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Give up alcohol for a short period of time in order to get long-term results.

One of the toughest tasks that I have as a health coach is ‘convincing’ clients on how alcohol can affect their weight loss and wellness goals. There are some conflicting opinions on this subject, and I would like to address this from my point of view. I have seen this scenario over and over again. Clients tend to comply with all of their food choices but then choose to drink ‘just one’ alcoholic beverage and then they cannot understand why the scale has not budged? It’s all in the metabolism of alcohol. Let`s understand this part first.

So, what is alcohol metabolism?

Metabolism is the term that describes how something is broken down in the body.  Alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream through the stomach and the intestines where it is then absorbed very quickly, within minutes.  This is easy to understand if you have ever had a drink on an empty stomach. Alcohol next goes to the liver where it is broken down. The end products are fatty acids (fats) that can be used for fuel, or stored in the body for latter use.

The metabolism of alcohol results in many metabolic disturbances.  Alcohol gets preferential treatment because the body sees it as a toxic substance, which must be dismantled before anything else can happen.  In summary, the liver becomes busy breaking down the alcohol, resulting in other important bodily processes being put on hold.

Once the body sees these toxins, the body is NOT able to burn stored fat for 2-3 days. Are you willing to give up that many days of fat burning for just ‘one drink’?

Additionally, the metabolism of alcohol results in an overproduction of triglycerides (blood fats) which circulate in the blood.  High triglycerides can contribute to heart disease, and extremely high triglycerides can cause pancreatitis (inflammation and injury to the pancreas).  If you have a history of high triglycerides, you should avoid alcohol completely.

In other words, your body makes fat when alcohol is consumed, so how could your body burn fat at the same time? It can’t!

The other concern is for the liver.

Heavy drinking can cause fat to accumulate in the liver.  In time, the liver cells die and are replaced with scar tissues.  This is known as fibrosis, which can lead to a serious, life threatening liver disease called cirrhosis.

Then, there is the effect that alcohol has on blood sugars. The liver has many functions, one of which is to help regulate blood sugar.  If the blood sugar levels fall too low, it is the liver’s job to release sugar and raise the blood sugar levels to a safe place. The liver can either release sugar that it had previously stored or it can make new glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis.

We know alcohol is metabolized in the liver. The most important thing to know:  When the liver is breaking down alcohol, it can’t make new glucose in response to low blood sugar levels (It takes about 1-1 ½ hours to metabolize one drink).  If you are diabetic and on insulin or medication that can cause low blood sugar, alcohol poses a special risk for you.  If you get low blood sugar from medication and your liver can’t adequately raise your blood sugar levels because you ingested alcohol, your blood sugar can end up going lower and lower.  After a drink or two, you may not feel the symptoms of low blood sugar but, if your blood sugar levels drops severely, you may be stumbling instead of walking.  Everyone may think that you have had too much to drink and not realize that you need help.  This is very dangerous. This is called alcohol-induced hypoglycemia. People can pass out from this situation.  The issue here is that if you are dieting and not eating very many carbohydrates on purpose, but you drink alcohol, your body could react adversely to protect you.

I understand there are certain situations that someone might like to indulge in a drink or two either for fun, for socialization or for entertainment purposes but, is it worth it when you have a weight loss goal in mind? For me, the answer is simple: Give up alcohol for a short period of time in order to get long-term results. Then, you  can drink in moderation while maintaining your weight.


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