Alcohol: The Enemy of Fat Loss

(There’s a Reason it’s called a Beer Belly)

updating imageIt’s common knowledge that drinking a lot of alcohol will make you fat, unless you have a naturally fast metabolism or have an otherwise great nutritional program and burn a lot of calories through exercise. However, chances are you may not know why alcohol causes you to store so much fat or how many ways alcohol can sabotage your ability to lose fat. Alcoholic beverages can have a lot of calories, but the number of calories is only one of the issues.

The number of calories in alcoholic drinks is still worth noting as the calories alone cause problems for many people. For example, margaritas are a very popular drink, but a lot of time people don’t realize or think about the fact that each one can have around 500 calories. It is not uncommon for people to have 2 or more of these drinks during a meal, which means they are consuming at least 1000 calories, and that is before counting the calories from the actual food. From a caloric standpoint, an evening with dinner and drinks can have more calories than you should consume in the entire day.

Naturally, if you are consuming 1000 or more calories during one meal you are going to gain some fat, because your body simply does not have any use for that many calories at one time. Generally speaking, any calories that cannot be used (for energy and other physiological functions) will just be converted into fat, so consuming large numbers of calories in a short amount of time is a guaranteed recipe for fat gain.

While the occasional night of dinner and drinking will cause some fat gain, even more serious problems occur when people drink alcohol consistently, especially when they have multiple drinks every day. Drinking frequent large amounts of alcohol can result in problems regulating your blood sugar level. This means you can have issues with your insulin level or develop related diseases, such as hypoglycemia and diabetes.

These problems are not only bad for your overall health, but when you have insulin or blood sugar issues, your body can store fat even faster than before. In addition, insulin related problems make it even more difficult to lose the fat you already have. This is because insulin is a fat storing hormone and if you body releases too much insulin, you will store more of your consumed calories as fat. Fortunately these problems are typically only seen with excessive alcohol consumption, but it does point out another link between drinking alcohol and gaining fat.

There is also another issue that affects everyone who drinks alcohol, especially when having alcohol with significant amounts of food. I already mentioned the problem with consuming large numbers of calories at one time, but alcohol some special properties that causes even greater amounts of fat gain relative to the number of calories you consume during your meal.

One unique property of alcohol is that is considered a carbohydrate, but it has 7 calories per gram instead of the 4 calories per gram found in other carbohydrates. As discussed in my post on caloric density (click here to view post), eating foods that have a high number of calories per weight, typically results in weight gain. Since alcohol has more calories per weight than other carbs and is in liquid form, you can consume a lot of calories without realizing it.

Personally, I think it is interesting that alcohol has more calories per gram than other carbohydrates, but it is not the quality that really makes alcohol so problematic for fat loss/gain. Of greater importance is the fact that alcohol is a toxin, so it ends up being processed differently than other calories. From a physiological standpoint, alcohol is considered to be fat, protein, and carbohydrate sparing. This may not sound too bad, but it means that your body will burn the calories from alcohol before any other calories.

Since alcohol is a toxin, your body’s first priority is to get it out of your system as fast as possible, but it takes time to process alcohol and the more you drink, the longer it takes. Normally, when you eat or drink calories, you body takes and uses what it needs from what you ate. For example, carbs can be used for energy, protein for rebuilding tissue, healthy fats for cell membrane function, and much more. However, once you drink a significant amount of alcohol, this whole process changes.

Instead of using the recently consumed calories for normal physiological functions, you body basically pushes everything to the side to it can concentrate on getting the alcohol out of your system. In other words, instead of using (burning) some of your recently consumed calories, your body will basically just turn everything into fat until after the alcohol is dealt with. The result is that a higher percentage of calories will be stored as fat while drinking alcohol than under normal circumstances.

