Getting Real about Alcohol

I love to indulge in a glass of red wine when I’m dining out at a restaurant. I’m also a big fan of bone-broth cocktails. And there’s nothing I like more after a long week than settling down on Friday night with a good book and a shot of potato vodka with soda water and lime. What’s more, I know that alcohol actually has some health benefits.

In moderation, it’s good for your heart, may reduce your odds of having a stroke, and may even lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. That’s why, unlike some health authorities, I’m not going to tell you to give up your date-night glass of Chardonnay or your shot of tequila on girls’ night out. If you want to have an occasional drink, I say go for it (as long as you’re not dieting).

But…

(You knew there was a “but” coming, right?) When I say “occasional,” that’s exactly what I mean. While a small amount of alcohol may do you more good than harm, going even a little overboard can add pounds to your waistline. That’s one big reason why you should limit your alcohol intake—or you should avoid alcohol altogether if you find that one drink always leads to another. If you need a little extra motivation, here’s a look at just some of the ways in which over-indulging in alcohol (or having any at all when you’re dieting) is bad news for your belly.

It stops fat-burning.

Alcohol contains a significant number of calories, and your body will use those calories before it uses the calories from food. As a result, that glass of wine you have with dinner will temporarily put a total halt to your fat-burning. How badly does alcohol impair your fat-burning ability?

In one study, researchers gave eight men two drinks of vodka and unsweetened lemonade 30 minutes apart, and measured their fat metabolism before and after they drank the vodka. The result: During the two hours after drinking the vodka, the men’s whole-body lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat they burned) dropped by 73%. Ouch.

It inflames your body.

In small doses, alcohol actually has some anti-inflammatory properties. For instance, red wine contains inflammation-fighting resveratrol, and whisky is rich in the antioxidant ellagic acid. However, when you over-indulge, it’s a whole different story—and it’s a story with a bad ending.

Excess alcohol messes with your gut bacteria, damages your gut lining, and leads to increased gut permeability—a “leaky gut” that lets toxins escape into your system, causing chronic, body-wide inflammation. Chronic inflammation, in turn, packs pounds on you—especially on your belly.

It wrecks your liver.

Alcohol is pure poison for your liver—and when your liver can’t work well, it can’t help you metabolize food efficiently. In addition, it can’t do a good job of removing the toxins that are big culprits when it comes to belly fat. (For more on why you want to take good care of your liver, see my post here.)

It ruins your sleep.

Drinking alcohol before bedtime messes with your sleep cycle, reducing your REM sleep—the restorative sleep your brain needs after a long day. When you’re tired and groggy, you’re likely to overeat the next day.

It makes you MORE stressed.

Frequently, people turn to alcohol to relieve their stress. However, research shows that self-medicating your stress with alcohol can actually make your stress worse and prolong the time it takes you to recover from a stressful event. And that, again, leads to overeating. And last, but not least…

It makes you do dumb stuff.

Have a single drink, and you’ll still be in control of your impulses. But add another drink or two, and you won’t just do or say embarrassing stuff… you’ll also be tempted to blow your diet.

What’s the right answer for you?

If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine or shot of tequila and you’re happy to stop after one drink, have a ball. You’re in control, and alcohol can be a fun and healthy part of your lifestyle. (Just skip it if you’re doing my 10-Day Belly Slimdown or Bone Broth Diet, because we don’t want anything to interfere with your fat-burning.) However, if you’re drinking every day—or one drink nearly always turns into two, three, or even more—then alcohol is hurting your health AND putting pounds on your belly.

If that’s the case, your best strategy is to cut out alcohol entirely. (If you can’t do this on your own, get help.) There’s a good chance you’re using alcohol to reduce stress, and there are far healthier ways to do this—for instance, by exercising, meditating, or hanging out with non-drinking friends. In short, if you want to be slim and healthy, you have two good choices when it comes to drinking: control it, or quit it. Either way, you—and not alcohol—will be “calling the shots”!

Keep thinking big and living BOLD!