Thursday, April 25, 2013

The "Booze Belly"

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I have decided to take a look back.. into the years where I was a bit "softer" and a lot less concerned about my health and fitness. This Thursday I'm throwing it all the way back to the notorious '06-'07 season. It encompassed my Junior and Senior years at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and it was GREAT! I had just left a long distance relationship that had stiffled the beginning of my college "experience", I was making friends, meeting people and finally enjoying San Luis Obispo and all that it had to offer. I was doing well in school, and cherishing the weekends that I'd worked hard to earn.

I was a rare breed, someone who actually didn't drink in high school or my first two years at college. I could probably count on two hands the number of times I had alcohol before my 21st birthday (Yar will recall the infamous pink lemonade bowling incident and I still haven't lived down the great New Years debacle of 2006). Even once I turned 21, I didn't really become a "drinker" initially. It wasn't until the rest of my friends began hitting the big 2-1 later that year, that I really starting to enjoy my fair share of adult beverages. Through a series of events that I can't recall, my drink of choice somehow became a Tokyo Tea. For those of you who've never had the pleasure of consuming this variation on a Long Island, let me paint a picture: Vodka, Rum, Gin, Tequila, Triple Sec, and Midori Sour. Ouch! This incredibly potent cocktail not only was efficient and delicious, or so I convinced myself, but it also packed a caloric punch, totaling at least 250 calories per serving (something I never took into account at the time). On an average weekend night, I'd down several of those at Downtown Brew before walking to a taqueria for a late-night burrito. It's no WONDER I looked the way I did. At the time, I never thought of myself as overweight... it wasn't until I looked back at pictures recently that it even struck me how unhealthy I was. Working out was never something I enjoyed, or even thought about. Cooking consisted of quesadillas, sandwiches, or chicken breasts in my George Foreman. forward to last week....

After an 8-day vacation in the Pacific Northwest where we ate and drank all the "must haves", I noticed a change in my body. We had been walking lots, and doing Insanity in our hotel rooms, so I only gained 3 pounds - but I felt pretty crummy. My belly and love handles were prominent and I felt bloated and sluggish. After returning to a clean diet, the pounds fell back off relatively quickly, but this feeling lingered on.  This led me to come to the (somewhat obvious) realization of how much alcohol can affect my weight, performance, self image and overall health. I wanted to confirm that my "booze belly" theory was right so I turned to the trusty internet. While I don't claim to be a dieticion, doctor, or expert in any way - I thought I'd share with you what I learned because it logically made sense to me and made me want to think twice in the future. While this blog is not meant to discredit the appeal of alcohol, it IS a cautionary tale for those of us who are trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, but then derail our progress by overindulging. I believe, like all things in life, balance is the best path to a healthy lifestyle.

So here's the nitty gritty as to why alcohol can make/keep you fat. 

#1 When you consume alcohol, it's broken down into acetate (basically vinegar), which your body will burn before any other calorie that you've already consumed or stored. Therefore, you're more likely to store fat and sugar because your body is getting all of the energy it needs from the booze you just sucked down.
#2 Studies have also shown that alcohol temporarily inhibits "lipid oxidation" - the basically means that when alcohol is in your system, it's harder to burn fat that's already there.
In short: For each drink that you enjoy, you need to work it off before your body will begin to process anything else you have or will consume.

None of this is even taking into account the fact that people tend to eat about 20% more calories when they drink with a meal for a variety of reasons including fuzzier judgement (read: aforementioned late night burritos).  Habitual excessive alcohol consumption has long been linked to an increased waist-to-hip ratio (a fancy term for a beer gut), but new research shows that even infrequent binge drinking can thicken your midsection as well.

While the purpose of this blog is not to encourage temperance (cause what fun is that?), I do hope that you will give a second thought when toasting to a "drink well earned". Keep in mind that every drink enjoyed is affecting your body, and will take more than sleep to flush from your system. So don't turn it into more drinks than you can count or work off. And if you see me losing sight of this, smack me (or just the drink outta my hand).