Of course, this is exactly what you want to avoid if you are trying to lose fat and it is why I call alcohol the enemy of fat loss. If you do want to drink alcohol, I suggest drinking on an empty stomach. This should make you feel the effects sooner and hopefully cause you to stop drinking sooner as a result. By drinking less you will consume fewer calories and clear your system of alcohol in less time. Also, drinking without food means you will avoid a lot of calories from food being converted into fat. However, if you are really concerned about fat loss, the best thing to do is avoid alcohol altogether.

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About Ross Harrison 14 Articles

Hi, my name is Ross Harrison and I am a personal trainer in Austin, TX. I have been a certified personal trainer (NSCA) since 1996 and I am also a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), nutritional consultant, and I have completed numerous other courses and certifications over the years. I also have a degree in psychology from Grinnell College. Over the course of my career I have been an independent personal trainer working with  clients in their homes or various other locations, as well as a trainer at a large gym. I also have experience working in a privately owned health food store  and a large chain supplement store.

After almost a decade in the health and fitness industry, I became frustrated and discouraged by the way many personal trainers and gyms were so focused on making money, even at the expense of their client’s success. As a result, I decided the only way for me to feel good about being a personal trainer would be to start my own business. That way I could create my own policies and make sure I stayed true to what I believe a personal trainer should  be. Then in 2005, I did just that when I started my personal training business called Precision Health & Fitness.

I chose to name my business Precision Health & Fitness, because it accurately reflects the approach I take as a personal trainer. I believe personal training should be completely focused on the client and since every person is different, every program should be precisely designed to reflect that individual’s specific goals, needs, abilities, and lifestyle. I know many
personal trainers say this, but more and more trainers are just repeating the same programs with numerous clients or using tools, such as computer programs,  to self-generate “custom” workouts or nutritional programs for their clients. In my mind these are examples of mass-produced training programs, not personal training.

I also feel that many conventional personal training practices, such as making clients sign contracts, not allowing refunds for purchased sessions, and even paying by the hour, ultimately take the focus off the client’s needs. Therefore, I made the conscious decision to stay away from any policy or practice that I felt detracted from focusing on my clients, even though other people have told me I am limiting my income or discounting the value of my services too much.

For example, my clients pay session prices instead of an hourly rate. This may not sound like a big difference, but it means I can spend more time with my clients when they need it. Many of the people I work with are just starting to exercise or have never been taught proper exercise technique. By having a set time limit on my sessions, I can take the extra time to ensure my clients learning to perform exercises correctly. This not only ensures their safety, but also leads to more effective workouts and better long-term results. Of course, if a client has a set schedule or a limited amount of time, then I will make sure the workouts I create fit those time constraints.

Another benefit of not having timed sessions is it gives clients the opportunity to talk or ask questions about health and fitness or their workout routine. I have never been a big fan of trainers who take the “do it because I said so” approach to health and fitness. I encourage clients to ask questions and I believe that becoming more educated about exercise and nutrition and
learning how your actions affect your results is an important component of health and fitness programs. By making a link between your actions and your results, it will help motivate you to stick to your  program.

This is just one example of how I my business is focused my clients, but there are also other ways Precision Health & Fitness stands out from other trainers and gyms. For instance, I do not have clients sign contracts and they are free to discontinue their training program at any time. I even let my clients determine their own payment plan, which they can change at any time.
Some clients pay for a number of sessions in advance, some pay after each session, and some pay after they have completed a number of sessions. It is all about trying to make things as easy and convenient for my clients as  possible.

That is not to say the workouts themselves are easy, because every workout is designed to be challenging, so it will create a stimulus for improvement. At the same time, I never design workouts that are designed to make  people stiff and sore for a week or have trouble walking up stairs. I know some  people like those workouts because they think the harder they work, the better  their results will be, but that is only true up to a point. It is definitely  possible to exercise too hard or too much and excessively challenging workouts  are almost always counterproductive over the long-run.

