects the body. I now have a much better understanding of how it affects me and how to enjoy it while not doing harm to myself or my gym progress alike. Again, all about that insight and balance. Knowledge is power!
** And as always, I am not a doctor and this advice is just from my own learnings, understandings and experiences. I encourage you to do your own research too and if you have a problem with substance abuse, please seek help from a professional ***