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Alcohol and Weight Loss Do Mix

You’re a regular guy, and that means you probably enjoy a beer or a glass of wine.

You’d also like to lose some of the fluff around your belly, but you can't stand the idea of going teetotal.

After all, many folks have conditioned us to believe alcohol has some kind of magical ability to make us fat.

But we've got some great news for you.

Those folks are wrong.

Think of it this way: if alcohol is the culprit, why aren't Japanese people fat?

They pound Sapporo Classic beer by the case and buy 40-proof shochu by the gallon.

Despite all that, the obesity rate here in Japan is only around 3 %, while in the US it's over 30 %.

So it's just plain wrong to assume that drinking alcohol equals automatic fat gain.

In fact, here's something pretty incredible - alcohol and weight loss can go together just fine.

Here's why.

Alcohol Doesn’t Make You Fat

Now alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of heart attack, metabolic syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.

All good things.

But it's also associated with folks doing insane things on Friday night, and a whole bunch of other nasty stuff.

Which means there’s nothing inherently good or evil about alcohol - that really comes down to how we use it.

Just like a baseball bat or a kitchen knife.

So this means our old friends moderation and self-restraint are going to come into play here.

OK, first let’s slam-dunk the myth that alcohol has some kind of magical ability to make us fat.

Only one thing makes us fat: a long-term trend of storing more body fat than we burn.

And it really doesn’t make much difference if that's because we had a couple of beers or ate the last bowl of Okinawa taco rice.

Beer caps

To our bodies an excess of energy is an excess of energy.

And excess energy ends up getting stored as body fat.

Now that doesn't mean our bodies treat alcohol the same way as regular foods.

It actually gets fast tracked through the digestive system and is given priority above fat, carbs and protein.

Think of it as Paris Hilton strutting to the front of the line with a pout and a VIP pass.

So why does alcohol get special treatment?

Well, it can’t be stored by the body, so it’s immediately jumped on and metabolized ahead of everything else.

Kind of like a parallel universe where Paris gets Tasered by security, dragged straight through the building and tossed out the back door.

The upshot is calories from alcohol go towards fueling the body’s energy demands so long as alcohol remains in your system.

And while alcohol is being burned for energy, the body puts the brakes on fat burning.

As the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition put it:

"...alcohol has a fat-sparing effect similar to that of carbohydrate and will only cause fat gain when consumed in excess of normal energy needs."

The take-home point is while you have alcohol in your system, you temporarily become a fat-storing machine.

But that’s really OK.

You can still be a fat-burning machine for a large part of the day, which means you can still come out ahead!

Check out this graphic from The One Way to Lose Body Fat.

Fat balance

So let's not get too fixated on what happens over a short timescale like a few hours around a mealtime or after having a drink.

It's the net result of what happens over days and weeks that holds the key to fat loss.

The bottom line is that when you eat in a caloric deficit, you burn more fat than you store.

And that's true whether you consume alcohol or not.

But don't just take my word for it.

Alcohol and Weight Loss - Evidence

OK, a theory is one thing, but is there actually any evidence that we can enjoy a few drinks and still lose weight?

Well, some quick Google-fu digs up a 2004 study where two groups of people were put on an energy-restricted diet of 1500 Calories/day.

Now that’s a really aggressive diet - you’d probably end up consuming more than that on our 6-week rapid fat-loss program.

Anyhow, one group had 10 % of their calories from wine, and the other group 10 % of their calories from grape juice.

So how did they get on?

Both groups lost weight and had improved markers of health such as reduced waist circumference, blood pressure and cholesterol.

And get this - on average the wine group actually lost a couple more pounds than the juice group!

So the science agrees: alcohol and weight loss do mix.

Ultimately, here’s what it boils down to.

1-2 drinks per day can be part of a healthy lifestyle that allows us to lose weight

Now, most folks seem to have their own idea of what “a drink” means.

For some it’s a can of beer, for others a whole bottle of wine.

So, to keep things clear, this is what we mean by "a drink".


And keep in mind that you need to be maintaining a caloric deficit if you want to lose weight.

So keep protein intake high and only consume alcohol along with a meal.

Drinking on an empty stomach tends to do weird things to appetite, and you can easily end up consuming way more than you think.

The same is true if you have the occasional big night out.

The caloric excess tends to come not so much from the beer and shots as the 14” cheese and bacon pizza that you wolfed down afterwards.

Calories don't magically disappear just because you can't remember consuming them.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

Anyone who has lost some serious weight will tell you that the best diet is the one you can stick to.

And if consuming alcohol in moderation allows you to do that, there's absolutely no need to go teetotal.

So, go ahead and prove the doubters wrong – alcohol and weight loss can go together just fine.

- Tim

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Images: Bigstock, [cipher] - 不比等 - shochu (distilled spirit)

Reference: Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59:619-5

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