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How alcohol causes weight gain - it's not just calories

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When alcohol is metabolized, approximately 80% is absorbed through the intestines and is broken down by the liver. This breakdown can take up to 24 hours before all the alcohol is out of the system. The remaining 20% of alcohol entering the body is immediately absorbed into the blood stream through the stomach. The body treats this 20% of absorbed alcohol as a toxin, and similar to other substances recognized as toxins, the body will metabolize it before metabolizing any other digestible substances.

According to Bonnie Roill, Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, adult weight management specialist and owner of Scottsdale based Aspire 2 Wellness , “Alcoholic is not one of the 4 food groups. It is nutritionally void of any essential nutrients that contribute to our health; there is no health problem or disease state resulting from not consuming it.”

Alcohol yields about 7 calories per gram and this results in is the body treating alcohol more like fat, which yields 9 calories per gram. Although a 5 ounces serving of red wine yields about 125 calories and 2 beers approx 150 calories, a specialty drink like a Margarita can deliver up to 800 calories and a Pina Colada more than 900 calories. The caloric level in and by itself can contribute to weight gain when the calories consumed exceed the bodies needs. These additional calories are stored as fat.

Collateral damage of alcohol-based drinks include:

  • our inhibitions and willpower are reduced "making it more likely we forget about healthier eating and portion control”
  • it stimulates the appetite
  • when consuming as little as just 2 drinks, it reduces the body’s ability to burn fat by 73%
  • even if the calories consumed do not exceed the body's needs, approximately 5% of the alcohol consumed is converted to fat
  • it alters the normal digestive processes
  • it slows metabolism
  • as a toxin that is metabolized first, this will delay the metabolism of macro nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats
  • the body's processing of vitamins and minerals, essential for healthy functions, including a healthy metabolism, is also delayed
  • it can fragment your sleep - see video

Strategies to reduce the impact of the calorie load from alcohol outlined in a previous article, "Weight gain from holiday alcohol" include:


  1. “Awareness of your drinking patterns during the holiday season is the first strategy to outsmarting holiday weight gain. Don't "wing it" - make a plan for how you can avoid ANY holiday weight gain including that from alcoholic beverages. Before you leave home or invite guests over, think about your "triggers." Do you find once you open a bottle of wine you just must try it; put someone else in charge of opening the bottle if you are trying to avoid that extra taste. Is having an open bottle of wine in the fridge making it difficult for you to stay on your healthier eating plan? Do you tell yourself "I may as well finish it's” or “I can start my good eating habits tomorrow?; change your story; put a discouraging note on the bottle; plan to have it with a meal and take into account the calories or if you do not want waste it, use it in cooking ... heat burns off the alcohol."
  2. If you planning on drinking alcohol, limit yourself to 1 drink if you are watching your calories.
  3. Avoid the high calorie mixers like eggnog, margarita mix, or frozen drinks made with sugary flavored mixes.
  4. Are you tempted by the holiday alcoholic beverage displays in the local market to make a purchase avoid impulse buying. If alcohol is not on your shopping list – don’t buy it! Do not go food shopping hungry, it will increase your chances of impulse buying.
  5. “Develop a plan to become "party savvy." Know how to handle the hostess that keeps encouraging you to drink. One way to do this is to "always keep a glass in your hand with something in it." When a hostess sees a guest with an empty glass that is their trigger to say; “ready for another" or "I will get you another.” A glass with some beverage (even non alcoholic) sends the message "I'm not done yet; still enjoying my drink."
  6. Alternate an alcoholic beverage with a non alcoholic beverage like soda or water which helps hydration.
  7. If you must have that glass of white wine, consider extending it by turning it into a spritzer by adding sparkling soda and ice and if you have a mixed drink made to order ask for a half portion of alcohol.
  8. “Choose a non alcoholic beverage, but don't drown yourself in non alcoholic liquid calories. Holiday seasonal beverages - everything from Eggnog to Gingerbread Latte's are addictive due to their high sugar and often high fat content. You can dial down the calories by selecting the non-fat versions of Eggnog, order your Latte's "skinny" (i.e. with non-fat milk) plus ask for sugar-free version (this alone can save you 100 calories). Hold the endless swirls of whipped cream and ask for just a "dollup."

This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical/nutritional/fitness advice. Information presented is subject to change as additional discoveries are made or additional research is published.

For additional information: Click here to visit, Holiday Drinking; Keep it Safe, Heavy drinking at the holidays can be dangerous, Plan On Drinking Over The Holidays? Use Common Sense!




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