Alcohol consumption is a favorite pastime for various cultures across the globe, but were you aware of how dangerous it can be to your health? When the commercials come on TV, or you see billboards when you’re driving down the road, it is always people in perfect shape having the time of their lives. However, were you aware of how alcohol affects your weight?
We’ll give you a hint – it’s not positive. Tolerance, dependence, and addiction aren’t the only issues you have to contend with when regularly consuming alcohol, but the substance can also adversely affect your weight, but how? We’ll delve into that and more below.
Alcohol and Your Weight
You’ve read the studies – alcohol has positive health benefits! Red wine can lower your risk of heart disease. While those aren’t technically incorrect, they can be somewhat misleading. One area that many people overlook is the role alcohol plays in weight management. If you’re looking to shed a few pounds and maintain a healthy weight, you may want to consider skipping your evening glass of wine, but what else is it about alcohol that affects your weight?
Alcohol Keeps Your Body From Burning Fat
If you’ve ever heard the term “empty calories” refer to alcohol, it means that your body can convert those calories from alcohol to energy, but the calories do not contain any beneficial minerals or nutrients. Alcohol isn’t treated like other nutrients in food, and our digestive system works overtime to eliminate it from your system. If you consume a meal with an alcoholic beverage, the nutrient uptake from the meal is greatly decreased because your body is working much harder to remove the alcohol from your system.
In most cases, carbs are your body’s first choice to digest for energy from the food you consume, but that changes when alcohol is consumed. Our body immediately recognizes alcohol as the toxic substance it is and shuts down your ability to access other macronutrients, such as proteins, carbs, and fat because it’s busy burning off the alcohol first.
You’ve likely heard the term “beer belly” in reference to someone who consumes a lot of beer. Well, it’s a common misconception – it’s inaccurate that alcoholic beverages cause increased fat stores around your stomach—a very small percentage of the calories you consume with alcohol become fat. The primary effect of alcohol is to reduce how much fat your body burns for energy. Simply put, you’re shutting down your metabolism – this is what causes weight gain.
Alcohol and Calories: Are There A Lot?
Generally speaking, most drinks made with alcohol are high in calories. Carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram. However, alcohol has seven per gram. When you look at mixers like syrups, juices, soda, cream, whipped cream, and coconut milk, the amount of calories you intake when drinking can be extremely high. Some cocktails can be sneakily high in calories, especially ones made with syrups and whipped cream. Daiquiris, pina coladas, and margaritas have a lot of added sugar and saturated fat. If you drink these regularly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’re gaining weight.
If you’re health-conscious but still want to consume alcohol, it’s important to consider lower-calorie options. For example, beers with lower alcohol by volume, like Lagers or Pilsners, which average around 100 calories per bottle compared to 150 calories in regular beer, and dry red or white wine, which averages around 120 calories for a 5-ounce glass, are your best bet. However, spirits mixed with soda water are a better option if you’re not a wine or beer drinker.
Alcohol Disrupts Sleep Patterns
Another common misconception about alcohol is that it’s great for sleep. Many individuals will grab a “nightcap” to get some rest. However, that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Because alcohol has sedative effects that induce relaxation and sleepiness, it might help you unwind and get ready for bed. However, alcohol consumption, especially if it’s excessive, is linked to poor sleep quality and duration—individuals who become dependent on alcohol commonly experience symptoms of insomnia.
It’s not uncommon to hear of people admitting their sleep is disrupted when drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is tied to weight gain in the long run. Sleep deprivation causes people to consume more food and resist the urge to eat snacks.
Alcohol Impairs Hormone Functioning
Hormones play a vital role in how the body’s tissues and organs function healthily. When the hormone system works well, the right amount of hormones is released at the right time, resulting in the body’s tissues accurately responding to those messages. Drinking alcohol can impair the functions of the glands that release hormones and how the tissues targeted by the hormone’s function. Unfortunately, this can result in various health issues. Alcohol consumption increases cortisol production, which is linked to weight gain.
According to a review published in Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, excessive alcohol consumption causes hormonal changes that disrupt immunity, thyroid functioning, and bone health in the long-term. Medical experts are still trying to understand how much alcohol increases cortisol and causes some of these issues. Unfortunately, there’s no specific answer because everyone is unique in how they react to alcohol and break it down.
Alcohol Can Make You Feel Hungry
Marijuana is a drug often associated with someone “having the munchies.” However, alcohol is another substance that has a similar effect. After a few drinks, it’s common for hunger to strike, and since alcohol lowers inhibitions, you’ll be more inclined to grab any quick and easy snack without giving it a second thought.
A few different things cause that hungry sensation. For starters, alcohol makes your blood sugar levels dip, which can trigger hunger and cause you to crave carbohydrate-rich foods. If you have diabetes, you must be extra careful because alcohol combined with diabetes medications can cause hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar, especially if you consume alcohol on an empty stomach.
Medical experts have also determined that alcohol affects the area of your brain that controls your appetite, which causes overwhelming hunger, especially the day after you drink. The nerve cells in our brain’s hypothalamus are generally activated by starvation and can be stimulated by alcohol, meaning those intense hunger pains can lead you to reach for high-calorie foods, such as burgers and pizza.
Alcohol Negatively Influences Digestion and Nutrient Uptake
Alcohol inhibits more than just your social anxiety – consuming it can also inhibit your digestive functioning. It can also stress your intestines and stomach, leading to decreased digestive secretions and how food moves through the tract. Digestive secrets are a vital element of healthy digestion, as they break down food into basic micro-and-macro-nutrients absorbed and used by the body. Alcohol consumption of all levels impairs digestion and absorption of those nutrients. These all negatively influence the metabolism of organs that play a vital role in how weight is managed.
Alcohol Addiction and Weight Gain
Unfortunately, many who develop alcohol dependence will gain weight. If you drink regularly and have become addicted to the substance, it’s likely contributing to weight gain you may be experiencing. Not only is alcohol high in calories and causes hunger spikes, but if you’re addicted to it and drinking every day, you’re likely not eating a healthy diet.
Alcoholism affects millions of people annually in the United States, and the longer someone abuses the substance, the poorer their eating habits will become. Alcohol adds calories to the diet and provides no protein or other essential vitamins or minerals that your body needs. Some alcoholics ingest half of their total daily calories from alcohol, resulting in various nutritional problems.
Chronic alcohol abuse is attributed to high cholesterol, increased triglyceride levels, pancreatitis, hypertension, and liver disease. It also increases the risk of stroke and cancer. Health concerns are not limited to weight gain, and if you’ve reached a point where alcohol has caused your weight to spiral out of control, and you don’t know what to do, professional addiction treatment might be your best option.
When you stop drinking, your body can reverse course on the damage it sustained. You’ll also have enough energy to start cooking healthy meals again and exercising to better control your weight. The benefits are endless.