Martini’s at happy hour with friends can be fun, but if you’re on a weight loss diet they can really shake up your efforts. Many of us think that if we stick to hard liquor as opposed to high calorie sugary drinks like daiquiris and margarita, we are safe from putting on pounds, but alcohol itself is a culprit in weight gain. Alcohol has seven calories per gram and all seven are completely empty of any nutritional value. Alcohol does not require digestion, so it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and this is where the domino effect begins.
The body takes in this absorbed alcohol in the form of acetate, which it burns for fuel very quickly while ignoring your carbohydrates and fats and storing them directly as fat. Not only does alcohol provide a distraction to your normal fat burning, but it is a narcotic and therefore you are likely to build a tolerance to it and end up drinking larger amounts. Studies show that alcohol is absorbed in women more quickly than in men because we have less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase in our systems and even less tolerance during our menstrual cycles.
In the liver, alcohol is metabolized before proteins or fats. The liver’s inability to metabolize the fat results in high levels of lipid in the blood. The liver cannot make glucose from stored glycogen and therefore leading to low blood sugar levels. This interruption of the body’s natural defenses can really sabotage your weight loss efforts.
In the digestive tract, alcohol acts as an irritant. Not only can it make conditions like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) worse, it actually damages the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Drinking has been proved to decrease the levels of folic acid, b12 and thiamine in the body which eventually leads to malnutrition in alcoholics. Lactose is another sugar that is not absorbed properly while alcohol is present which leads to lactose intolerance.
Studies show that when alcoholics are recovering, nutritional therapy is part of their progress and can reverse the effects of the damages. I tell my clients to curb their drinking drastically for optimal results in weight loss, but with the rising rate of binge drinking in woman; it seems to be a harder task than I thought.
In the meantime I will offer some tips for the times you do go overboard and ruin your weight loss efforts:
1. Try to avoid high fat and sugar foods when planning to drink.
2. Do not drink on an empty stomach – have some food before hand to ensure slower absorption.
3. Load up on dark leafy greens and enriched cereals to replenish Folate levels.
4. Eat lean meats or pork to get your b-vitamins.
Remember, alcohol has its time and place in moderation. Even though it seems trendy to drink too much nowadays with celebrities in rehab and dancing on tables, it really isn’t becoming to you. Don’t forget that alcohol depresses you, ages you and makes you look and feel like crap. It may sound like a cheap shot but if I have to appeal to your vanity, I won’t hold back.
Fiorella DiCarlo RD, RDN, CDN