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How Bad Is Alcohol If I Am Trying To Lose Weight?

This is a question I get quite frequently when I’m holding my “Lean Code Method Nutrition For Fat Loss” seminars so I figured it would be worth explaining in a blog post. There are a lot of misconceptions about alcohol to say the least.

You’ll find some people who flat out say alcohol is bad for your health and should be completely avoided. I’m not one of those people. There’s been enough research conducted that shows a small amount of alcohol consumption, especially with red wine, can actually be beneficial to health.

The low numbers of heart disease and other chronic illnesses in Mediterranean cultures where red wine is a staple in the diet seems to support this.

However, just like with coffee and other controversial food and drink, just because research shows some benefit when consumed in moderation, doesn’t make it good for everyone or send the green light to indulge in excess.

For the purpose of this discussion we’re going to talk about alcohol in the context of weight loss. Just because a little bit of something may benefit health in some way doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to be positive component for fat loss.

Alcohol certainly fits into this description. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you straight up that alcohol will NOT help you in the fat burning process. Does this mean you can’t consume alcohol in moderation and still lose weight? No, that’s certainly still possible, it’s just that it won’t be necessarily working in your favor from a physiological standpoint.

Here’s the low-down on alcohol and how it impacts fat burning or fat storage.

There’s a common misconception that the calorie content from alcohol is the only thing that matters. Light beer manufacturers have been trying to convince us of this for years. It seems like there’s a contest to see who can come up with a light beer with the fewest calories. The reality is this really isn’t that big of a deal. Just because one beer contained thirty or so fewer calories doesn’t make it superior in the big picture of things.

Alcohol as you probably already know is a sugar, but it’s unlike any other sugar in terms of how it’s dealt with by the body. Alcohol can be absorbed directly through the stomach and sent on a direct route to the liver. This is why drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is so dangerous. Unlike other sugars it doesn’t have to necessarily go to the small intestine to be broken down and absorbed through the gastrointestinal walls to enter the bloodstream.

What happens when alcohol hits the liver is the real game changer.

When alcohol arrives at the liver it’s tagged per say as being a toxin and the body works to eliminate it as fast as possible. The liver converts the alcohol sugar into something that’s called acetate. The body then preferentially looks to burn this acetate for energy in order to get rid of it.

This is very important from a fat loss perspective. While you’re body is working to burn this acetate for fuel in order to get rid of it, other substrates like fat and carbs from food get put in a “holding pattern.” In essence, while you’re working to burn off the alcohol, the burning of fat for fuel, be it from body fat stores or dietary fat gets put on hold.

Read that last sentence again or better yet, I’ll bold it out for you.

You can NOT burn fat in the presence of alcohol!

So now when you see some guy with what we call a “beer gut,” you know it’s not necessarily the calories from the beer but rather the excess sugar and fat from the hot dogs, wings, or whatever he was eating during or after the drinking session that resulted in the accumulation of fat around his waistline.

Did you get that? What’s likely killing your weight loss attempts is not the few beers you had but rather the food you consumed during or afterwards? That late night trip through the drive through doesn’t sound like such a good idea after all following a night out on the town.

Here’s the thing, if you’re going to consume alcohol the best time to do it, purely from a physiological standpoint would be with a meal. A glass of wine with dinner is not likely to make a big impact on the overall scheme of things with fat loss.

However, two or three glasses of wine, dare we say the whole bottle, would certainly throw a wrench in fat loss when consumed with or after dinner.

This shouldn’t come at a surprise but it really comes down to how much you consume and when you consume it.

I’ve long held the position that fat loss is not a game best played with a “moderation” mindset. Lifestyle or maintaining your weight, yes, but with targeted fat loss, no. It’s just too hard and not productive enough at the end of the day.

When you’re looking to lose weight, I recommend a “scorched earth” approach in essence waging war on fat. When you’re in “fat loss mode” it’s best to be all in. Anything that doesn’t feed muscle and has the ability to feed fat stores should be out. In all reality though you can’t expect to be in this mode all the time.

That’s why I recommend if you’re really wanting to drop body fat, cut out the alcohol and anything else that’s not helping you in the process during the week. Train hard, be strict with your diet, and get serious.

If you do that you can use the weekends as sort of a “break” on all levels. This doesn’t mean you can go blow it out and go on a “beer blitz” or drinking binge and make up for it next week. That would be foolish. What I’m talking about is enjoy a few beers, cocktails, or whatever, do it over the weekend and don’t sweat about it. In the big scheme of things this won’t swing the door one way or the other.

For those who want to drink alcohol but would still like to drop a few pounds, a moderation approach like this is way better than having a couple drinks several nights a week.

For those who are REALLY serious about a total body transformation and are zeroed in on making big changes, I’d pull it out completely for a while. There’s no way it’s going to help matters.

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As you can see it really comes down to where you’re at and what you really want. Your expectations need to be in line with what you’re willing to commit to doing.

Personally I’ve never taken a hard line stand on alcohol like some fitness professionals and health gurus because I really do believe in the idea of moderation. Your body can deal with things in small quantities when it’s in balance and functioning properly. It’s only when you’ve bogged down the system with toxins and metabolic waste over a prolonged period of time that the little things swing big doors.

If you’re dealing with a poorly functioning digestive system, low insulin sensitivity, and a degraded state of overall health, you’ve got to take drastic measures on healing yourself and putting your body back in balance.

That mean’s you’re going to have to make big boy and big girl decisions about how much your health is really worth to you. If that means giving up alcohol for a while, is that a sacrifice you’re willing to make?

Alright, you get the picture. Let’s wrap up by discussing whether or not there are certain alcohol drinks you’d be better off consuming?

Once again I don’t want to split hairs on this but I would say yes there are better choices than others.

In no particular order, these would be my preferred choices:

- red wine
- clear alcohol (like vodka)
- light beer

Personally I enjoy a nice glass of bourbon now and then (what can I say, I’m a country boy) but I always mix with water instead of soda. You know where I stand on soft drinks so those are always out. Alcohol drinks mixed with fruit juices are always poor choices because you’re just going to prime the insulin pump with all that sugar. The same thing can be said for high sugar alcohols like Rum. The famous “Rum and Coke” is probably one of the worst things you could ingest as it’s nothing but a “sugar bomb” that wrecks havoc hormonally.

I hope this post has helped inform you on the truth about alcohol and how it acts in your body. I wanted to be upfront and honest though about my personal use because it would be hypocritical of me to do otherwise.

I eat clean, exercise every day during the week, and look to take care of myself in general so I can enjoy things like a cold beer on a summer’s day or a fine glass of bourbon in the evening on weekends. But then again I live by the 80/20 principal.

Some may disagree with that philosophy and that’s fine. I respect everyone’s position one way or the other. At the end of the day you do what works for you.

Until next time…

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. If you’re looking for a Charleston gym sign up for a FREE no-obligations trial and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself today.

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