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