Saturday, April 4, 2009

Alcohol and Fat Loss

Is it possible to drink and still lose body fat?

The short answer, I would say, is yes. A recent post by Craig Ballantyne on his Turbulence Training for Fat Loss (www.ttfatloss.c0m) website sums up my thoughts on the subject:

Q: How much of an impact does 1-2 glass of wine a day have on fat burning goals?

Answer: It depends on total calories consumed each day. Each glass of wine is 100-150 calories.

If your total calorie needs for each day are 2000, and you drink 2 large glasses of wine, that means you can only eat 1700 calories of food (sticking to whole, natural foods, of course).

If you can be disciplined and stick to the 1700 calories, then the wine shouldn’t have much - if any - negative impact on your fat burning.

So in theory, you certainly could drink two glasses of wine per day and have six pack abs.

It's the "in theory" bit that's important here. Not many people, in my experience, approach alcohol in this way. We live in a nation of binge drinkers. We abstain during the work week and indulge on the weekend. We drink until we're mildly intoxicated ... and then we compound the damage by making poor food choices. Then we rationalize it by saying, well, it's only once a week, and once a week can't hurt, can it?

Of course it can. Think about it: to lose a pound of fat a week, you need to create a daily calorie deficit of 500. Not an easy thing to do unless you're the Incredible Hulk, with a basal metabolic rate to match. And just about impossible if once a week you're downing a pitcher of beer, plus chips, plus pizza, plus whatever else seems like a good idea after you've had that beer. The yuppie equivalent is just as bad: a cocktail or two, followed by wine-with-dinner, followed by some sort of foo-foo coffee drink and one (outsized)-dessert-two-forks. And don't kid yourself that your dinner entree is "on plan" just because you ordered fish. The method of preparation can add lots of calories, and they probably served it to you on a bed of yummy buttery mashed Yukon Golds.

Even so, if you only do this once a week you can still lose fat, just not very quickly, because there's a limit to how much damage most of us can do over the course of a single evening. Even if you end up consuming 2000 excess calories you've only undone 4 days of work. You're still down 1000 for the week, meaning that over the course of a month you should lose slightly over a pound of fat.

But what if once a week becomes an entire Lost Weekend? If that's your pattern, you can pretty much forget about fat loss. In fact, you'll be lucky not to gain.

The bottom line is this: the calories in alcohol are just empty calories, no worse for you than any other empty calories. If you can have a glass of wine or a cocktail and still be in calorie deficit mode, you will lose body fat. But if alcohol is a trigger food for you, meaning that you find it just about impossible to drink without drinking to excess and making poor food choices that put you in calorie surplus mode, you definitely should abstain if you're serious about losing fat. And, of course, if you want lose fat as fast as possible you shouldn't be having ANY empty calories from any food source whatsoever, including alcohol.

Just something to think about next time you're out on the town with friends.