Drinking Dilemma

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Alcohol is deeply entrenched in our culture as a way to have fun, relax, and be social, especially during the Festive Season and December holidays, but here’s how it affects your health and your waistline. – BY CHRISTINE PETERS, REGISTERES DIETICIAN

Most of us enjoy a drink, but the truth is that alcohol, when not consumed in moderation, has negative effects on weight-loss. An occasional drink can have a place in a healthy lifestyle – many experts even believe that consuming a single drink per day can be beneficial – but if you are exceeding one drink daily, you might be sabotaging your weight-loss plans. That’s because alcohol is metabolised differently than other foods and beverages.

First Priority
Under normal conditions, your body gets its energy from the calories in carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which are slowly digested and absorbed within the gastrointestinal system. However, this digestive process changes when alcohol is present. When you drink alcohol, it gets immediate attention, because it is viewed by the body as a toxin, and needs no digestion. On an empty stomach, the alcohol molecules diffuse through the stomach wall quickly and can reach the brain and liver in minutes.

This process is slower when you have food in your stomach, but as soon as that food enters the small intestine, the alcohol grabs first priority and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. As the alcohol reaches the liver for processing, the liver places all of its attention on the alcohol. If you drink very slowly, all the alcohol is collected by the liver and processed immediately, avoiding all other body systems. However, if you drink quickly, the liver cannot keep up with the processing needs and the alcohol continues to circulate in the body until the liver is available to process it. That's why drinking large amounts of alcohol, or drinking alcohol quickly, affects the brain centres involved with speech, vision, reasoning and judgment.

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But wait, there’s more…
Alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning that it causes water-loss and dehydration. Along with this water-loss, you lose important minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc. These minerals are vital to the maintenance of fluid balance, chemical reactions, and muscle contraction and relaxation.

Added to that, when the body is focused on processing alcohol, it is not able to properly break down foods containing carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, these calories are converted into body fat. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram and offers no nutritional value. It only adds empty calories to your diet. So why not spend your calorie budget on something healthier? Also, skipping a meal to save your calories for drinks later is a bad idea. If you come to the bar hungry, you are even more likely to munch on unhealthy snacks, and drinking on an empty stomach enhances the negative effects of alcohol. If you're planning on drinking later, eat a healthy meal first. You'll feel fuller, which will stop you from over-drinking.

Alcohol affects your body in other negative ways:
1 Drinking may help induce sleep, but the sleep you get isn't very deep. As a result, you get less rest, which can trigger you to eat more calories the next day.
2 Alcohol can also increase the amount of acid that your stomach produces, causing your stomach lining to become inflamed.
3 Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to serious health problems, including stomach ulcers, liver disease and heart trouble.
4 Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, which is detrimental to your diet plans. Research shows that if you drink before or during a meal, both your inhibitions and willpower are reduced. In this state, you are more likely to overeat, especially greasy or fried foods, which can add to your waistline.
5 Alcohol actually stimulates your appetite.
6 Many foods that accompany drinking, like peanuts, pretzels and chips, are salty, which can make you thirsty, encouraging you to drink even more. To avoid over-drinking, sip on a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage.

Moderation is key
In any weight-loss plan, there are three main components that should be priority: Diet, exercise and sleep. As stated, a moderate amount of alcohol can increase total calories, decrease your motivation for exercise and healthy eating, and negatively affect your sleep. Despite this, many people can enjoy a drink or two without throwing those three components completely out of whack.

On the other hand, drinking heavily can significantly derail energy levels, has a larger influence on dehydration, negatively impacts hormonal levels, and can significantly disrupt your sleep. Therefore, limit your overall levels of alcohol and put yourself in the best position to reap some of the benefits of alcohol consumption, while not derailing your overall progress. As with all things in life moderation is the key.

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