So What About Alcohol?

This may come as a surprise to those who knew me in college, but I rarely drink alcohol. And I mean very rarely. Special celebrations (like holidays or weddings) will call for one or two drinks, or maybe I will have a drink if we are having friends over and Cam begs me enough. 

Now this didn't really happen intentionally, but there were a few key moments I can recall that slowly lead up to it. For starters, when I first moved to Indiana I signed up for an Advocare 24 Day Challenge. Yes, I fell into the "get skinny quick" appeal for probably the 20th time in my life (like I always say - I share my mistakes so you don't have to repeat them!) Anyway, I was meeting with my distributor going over the products and I saw the "no alcohol" part. I asked if that was really necessary. He responded (laughing), "If you can't go 24 days without alcohol, you've got bigger problems". I chuckled and agreed, but in my head I was thinking about what had happened a month prior...

A month prior I went to the clinic on campus to get a physical, and found out from the doctor that I had gained 23 pounds throughout my 4 years in college. I gained about 5-7 pounds each year... which, year to year didn't seem TOO bad, but from freshman to senior year was pretty significant. I was super bummed out. I met up with two of my good friends later that day and shared my discouraging news. We had a month left of the semester and decided then and there that we were all giving up alcohol for the remainder of the semester. Four hours later, we were sitting on the lawn at my friend's house enjoying the sunshine and suddenly, we realized we were all drinking cocktails. Well shit. Oops.

So... yeah, giving up alcohol for 24 days seemed like a real challenge. But I did it and with relative ease, seeing as I was busy with work and just being off a college campus helped tremendously (read: I also hadn't made very many friends in Indiana yet lol). Once I gave up drinking for a bit I noticed a couple things. For one, my tolerance when I did decide to drink was basically nonexistent. All it took was a beer or two, or one glass of wine before I had a serious buzz going (ask my family about last Christmas when my mom made an innocent joke about my haircut and I was so buzzed off two beers I BURST into tears and completely ruined the card game. Sorry fam. Happy holidays!). Secondly, I started developing these terrible headaches WHILE drinking. It really sucks. A couple weekends ago I asked to go out for a night on the town for my 26th birthday. After one drink my headache was so bad we had to go home. AND MY OUTFIT WAS SO ON POINT TOO, YOU GUYS. Lastly, I had terrible hangovers. Now, I had always gotten terrible hangovers... But in college they were a little more understandable. "Hey, I drank like 12 whiskey sours last night, I totally deserve this hangover". That made sense to me, but getting a one to two day hangover after drinking 2 glasses of wine just wasn't worth it. So these things, paired with the fact that drinking just wasn't conducive with my fitness goals, made me realize it just wasn't important to me.

Hopefully you haven't abandoned this post because you thought to yourself "she's trying to convince me to give up drinking, forget it!" That's not my goal at all. Actually I have had several women who reach out for some guidance and ask if they need to give up drinking while following a program I create for them. My answer is always this: This isn't a quick fix. The goal is always to teach healthy habits that you can maintain for life. So if having a beer after a long week is something that relaxes you, or having a monthly wine night with your girls is one of your biggest social events, it doesn't make sense to expect you to give it up. It's just not realistic. If you still binge drink like you're in college every thirsty Thursday through Sunday Funday, you might have some changes to make if you're serious about your goals. The intention of this post is purely to share some facts about alcohol and how our bodies process it, so you can make a more informed decision about what kind of role, if any, it will play in your diet.

So first of all, alcohol is really the misfit of nutrition - it kind of makes you scratch your head and go "huh"? If you look up the nutrition facts for any alcohol you drink, it's really hard to find information. A lot don't even list macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, or fats); they usually only have calories listed. Well technically alcohol is a carbohydrate, but I don't think I need to tell you it's not the nutrient dense complex carbohydrate we should strive to include in our diets. In other words, it's basically simple sugars. However, unlike other carbohydrates, which have 4 calories per gram, alcohol has 7 calories per gram (making it more like a fat at 9 calories per gram).

One silver lining regarding alcohol is that it has a thermic effect (caloric cost of digestion and processing different macronutrients in your diet) similar to protein, with up to 30% of its calories burned in digestion. HOWEVER - the downside to that is that your body will always process alcohol calories before any other type, meaning your body will not be burning or using any fat for energy while there's alcohol in your system. We don't want that. Furthermore, unlike protein, alcohol is known to increase your appetite, making your food consumption at any given meal larger (all those slices of late night mac n cheese pizza with ranch dipping sauce while I was in college at Eau Claire suddenly make sense). In addition, if you're anything like me, you might be so hungover the following day that you need some Mickey D's breakfast or a big greasy burger to start the recovery process; so your decisions from the day prior continue to haunt you (that part isn't proven science, just my personal experience lol). 

I'm not going to lecture you on all the other health risks of binge drinking - you obviously know that binge drinking is not healthy. So what if after reading this you decide to keep drinking occasionally? Red wine is typically recommended as it has fewer calories and carbohydrates, as well as some helpful micronutrients. Just keep in mind that according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended amount of alcohol is 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. And - I know what you're thinking because I thought it too - you can't save all of your drinks for Friday or Saturday night. Sorry guys! Remember - everything in moderation!