Summer…we are just about there! With daylight extending into evening hours, we often adopt a slower, more relaxed pace, even if our schedules are not feeling as light as we are! With that relaxed feeling and more daylight, we may be faced with many more opportunities to imbibe; neighbors beckon with a margarita, a cocktail on the deck just sounds so good, crabs with beer, ball games, BBQ’s; throw in a few holidays, pool gatherings, summer concerts/festivals, a block party and perhaps even a vacation if we are lucky, and we may find ourselves surrounded by alcohol at every turn! If you like to enjoy a cocktail/beer/glass of wine or champagne, there are some ways to do to that without sabotaging your health goals. Of course, there are many fun ways to cool down and socialize without alcohol! If alcohol isn’t your thing, skip the shop talk section and take the advice in the “Here’s What You Can Do” section, just substitute your vice (dessert/sweets, a decadent appetizer or snacks) since they all may make an appearance at the places/situations/events mentioned above. : )
First, a little shop-talk concerning alcohol:
Alcohol cannot be stored in our bodies and therefore does not need to be broken down like the macro nutrients protein, carbohydrates and fat. In fact, alcohol takes priority over other these nutrients in our system that need to be broken down before being absorbed . When we have that beer, glass of wine, cocktail, our metabolic system must stop what it’s doing and focus on ‘getting our drink out’. Simply put,the booze takes priority with regards to metabolism thereby postponing the fat-burning process.
Alcohol impedes the way our bodies process and store nutrients. Your body must burn the alcohol first before it can move on to food. It also interferes with your judgement and inhibition, not only do we eat more, we eat things we would not normally consider eating. A gem of an example can be found in this conversation, which one may or may not have overheard at a party where I had enjoyed a few drinks awhile back (please note, Frito’s were the only option left on the buffet table…):
Friend: ” I love it! Susanna is eating Frito’s!”
Susanna’s husband: “Wow. I have never seen Susanna eat Frito’s.”
Me: “I don’t even like Frito’s!” (I may or may not have screamed this while laughing and shoving/crumbling a few in my face).
What is happening here is really a quadruple-whammy:
Whammy #1: Alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients and the absorption of vitamins and minerals we need. The nutrients in your system (protein, carbohydrates & fat) take a back seat and wind up being stored as fat.
Whammy #2: Alcohol stimulates appetite and offers nothing of nutritional value. To top it off, our food portion control tends to go out the window and the next thing you know you are eating Frito’s. After time in the stomach and small intestine, food (nutrients) head to the liver. The liver prepares nutrients either for immediate use or storage for future use. Since the liver is busy eliminating the alcohol, the other nutrients are stored. How you ask? Yes, as fat. When you take in more calories than you burn (remember, your liver is busy ‘burning’ alcohol), the excess calories are stored as fat.
Whammy #3: Alcohol= concentrated calories: When calories are condensed into liquid form, it is much easier to take in more than we realize.
Whammy #4: Alcohol impacts sleep: When we consume too much alcohol we tend not to hit our REM sleep which often means we are not catching some z’s, but rather chasing them. Our sleep is disrupted and we are more likely to wake up through the night. Alcohol is a diuretic, which gives you the added bonus of getting up to use the bathroom! When we do not get enough sleep, our hormones, specifically leptin, (the hormone that lets you know you’re full) and grehlin (the hormone that stimulates hunger) are impacted. Lack of sleep drives levels of leptin down (meaning you don’t feel as satisfied after eating) while also causing the hormone grehlin to rise, (meaning your appetite is stimulated), so you want to put more in the tank. The two combined can set the stage for another unwanted side effect: overeating.
Here’s what you can do:
Celebrate without alcohol! Mark all of the events you know you will be attending on a calendar (or in an electronic calendar) like concerts, planned BBQ’s, birthdays, vacations, etc) and decide which events are worth the indulgence. You can even set a reminder on your smart phone if that is your thing. Do you really want a glass of wine at that work luncheon/event? Maybe you do, in which case maybe you take a pass during the impromptu neighborhood BBQ.
Set your limit in advance: When you do decide to celebrate (with cocktails), plan the number of drinks you will have prior to your event (i.e.-allow yourself one drink at outdoor concert, especially if you know you will likely have two cocktails with the girls later in the week).
Eat something before libating: Having a small meal that contains protein, fiber and a healthy fat is going to help us in the long run. Nothing new here, right? Having something like this in your tank slows down the metabolism of the alcohol, keeps you feeling full for a longer duration of time (perhaps slowing your alcohol intake) and gives you the nutrients you need to feel satisfied. Eating something like this along with a glass of water before bed may help fend off those hair-of-the-dog cravings the next morning, as well. Eating nothing at all in order to “make-up” for the calories in the alcohol will likely cause blood sugar levels to soar and later crash, leaving you ravenous and likely to eat what is in front of you, even if it is not the best choice (i.e.Frito’s).
Keep healthy foods on hand so you do not compromise your nutritional goals on top of the extra calories contained in your drinks! Bring a bean dip to the BBQ with some veggies or a big, green salad with nuts/avocado, protein. The recipes at TMF are great resources for what to have on hand! See Frito’s story above for example of what not to do!
Keep drinks simple: When you add more to your drinks (cream, mixers, soda, juice, tonic, etc.) you are drinking more than the 7 calories per gram of alcohol. Stick with controlled portions of beer, wine, champagne or spirits like vodka with club soda and lime. Though I do not care for the term ‘diet’ (as in “I am on a diet”) here is a good list from SparkPeople. You can also check out their site for more nutritional information on some of the more popular drinks.
Watch portions: Think you are only having two glasses of wine at @ 100 calories each? Watch this:
Drink a glass of water in-between each alcoholic beverage and drink one more before bed: Alcohol is a diuretic. Drinking too much without adding that water can leave us dehydrated. Drinking water will keep you hydrated and also increase your feeling of fullness; keeping you from that ‘extra’ drink that put you over the edge (or help prevent you from feeling like poo the next morning if you already did)! Don’t forget that hunger is often a sign of dehydration –this cycle often continues into the ‘day after’ leading to more cravings of salt/sugar/fat and possibly abandoning your nutritional goals for a greasy plate of hash browns and a coke. Break the cycle!
Sip slowly : Not only for your health goals, but for your safety. Your body can only metabolize so much alcohol per hour. This is based on many variables including your sex, weight, body type, mood, any medications present, the type of alcohol you consume, the rate at which you are drinking and how much you have eaten beforehand. This is especially important for those who can legally drink alcohol but may not be familiar with their limits. Nobody wants a special night to end in tragedy. Most importantly, if you choose alcohol as part of your celebration enjoy yourself but please drink responsibly; have a designated driver or take a cab to your final destination. Enjoy your celebrations fully and have a fun and safe summer!
Are there strategies that help you manage your alcohol intake this time of year? We would love for you to share!