Is Alcohol the Forbidden Fruit?

This is one of the most common questions I get at our weight loss boot camp, especially at this time of year as the summer season approaches.

And the short, simple answer is “no”. As you’ll probably be aware, with the NuBeginnings Weight Loss Programme, there’s no such thing as “forbidden” foods, because no food is inherently bad. One cookie, ice cream or slice of cake isn’t going to pile on hundreds of pounds of fat and eating one is no big deal; however, typical dieters’ behaviour where they scoff the whole bag, tub or cake because of the psychological trauma of breaking their diet makes it into a big deal.

As you’d expect, I take the same approach with alcohol. As you probably know fat has 9 calories per gramme and carbohydrates and protein have about 4; alcohol, on the other hand, has 7 (making it roughly on a par with butter, which is something many people don’t realise).

The problem with alcohol is that not only is very high in calories, relatively speaking, but it has a very similar effect on blood-sugar as glucose and other Hi-GL carbs: it sends blood sugar through the roof and increases insulin production (as well other hormones which are counter-productive when it comes to losing fat).

Another problem with alcohol is it stops fat-burning in its tracks until it’s metabolised, and that can take up to 48 hours from your last drink, regardless of how much exercised you do. Your liver has got to clean the residue from your bloodstream, and that’s not speeded up by exercise; not only that, but these same residue can make you much weaker in the gym (and I don’t just mean the dreaded “hangover”).
But perhaps worse than all of these is perhaps the more subtle, but I believe much more damaging effect it has on your decision making.

See, once you’ve had one glass of wine, say… you start to feel bubbly and bouncy and you start to have a lot more fun. And as if that alone wasn’t enough to tempt you into having another (which leads to another… which leads to another…) there’s the small problem that alcohol inhibits the cortex, meaning you start losing your powers of rational thought (we all know this, but most people don’t know why: in brief, your critical thinking skills become attenuated and you start relying on your limbic system, the seat of the emotions. This is why we so often get emotional when we drink, make poor decisions and generally make asses of ourselves).

Ultimately this leads us not only to drinking more than we wanted to, it also leads us to making even more poor decisions at the time – an experience common to most of us is after a few drinks we don’t care what we eat or how much.

Now, none of this is a reason to foreswear alcohol entirely. Apart from anything else, anything “forbidden” immediately becomes attractive; what’s more, holidays are about relaxing and having fun.
As I wrote in my last blog post, flexible dieting works best for the long term.
So what I recommend instead of a blanket ban is working out some strategies to limit your alcohol intake and avoid some of the problems.

Some suggestions for your holidays:
1. Don’t drink during the day and reserve your alcohol intake for night-time meals only.
2. Make your first two drinks non-alcoholic. The reason is, the first ones always go down the quickest and you usually have an empty stomach… a combination virtually guaranteed to get you losing your inhibitions in record time!
3. Don’t drink alcohol until after your starter.
4. Pour your own drinks (don’t let the waiter keep your glass refilled – you’ll drink far more if you do. That is, of course, why they do it!).
5. Ask the waiter for a tall, thin glass rather than a short, fat one. You might get some funny looks, but you will drink less that way.
6. Above all… relax about it. Unless you go absolutely mad with your drinking and eating, you’re not going to undo months of fat-loss and exercise in just a couple of weeks.

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