Alcohol. This is probably the most hot-button, hardline item there is when it comes to changing your diet. It’s the thing people seem to be the least willing to give up, but going dry for a stretch may be one of the most impactful things you can do for your health. 

“But I don’t even drink that much.” Is usually the response I get when I bring up the idea of cutting out alcohol for a bit. “Just a glass of wine with dinner” is the second part of that conversation.  Here’s the thing, though: If you’re just drinking a glass of wine with dinner….you’re still drinking alcohol every day. We’ve somehow decided that if we’re not getting hammered, that we’re not ‘drinking’. 

You may be tempted to start telling me that I don’t know what it’s like. That ‘Yea sure, it’s easy for a nutritionist not to drink. Whatever.’. Let me remind you that not only did this very blog start out as one about food, CrossFit and CRAFT BEER, but for 5 days a week I’m not just a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. I’m a project manager at NJs biggest craft beer distributor. I was a sales rep there for three years, then a brewery rep. I am a certified Cicerone (the beer equivalent of the wine-expert-certification of Sommelier). Up until just over two years ago, I drank…and drank a lot. I drank beer. Every. Day. That’s not an exaggeration. I still drink on occasion (though now I’m all about craft spirits and good wine, baby).

The thing isn’t cutting it out forever all together (unless you want to). It’s cutting it out long enough to break the cycle, to reach your goals, to heal your body and strengthen your system, and then figuring out how to incorporate it in a healthy way that doesn’t block your health and fitness efforts.

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This was my ORIGINAL logo! Beer. So save it.

Marketers got real clever when it comes to our desire to stay fit while continuing to drink by offering “low calorie,” “low carb,” and “skinny” options. The truth is it’s not the carbs or calories that are the root of the booze problem. It’s the alcohol. Simply, the alcohol.

Let me explain why.

Fat Loss

If fat loss is your goal, giving up the booze is a non-negotiable. Yes, you can still lose fat while enjoying the occasional cocktail, but it will be a slower path. When it comes to booze and fat-loss, you can’t have your beer and drink it, too.  

This is because drinking essentially shuts off the pathway your body uses to access and burn stored fat. The reason being: your liver. Your liver has hundreds of jobs, one of them being supporting your metabolism. When there is alcohol in your system, your liver’s number-one job becomes to detoxify and remove that alcohol from your body. Most of the alcohol you consume actually gets processed by your liver, and one standard drink takes about 10 hours to be completely detoxified (on average). This means, any sort of fat burning is put on hold while your liver puts out this toxin-entry fire that has been created. So, if you go out and have 4 glasses of wine, that’s 40 hours that your fat burning abilities are on hold. 

Another point, is that when alcohol is processed it breaks into what’s called acetate. The body starts using this acetate as it’s fuel source (see: How Alcohol Makes You Fat by Ben Greenfield), ignoring the fats, proteins, and carbs you’re getting from food. WIth nowhere to go and nothing to do, those fats/proteins/carbs get stored as excess body fat. This is why many people still find themselves stuck when trying to lose body fat and “only drinking twice a week.”

Sugar Cravings

Alcohol is comprised of sugar and carbohydrate with little to no nutrition. It tends to not only spark cravings for less-than-ideal foods, but can ignite a cycle of cravings following the sugar crash of a hangover. 

The more you consume sugars, the more you crave them. The more you consume empty sugars (like alcohol) the more your body wants the nutrition it expected to get from all of those calories so it ups the crave-o-meter. (Remember, calories are supposed to come with things like proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.) That’s why we tend to get super hungry when we drink. That, plus lowered inhibition and poor decision making often leads to some poor food choices.

Immune Health

Again, we’re talking liver, here. Another function of the liver is to support your immune system, and it cannot do so effectively while being hammered by alcohol. Alcohol also causes disturbances to your gut walls. This is especially true for beer, as gluten containing barley is the primary ingredient. The proteins in gluten can cause damage to the villi that line your intestine, which are meant to pull the nutrients out of what we eat into the blood stream. Your gut is where the healthy bacteria live that help your immune system stay strong. So, we want to keep that ecosystem thriving and working properly.  Not to mention what laying off the bottle does for your skin, performance, overall digestion, and general productivity levels. 

This is me at a wedding during a time that I was opting not to drink. I had club soda and lime juice. The wedding was still fun. I was not an outcast. The world did not end.

Alcohol is a part of most adult’s social lives. That makes cutting alcohol the toughest part of getting healthy for many people. While I do recommend abstaining for a couple of weeks to start, after that it’s fine to have the occasional cocktail. Alcohol can be incorporated as a part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s just a matter of making smarter choices when you do partake. 

  • Start with 14 to 21 days of sobriety before the reintroduction of “friendly alcohols.”
  • Your least offensive options will be low-sugar, gluten-free spirits: tequila, many rums, gins, and vodkas. Mixed with lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice, club soda, or even coconut water, these make for a tasty cocktail that won’t send you off the rails. 
  • When you are going to indulge in a beverage, don’t go for the cheapest stuff. Buy better quality vodkas, gins, and rums, and always opt for 100% agave tequila.
  • When it comes to wine – the drier the better. Common sense tells us the sweeter the wine, the more sugar it contains. Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Pinot Noir are all lower sugar/drier options. Even a brut or extra brut champagne works (contrary to popular belief). 
  • If you are going to have beer, go for a quality craft beer (these typically have better ingredients, generally no fillers, and are generally higher quality) or something gluten-free. 
  • Ciders are a great beer alternative, and there are a ton of interesting ones on the market. These can be high in sugar, though, so be careful not to overdo it. 
  • Make sure to drink ample amounts of water to stay as hydrated as possible when you do go out for a few drinks. Have a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage.

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    At a bachelorette party. Drinking water. Still had fun. Had a cocktail later. Also fun. 

So there’s your crash course in booze. Short and sweet, and maybe not exactly what you wanted to hear. The truth is there’s no perfect answer and everybody’s tolerance level is different. You don’t have to give alcohol up forever, but do use common sense and good judgement when comparing the pros and the cons of enjoying a drink or two. 

In his book, The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf said, “Drink to the degree that it doesn’t negatively affect the way you look, feel, or perform.” That’s pretty solid advice, and you need to decide for yourself where that line is.