Can Alcohol Prevent Weight Loss?

The lure of a few drinks on the weekend is strong!  Especially after a crazy working week working in a corporate job or running your own business!  Adding to this the stress of being a family man, trying to keep your body in somewhat decent shape and striving to be the best version of you, it can really take its toll on you physically and emotionally!

It is understandable that a few drinks on the weekend will take the edge off and allow you to relax.  But how detrimental can these few drinks be for your long term health and ability to drop a few lbs?

Fortunately a few drinks alone will do no long term health damage, unless you have pre existing medical conditions.  Although there are a few considerations that must be made around its effect on your ability to lose weight!

  • Inhibitions limited

One drink can easily turn into two and that can quite easily mean you are out for the night! But what is it about alcohol that reduces inhibitions?

Alcohol increases the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, which has a direct response on increasing impulsivity and heightened excitement. It also plays a role in decreasing activity in the prefrontal and temporal cortex of the brain, the part of the brain associated with decision making!

This goes a long way to explain why it is never just one drink. At a blood alcohol concentration reading of just 0.04-0.06, the equivalent of 2 pints, your ability to make sensible decisions is affected. This explains why your calorie restricted diet goes out the window the moment you start drinking!

  • Broken down in the body for energy

Alcohol provides 7kcals/ gram, this is more than that of protein and carbohydrates (4kcals/ gram). The energy balance formula states you will gain weight if you consume more calories than your expend, although this is a little over simplified, the theory is correct. If calorie consumption from alcohol energy is not accounted for, then weight gain will occur. Here is the kicker, studies show that alcohol will make you habitually less active!

A secondary concern with alcohol consumption is that unlike macronutrients from foods, alcohol cannot be stored in the body. It is quickly metabolised by the liver which in turn shuts off the pathway for the breakdown of fat and carbohydrates for fuel and decreases the secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. These processes in turn increase storage of fat in fat cells, which makes the process of dropping 10lbs a lot harder!

  • Increased hunger

Have you noticed that after drinking you feel a powerful desire to eat?

This insatiable hunger is linked to how the body metabolises alcohol and its effects on carbohydrate metabolism. Excessive alcohol consumption plays havoc with your blood sugar levels, from an initial spike in blood glucose to a significant fall. When your body detects this fall in blood sugar, it sends signals to your brain to go and eat! Unfortunately, in an inebriated state, with the impairment of your prefrontal cortex, you are not likely to go and prepare a chicken breast, rice and cruciferous greens! Armed with a kebab, you head to bed… Alcohol 3 v You 0.

  • Effect on Testosterone

What has the powerful male hormone, testosterone, got to do with drinking alcohol and you losing your first 10lbs?

Simply put testosterone is a hormone that plays a formidable role in a male’s ability to increase lean body mass and reduce fat mass.

Studies have demonstrated the role of alcohol in the reduction of testosterone production in men. Reduction in testosterone production will impair your bodies metabolic rate and reduce insulin sensitivity, making it more difficult to lose weight. One study noted that when males consumed between 30-40g alcohol per day for 6 weeks a reduction of 7% testosterone was discovered. This may not seem significant, however, if you consider that 1 in 4 Indian men suffer from low testosterone, we may have a problem with losing your first 10lbs!

  • Effect on inflammation

Alcohol has a detrimental effect on the cells lining the stomach and small intestine. As discussed in chapter 1, anything that compromises the wall of the intestines can lead to leaky gut, which is terrible news for anyone looking to drop weight! In addition, alcohol leads to poor digestion, reduced rates of utilization and absorption of important nutrients that fight inflammation. For example, enzymes that break down omega 3 into compounds that terminate inflammatory immune responses in the blood, are inhibited and exacerbate inflammation.

Excess alcohol consumption can lead to reduced immune function as it limits the positive inflammatory approach we see when a pathogen or foreign bacteria enters the blood stream. In extreme cases when the immune system is persistently activated it can become dysfunctional. Major organs, such as the liver and pancreas, can be affected as an autoimmune response can lead to the breakdown of healthy cells and tissues. 

If you know you are going to have a few drinks, or need to know what to do after a heavy weekend, then apply these tips:

  • Eat before drinking, this will reduce the effects of alcohol on your cognitive function and decision making!
  • Consume water during alcohol consumption and before bed to reduce the effects of dehydration! Dehydration is not only terrible for performance and brain function but also disguises thirst with a false sense of hunger.
  • The day after a few drinks you will feel dehydrated, thats normal but water does not quench this thirst as your body needs foods high in electrolytes, such as bananas, potatoes, coconut water (my personal favourite) and sports drinks to replenish depleted stores.
  • Get up and get moving! The damage caused to cognitive function can be cleared with a walk in the fresh air. Get moving and start making positive decisions about your dietary intake to get back on track.

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