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Eat, DRINK, and be merry…and fat?

Since I graduated from university, I don’t really drink much alcohol anymore…well not like those days at least.  But over the break there was a reunion between several of the close friends I’ve kept from my undergrad Kinesiology class.  We all made a pact that it would be a mild night – it was a Tuesday, we’re all grown up now, and so on…

…and then came the shots.

Needless to say, Wednesday was a bit of a rough day.  As the mental fog started to lift and lethargy released its death-grip, I started to think about the amount of empty calories I chugged the night before.  And with the inner health-conscious nerd in me still strong, I hopped on my laptop and started researching the specific effect alcohol consumption has on our weight.

Disclaimer: if you plan on going drinking tonight, you may want to wait until tomorrow before you read this.  You’ve been warned…

As we recover from a holiday season filled with over-indulgences, it’s time to look forward to a new year ahead.  As you lace up your sneakers and look up recipes for healthy snacks, don’t neglect the role of alcohol consumption in your journey to a slimmer you.

Alcoholic beverages often fly under the radar when it comes to watching what we consume.  We’re weary of that extra piece of cake, but will not hesitate to have the server top up our chardonnay.

Alcohol falls just behind fat when it comes to caloric load.  Every gram of fat we eat provides us with 9 kilocalories (kcal; typically referred to as simply calories) of energy.  Carbs and protein, on the other hand, bring with them 4kcal/g.  And what about alcohol?  Well it snuggles itself somewhere in the middle – about 7kcal/g.  The major difference with alcohol is that it delivers no nutritional value for such a high caloric load.

Why does this matter?

The most basic way to see your weight go down (without paying specific attention to fat/muscle ratios) is to ensure that your caloric intake is less than your expenditure.  In other words, eat less than you burn through exercise and daily physical activity.

To get an idea of the significance of alcohol in your diet, you’ve got to check out the Alcohol Calorie Counter by the World Cancer Research Fund.  It not only provides you with the calorie count for a specific amount of alcohol consumption according to type of drink, it also compares it to the equivalent amount of chocolate digestive cookies as well as how many hours/minutes you’ll need to walk to burn off the calories.  For example, if I had two pints of beer  last night, that would rack up 500 kcal – equivalent to eating six chocolate digestive cookies and it would take me about 1:45 hours of walking to burn off.

Most men and women aim for around 2500kcal and 2000kcal per day, respectively, to maintain their present weight.  If you’re trying to lose weight, you can see how a few drinks can quickly make it difficult to stay on a caloric deficit.  If your drink of choice is a mixed drink, the fruit or soda can add an extra blow to your fat-loss agenda.  On top of that, excess alcohol consumption is a risk-factor for breast, bowel, liver, and mouth cancer.

Guidelines suggest consuming no more than 7 glasses per week for females and 14 glasses per week for males.  In one sitting, it is recommended that females limit alcohol to 175mL-250mL (about one drink) and males at 250-325mL (about two drinks) to minimize the negative health effects.

The purpose of this article is not to preach that you should abstain from alcohol altogether.  Just be aware that it plays a major role in your weight management.  Like all things in life, alcohol is best consumed in moderation.  Some studies demonstrate that moderate alcohol consumption has protective effects in various areas of our health.  However, I’ve more often seen the negative impact it has on physical, mental, and emotion well-being in the long-run.

Bottom line: if you want to keep the weight off your belly, pay close attention to how much alcohol makes it into your belly!