Worrying about calories, carbs, fat, and protein is bad enough. But throw alcohol in the mix and shit gets confusing real quick.
Tales of “disappearing alcohol calories” and questions as to whether drinking leads to weight gain or loss come up often.
If you do drink, and you’re trying to lose weight, can you still fit some alcohol in? What about if you normally go out and smash it at the weekend with your friends, have you undone all your hard work?
Let’s answer these questions, and give you some guidelines and recommendations on how to handle things. As with many journeys, our quest starts with a question.
Does alcohol make you fat?
Most of my readers (so far) will be pretty much on board with the fact that it’s energy balance, over the long term, that ultimately determines whether we gain weight or not. Not macros. But it seems that the crystal clear waters of truth start to muddy somewhat where the devil’s poison is concerned.
As much as alcohol does contribute to energy balance, the same as anything else, people who drink it don’t seem to be fatter because of it, even when a surplus of booze is added to maintenance calories. What gives?
Where does the booze go?
Largely digested by enzymes in the liver, ethanol can’t really be stored in the body, which ups it’s game to get rid of it as soon as you’ve drunk it. It’s not the alcohol that getting stored in fat, and the reasons for it’s amazing disappearing act haven’t really been pinned down yet. Taking a look at the image below though, you can see that alcohol consumption has risen over the years, nicely in line with the increase in obesity.
So if it’s not the booze itself causing the increased waistlines, what is it?
Ever woken up with the remnants of an unidentifiable sauce stuck to your cheek, an odd taste in your mouth, and the vague notion of asking for extra chilli? These shame and alcohol suppressed memories are a consequence of the drunchies.
The drunk munchies might not be news to you if you’re used to fighting with fish and chips after 8 pints on a Friday night, but some people haven’t put two and two together. In the world of science geekery, however, lab-coats are well aware that alcohol consumption acutely effects appetite. To spell it out, you’re more likely to eat more if you’re sloshed.
As much as I’m a fan of a Negroni, the truth is that drinking before eating results in an increased energy intake and eating rate, and a longer meal duration. We even continue eating after we’re full.You may, in fact, eat 30% more when you’ve been on the grog, and if that’s not quite enough for you, you can always find comfort in the more pissed you are, the more you’ll end up eating. The fact that alcohol enhances food reward is legit then. But what about food choice?
Sweet, savoury, sour, bitter, or salty?
Those familiar with the late night, booze induced hunger for junk, will be aware that despite your inebriated state, you’re quite capable of expending a lot of energy seeking out something savoury, salty, and fatty. Sweets? Low-fat yoghurt? I don’t think so. In another case of science pointing out to us what we already knew, the lab-coats have found the same thing.
Get someone wasted, and their tendency to overeat to the tune of 24% more from savoury high fat foods. Salt is a player too, roasted peanuts anyone? Put out a bowl of ready salted crisps, and after a few drinks, and you ain’t stopping until they’ve gone.
You now know you’re probably going to overeat, and what it’s likely to be when you’re on the sauce. This leads us to two choices.
“To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” – Homer Simpson
If alcohol doesn’t directly cause fat gain, and it’s the food we eat when we’re sloshed that does it, then the path to alcohol enlightenment becomes clearer. How much self-control do you have?
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
To stay on track with your diet while not living like a monk, you have to create a calorie buffer. You can do that in one of two ways:
- Eat a very low fat/low calorie, high protein diet on the day of drinking, as outlined in Martin’s seminal article, here.
- Lower calories during the week to account for some hedonism on one day.
The choice depends on your ability to abstain when under the influence. For Martin’s booze protocol, grabbing a kebab on the way home results in a wasted effort. For choice two, you can drink, have your cake, and actually eat it too.
Low days / high days, good times / bad times
Here’s one way to do it.
If you have, say, a diet where you want to eat 2,000 kcal, it’s important to understand that it’s not imperative to eat that amount every single day. It’s the average by the end of the week that counts. By throwing a higher day in to account for a little bit of whatever floats your boat, you can eat out, see friends, and be normal. The more calories you eat on one day, the less you eat on all the others. Don’t push this to extremes. No one is going to stick to a 800 kcal a day diet just so they can eat a 9,000 calorie mega binge one day a week, so don’t try it. Here’s what a moderate approach might look like.
Keep it simple, don’t go overboard on the high day, and don’t punish yourself the rest of the time. There are a tonne of ways to set this up. This is just one.
The hedonists guide to food choice
You’ve chosen option two, you’ve created a calorie deficit during the week to allow for some filth at the weekend, but now what? So much choice!!! Randomness will not be tolerated, you need to think this through people!
Don’t worry, I’m here to help.
Steve’s top three drunchie picks
I’ve thought about this long and hard, taking into account the booze induced preference for salty, savoury, high-fat foods, there are only three real choices.
- Fried chicken
- Turkish Kebabs
Each one hits our alcohol stimulated central neurotransmitter systems right in the feels. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right. With these evergreen choices, you’ll always get the job done.
Alcohol intake increases energy consumption, the drunk munchies are a real thing, shown time and time again in the research. But that doesn’t mean you have to abstain, you just need a plan. Life doesn’t have to be boring unless that makes you happy. As always the choice lies with you.
If you find yourself out in London one night, calorie sink created, looking for some highly palatable nibbles to round off your evening, you can find me eating fried chicken at On the Bap, kebabs at Black Axe Mangal, or New York hipster pizza at Voodoo Rays.
Hit me up if you’re in town.
Want to lose weight while still going out to eat the foods you love? Get the eat out stay lean system and never worry about eating out again.