Here’s the thing. I really enjoy a glass of wine, or two. As with so many of us, it’s become a nightly wind-down habit. It’s also just fun to share a bottle of the glorious nectar when socialising with friends. But on the other hand, it seems that regular alcohol consumption can play havoc with your waistline, fitness and health. Do I need to totally eliminate alcohol from my life if I want to maintain a healthy weight? That would seriously be no fun at all and make me quite a grumpy girl! Or, is there some way I can include alcohol in a healthy, balanced lifestyle?
WHAT’S THE ISSUE WITH ALCOHOL?
The issue with alcohol is how much you are drinking. And it’s not only binge-drinking we’re talking about. Nope. Consuming only a glass of wine or two each night already has negative effects on our waistline and overall health. The problem with alcohol is this.
1. You’re getting zero nutritional benefit from alcohol – just a whole bunch of calories.
Alcohol has no vital nutrients. This is why alcohol is often referred to as providing “empty calories.” nutrients. To make it worse, 1 gram of alcohol provides a calorie punch of 7 calories compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and 9 calories per gram of fat.
2. Cravings for fatty, fried and starchy foods sky-rocket.
It’s not just the booze that contributes all those extra calories, it’s also the craving for and indulgence in calorie-dense foods.
3. The body gets dehydrated and robbed of essential nutrients.
Drinking too much can strip the body of essential nutrients used to process the alcohol – especially B vitamins, which you need for energy. Furthermore, your skin gets severely dehydrated every time you drink which ages you!
4. Sleep is disrupted.
Alcohol consumption at night leads to a disrupted and non-restorative night’s rest. A lack of sleep plays havoc with your general wellbeing and beauty routine and again, ages you.
(RELATED POST: Are you getting enough beauty sleep?)
5. It saps your desire to exercise wrecking exercise plans.
Since you’ve now dehydrated, sleep-deprived and your energy levels are so low, your desire to get to the gym and sweat it out is all but gone.
6. It plays havoc with your blood sugar.
When we drink, the body reacts to it as a toxin and uses all its resources to process and expel the alcohol as fast as possible. Other bodily processes, like digestion and the regulation of digestive hormones like insulin, are interrupted. Combined with the intake of sugar in the alcohol and foods you’re eating before or after consuming alcohol, this can actually lead to increased insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, the precursor to Type 2 diabetes. It also contributes to mood swings and binge-eating.
7. Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to a number of serious health conditions.
Given these issues, it’s clear that regular and excessive alcohol consumption is really not a good fit in a healthy diet and lifestyle.
SO, CAN I SQUEEZE SOME ALCOHOL IN A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE?
The good news is I don’t have to give up alcohol entirely. Sure, total abstention is probably the best choice, but I don’t have to give up enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail from time-to-time. The key is to be aware, find a happy medium and enjoy your wine or drink of choice every once in a while. Daily consumption is best avoided. If like me, you’re used to indulging in a daily wind-down with wine, start by trying to change your drinking behaviour and choices. You can include alcohol in a healthy lifestyle but as with everything diet- and health-related, it’s all about moderation.
1. Plan a number of alcohol-free days each week.
For example, only drink on every second day starting Tuesday – then Thursday and Saturday.
2. Try going for a walk, doing some yoga or meditating instead of using wine to decompress at the end of each day.
3. When drinking, especially when socialising with friends, drink more water.
Get into the habit of drinking one glass of water for every alcoholic drink. You may even realise that you don’t want alcohol, but just want the feeling of a drink in your hand. Add some fresh lemon or lime juice an slices to sparkling water to make it feel more like a “drink”.
4. Make an early morning workout commitment with a friend.
It keeps you mindful and less inclined to indulge.
5. Drink within recommended limits and don’t binge-drink your weekly allowance in one night.
There is no global consensus here but I decided to look to the “UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines” which provides an alcohol unit consumption guideline “to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level.” According to this, women are allowed 14 units per week. This equates to six 175ml glasses of 13% wine, ideally to be enjoyed over 3-4 days. (Keeping the rest of the days alcohol-free.) You can find out more about what they consider to be an alcohol unit here.
6. This said, also be mindful of the calories in that glass of wine or cocktail especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
An average 175ml glass of (13%) dry red or white wine can contain up to 160 calories.
7. Choose what you drink more carefully to reduce added sugars.
– Opt for dry red or white wines, or champagne which has lower sugar content.
– Choose clear spirits, as opposed to dark ones.
– Avoid premixed drinks high in sugar like frozen daiquiris and margaritas which are LOADED in calories.
– Avoid mixing alcohol with drinks high in artificial sugars.
So, the short answer to my question is this – if you’re a healthy adult, you can still enjoy some alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle but moderation is key. Obviously, people on meds, with health issues and women who are pregnant etc. should totally abstain.
Watch how often you indulge, measure your serving size and avoid added sugars in your drink. There is a way to enjoy alcohol while still working toward your health and fitness goals, but achieving the balance is up to you and requires some careful monitoring.
(RELATED POST: All about my Dry January journey)