Alcohol has always been a part of the lifestyle of many since time immemorial. Associated with joy, sorrow, attempts to alleviate pain caused by labor etc., alcohol has been a part of the life of people of all races and social strata. Archeological studies have shown use of alcohol as early as 1000 BC and zoologists have shown the practice among animals too.

Chemically alcohol is defined as an organic compound with a functional ”-OH” group (Hydroxyl group) connected to carbon atoms. Ethanol or Ethyl Alcohol is the most common type of alcohol found in most alcohol beverages that we consume.

Depending on the source from which alcohol is procured, they are broadly classified as 1.Beer 2.Wine and 3.Rectified (distilled) spirits. A drink of alcohol is 15 gm. of ethanol, which you will find in 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer and 1 – 2.5 ounces of spirits depending on the type of alcohol you are

Alcohol affects us in different ways depending on:

  • a) What we are drinking
  • b) How much we are drinking
  • c) How often we drink
  • d) Our sex
  • e) The amount of food in the stomach
  • f) Other drugs we consume
  • g) Our moods

Alcohol taken is moderation daily (1 drink for women or 2 drinks for man) will help in improving ones chances of surviving a heart attack. Higher numbers and binging seem to have a documented ill effect.

Once alcohol reaches the stomach through the food pipe, depending on the food present in the stomach, the absorption rate of alcohol into the bloodstream is altered. Most of it passes into the small intestines where it gets rapidly absorbed into the blood. This blood first hits the brain before reaching the rest of the destination organs. As a result, the brain functions are overall suppressed and one tends to lose control over judgment, restraint, vision and balance. In the long run, depression ensues and may even cause the brain to shrivel up. The blood vessels get engorged giving a false sense of warmth. The blood vessels to the kidneys also increase in size and so you end up excreting more water and develop a headache due to dehydration.

The alcohol finally finds its way to the liver, which excretes it out by a complex process. Alcohol is considered to be a toxin and its removal from the body is given the first priority. Similarly alcohol removal uses up almost all the resources of the liver and hence the latter stops performing the rest of the basic functions such as fat, carbohydrate and protein breakdown. All these components are eventually stored up in the body in the form of fat, leading to weight gain (at least a pause in weight loss). The loss of proteins leads to poor muscle bulk.

Like all substances that we consume, consumption of alcohol also releases energy. Each gram of alcohol yields 7 kilocalories. But unlike food substances, the energy released by the breakdown of alcohol is not accompanied by any addition of nutrients. Instead, all the energy is used up for its excretion and it also uses up stored nutrients, hence referred to as ‘empty calories’.

In addition to this direct effect, alcohol affects weight loss and dieting practices by:

  • 1) Making us lose inhibitory control due to which we end up eating more when drinking.
  • 2) We lose track of the number / quantity of alcohol we have had and of course on the munchies that consume.
  • 3) Though Alcohol makes you sleepy, after a night out you always wake up tired, hungry and dehydrated which will make your body look for instant energy, meaning crave for greasy food.
  • 4) People think that if they skip meals before taking alcohol they can save up calories but instead you will end up as scenario 3.

All these bring us to the final discussion. Can alcohol be taken if you are planning to lose weight or attempting to maintain after losing weight. If you want to maintain your weight and also enjoy a couple of good days, here are some tips.

  • 1) Eat up before you drink. Take some good quality proteins and lots of fiber. They will give you energy and delay the absorption of alcohol, so that you are less drunk.
  • 2) Reserve the drink for the last.
  • 3) Drink wine or spirits instead of beer (beer has more calories because it contains other carbohydrate sources).
  • 4) A glass of water between each drink keeps your tummy full, dilutes the alcohol and also rehydrates you. So you are less drunk, eat less junk and don’t have a dehydration induced hangover headache the next day.
  • 5) Keep the number of drinks a strict entity.
  • 6) Do volunteer to be the driver, so you can abstain once in a while.

But if you are planning to lose weight it is best to abstain, because when present in the body, alcohol definitely stops fat from being burnt up and instead stocks it up.

So it’s easy to lose the paunch first before you tackle the “punch”.