With so many articles in the news this week trying to extol the ‘health benefits’ of drinking, I thought it was a good time to summarise the various effects alcohol has on weight.
1. Empty calories
The first and easiest one, alcoholic drinks contain a huge amount of empty calories. A single pint of beer averages out at 182 calories, which you will need to run for 18 minutes to burn off. A Large glass of wine contains 318 calories which you’ll need to run for 32 minutes to burn off. And let’s be honest, who ever stops at just one?
2. Alcohol as an energy source cannot be stored
Aside from the actual sugar in alcoholic drinks, the alcohol itself is an energy source, but one which humans cannot store as fat. Because your body cannot store it, it has to burn it off. This is one of the reasons we quite often get hot when we are drinking, it is the excess alcohol energy being turned into heat energy. The problem is that because your body already has excess energy from the alcohol which it is struggling to rid itself of, virtually every other calorie you consume from any another source gets stored as fat.
3. Appetite stimulant
Alcohol is an appetite stimulant, which means it makes you feel hungrier than you actually are. It is also the case that hunger can come from lack of available energy, or lack of nutrients. If your hunger is from lack of nutrients you will usually fancy something healthy and nutrient rich. Because alcohol simulates the hunger from lack of available energy, we crave calorie dense fast food, rather than healthy alternatives.
4. Dulling of receptors that tell you when you are full
Alcohol is an anaesthetic and a depressant (ie it anesthetises or ‘depresses’ nerve activity). It depresses / anesthetises receptors that tell you when you are full, leaving you more able and likely to overeat.
5. Vitamin deficiency
Alcohol inhibits absorption of certain key nutrients like vitamin B-9, B vitamin B-12, Thiamin, calcium, iron, zinc, and other fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D and E. This leads to an almost constant hunger as the body cries out for the vitamins that it is lacking.
6. Excess liquid consumption causes low salt
Whatever liquid you drink eventually comes out, and with it comes small amounts of salt. When you drink more liquid, you lose more salt. When you drink a lot in one go you end up with low salt, which causes salt cravings, causing us to reach for the most salt dense food such as cheese, processed meat, crisps / chips, and takeaways.
7. Fitness erosion
Drinking cause your heart rate to speed up without any associated physical activity. This actually causes our fitness to actively erode (for more details of the mechanics of this see the page on the website dealing with Alcohol and Fitness).
8. Sleep disruption
Any amount of alcohol, even just one drink, disrupts our normal sleeping pattern meaning we do not get the quality sleep we need. As a consequence we are left feeling tired and lethargic the next day and less inclined, and less able, to exercise. And this is even if we manage to avoid the actual hangover.
This one’s for the men. Alcohol causes a decrease in testosterone which in turn leads to increased body fat and decreased muscle mass. To say nothing of erectile problems, hair loss, mood swings, and fatigue.