When you really think about it, shouldn’t long-term health and fitness improvements be the goal of a personal training program? I believe that it certainly is, although I know there are people who would disagree with me. However, for the people who just want to push themselves as hard as possible regardless of the long-term consequences, there is not shortage of personal trainers who are willing to do just that. My background and personal experiences  have made me believe that long-term health and success should never be sacrificed for short-term gain and that is the philosophy I apply to my personal  training programs.

Speaking of my background and personal experiences, exercise and nutrition have both been very important parts of my life since I was young. When  I was seven, I developed a serious hip infection that destroyed the femur head  (ball that connects to the hip) in my right leg and left me with a fused right  hip. At the time I was told there was almost no chance that I would ever
walk again, but by working hard and keeping up with my exercises, I was able to regain the ability to walk and eventually allowed to play most sports and participate in almost any other activity I wanted.

However, even with continued exercise, I still experienced hip pain that increased over the years. Then when I was 30 I was finally old enough to get a total hip replacement, which resulted in an almost complete reduction in my pain, but I was also left with a new set of restrictions. Since hip replacements  wear out over time, it means the more stress I put on my hip by doing things  like playing sports or running, the sooner I will need a new hip replacement.  Needless to say, my activities have drastically changed since my hip replacement  and I no longer play sports, but I still exercise regularly to remain healthy  and stay in shape.

As for nutrition, it has played an equally important role in my life. When I was younger, I had very unhealthy eating habits, was overweight (or husky  as my clothes were called), constantly felt run down, and got sick frequently.  By the time I was 18 I was trying to eat healthier, but I had already caused my  body and immune system enough distress to be hospitalized for
pneumonia and I  developed a bad case of ulcerative colitis, which is an incurable intestinal  condition where treatment involves just trying to keep it in remission. Simply  put, I had a lot of health issues for a teenager.

Fortunately for me, I became more educated about nutrition and I made eating healthier a priority in my life. My improvements were not immediate, but over time my energy level increased and my immune system improved to the point where I rarely ever get sick anymore. Also I have been able to keep my ulcerative issues to a minimum just by eating healthy (it is generally kept in remission through medication) and by working on managing my stress level. Due to  my improved nutritional habits, I can easily say that I am far healthier and feel much better in my mid 30’s than I ever did as a teenager.

The reason I included all this information is because it explains what motivates me as a trainer and why I care so much about health and fitness. My personal history has also shaped my training philosophy and it is the reason why I always focus on the long-term outcome of a training program, instead just thinking about short-term improvement. It is also why I try to get people to shift their priority from what they can do to look better and think more about what they can do to make their body feel better throughout their lifetime.

If you eat healthy, exercise properly, and do other things that make your body feel better, you will be doing the same things you need to make your body look better. On the other hand, if your sole focus is on making your body look better, it does guarantee that your training program will make your body feel better years down the road. Workout programs that cause you to perform
exercises incorrectly, use poor posture, or develop muscle imbalances can still result in you looking better, but they can also lead to premature muscle and joint aches and pains years later.

It is completely natural to be focus on the present and the immediate future, but people frequently do not think enough about how they want their body  to feel in 20 or 30 years down the road, at least not until they start developing some health related problems. Personal training success is often measured my how much weight is lost or how much muscle is gained, but I believe that is not the best way to think about success. Even if you lose fat, if you are frequently sore or in pain, I would not consider that to be successful, except maybe if you are a competitive athlete or someone who is required to push  your body to the limit.

Personal training and health and fitness in general, should be about creating a better overall quality of life and not only about looking better. Of course, looking better is almost always a primary goal, but it should not the only focus of a program. I know from first hand experience how much of a positive impact a well-designed exercise and nutrition program can have on virtually every aspect of your life. All too often, people accept aches and pains as normal consequences of aging, but in most cases you can make a significant improvement in how you feel.

I want to leave you with a final thought, regardless of your current situation, you are capable of improvement and you probably capable of achieving much more than you might think. I wish you success in all your health and  fitness endeavors and please contact me at ross@precisionhealth-fitness.com  or (512) 537-3377 if you have any comments or questions.

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