Today is my 5 year soberversary. I was going to do a post about all the benefits I’ve seen over the last 5 years, but as I was planning it in my mind one benefit in particular seemed to warrant an entire post in itself; the often controversial topic of quitting drinking and weightloss.
Why is it controversial? Well, particularly this time of year (with comments from people who did Dry January still echoing through social media), there is a significant body of people who quit drinking and don’t lose any weight. Time and again I’ve seen posts saying things like ‘Day 2 and I’ve still not shifted that 120 lbs’, I exaggerate of course but you get the idea.
Let’s put this issue of drinking and weightloss to bed once and for all.
We all know the statistics, roughly 200 calories in pint of beer (the same as a slice of pizza) and 600 in a bottle of wine. Bearing in mind most people need around 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day, you can see how those extra calories from drinking soon build up. So cut out alcohol, and you immediately start shedding the pounds right? WRONG!
Firstly, lets get the basics in place. You lose weight by burning up more calories then you consume. It really is that simple. All these fad diets and fitness routines can’t get around that simple concept. If you burn off more calories than you consume then you lose weight, if you consume more calories then you burn off then you gain weight.
So if you need 2,500 calories a day, and you are consuming 3,000 calories of food and 1,000 in alcoholic drinks, and you cut out the alcoholic drinks, you won’t lose weight. Even without the 1,000 calories of alcohol you are still consuming 500 more calories than you’re burning up.
But the fact is that the vast majority of people who quit drinking don’t consume the same amount of calories in food that they consumed when they were drinking, they consume more. They treat themselves, to cake, chocolate, fast food, etc. That is absolutely fine, you deserve to cut yourself some slack now you’ve quit drinking, but the fact is that you probably aren’t going to lose weight.
Lots of people when they quite drinking try to incorporate some kind of fitness routine (particularly if one of their motivators for quitting is to lose weight, and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to lose a bit of weight?). That is a fantastic thing to do, one of the things about quitting drinking is that we tend to use alcohol as a method of stress relief. Quitting drinking isn’t just about cutting out the drink, it is about finding another way to alleviate stress. Exercise is a fantastic stress reliever. People who do exercise more when they quit are even more annoyed if they don’t lose weight. But remember, you only lose weight by burning off more calories than you consume. Even if you are doing so much exercise you are brining off 10,000 calories a day, you still won’t lose weight if you are eating 11,000 calories a day. And remember, you body triggers that feeling of hunger when you are getting low on calories, so even if you are exercising at a very high level, all that will happen is that you’ll be hungry all the time so you will end up eating a huge amount more.
So why do you hear so much about people quitting drinking then shedding pounds? This does happen but it takes TIME. Let me tell you my experience, which tallies very closely to what a lot of other people have experienced, and also ties in with what we know about vitamins and alcohol.
I’ve always exercised and tried to eat fairly healthily. I’m not obsessive about it, but I’ve always made some small effort towards it. Let’s say I put 5 out of ten effort into healthy eating. If I really want a pizza or kebab or burger or cake I’ll have it, but if I don’t really want it I won’t.
When I quit drinking I found that at around the three month stage my hunger, and what I wanted to eat, started to change. My children were very young at the time and I remember making that horrible paste you give to babies when they start weaning, mashed up lentils and vegetables and fruit and all that sort of muck. I remember tasting some mashed up lentils and to my complete surprise it tasted nice! I couldn’t believe it. Around the same time I tried eating some steamed broccoli, the thought of which had always filled me with disgust, and it tasted great! It has a really nice kind of nutty, crisp flavour. I actually started enjoying fruit and vegetables in a way I hadn’t for years.
Suddenly that 5 out of ten effort I was putting into healthy eating was taking me ten times further than it ever had in the past. I used to have fast food probably 3 or 4 times a week. Now I hardly ever have it, I just do not fancy it. I have it if we’re out and about but these days I would just as happily eat something healthy, I genuinely chose the healthy option, not because I feel I ought to, but because that is what I genuinely want.
I have less body fat on me now aged 42 than I did in my 20’s and was in the Parachute Regiment, but the level of effort I put in to healthy eating has not increased. In fact I actually put in less effort in now than I ever have. I’m no longer thinking ‘I want fast food, but I don’t want it that badly, so I won’t eat it’. Now I just don’t want it. I eat exactly what I want now, but now what I want is generally far healthier consequently has far fewer calories in it.
As I cover in Alcohol Explained, alcohol prevents you from absorbing certain key nutrients and vitamins. Regular drinking consequently causes you to be low in those nutrients. Your body triggers feelings of hunger not only when you are low on calories, but also when you are low on key nutrients and vitamins. So drinkers have a constant hunger, and even if they eat till they are full they are still low in these certain key nutrients, so can end up full and hungry at the same time.
The generally accepted wisdom is that when you are deficient in vitamins, you need to take them for around three months before your levels get back to normal. This means for the first three months after you stop you are still going to have this additional hunger of the drinker. You also need to bear in mind that alcohol itself is an appetite stimulant, and it ruins sleep, and when you are tired your body needs extra food to make up for lack of energy caused by the poor quality sleep. The most concentrated form of extra energy comes from high fat, high sugar, calorie dense foods, so this is what we crave; pizza, burgers, cake, chocolate, etc. All of these things take time to be rectified.
Your life gets better as soon as you stop dinking, and the benefits are numerous. Some of these benefits accrue immediately (like saving money and remembering what you did last night). Others (like sleeping properly) take a few days, even weeks. Others (like weightloss) take a few months. I promise you that drinking does lead to weightloss, but it is not one of the quick fixes. It takes time.