Alcohol is probably the least popular topic in the health and fitness world and at the same time is the one that I am asked about all the time. Is it okay to drink alcohol? If so, how much is safe? Should you give it up altogether or make sure you have some days each week when you don’t drink? The list goes on and in all honesty you can find an article or an expert to back up whatever stance you take. We are told that the latest research shows that any marginal benefit that there may be from drinking alcohol is completely negated by the increased risk of disease including cancer and heart disease. So what are the risks and what do we need to take into account when deciding the correct approach for us?
Alcohol is a toxin
What is clear is that alcohol is a toxin and your body has to work hard in order to process it. We all know that it can take hours for it to work through your system and for it to be safe for you to drive again. Whilst you are dealing with the alcohol your body effectively stops dealing with anything else. Excess calories are converted to fat as your metabolism slows. Alcohol messes with your blood sugar and can cause energy slumps, mood swings and the dreaded sugar and carb cravings. Your willpower is compromised at the same time as your fat burning hormones are turned off.
The icing on the cake is the fact that all of these factors combine and translate into weight gain that is largely concentrated around your middle. Stopping drinking has a direct effect on the size of your waistline. So if you are storing fat around your middle and it is bothering you, there is a clear incentive for you to ditch the booze!
Alcohol to help you to relax
So many people will say that they drink to help them to relax. Now this may be true if you have the odd glass of wine – preferably red. For the most part, however, alcohol actually raises your cortisol levels which can leave you feeling more anxious and overwhelmed in the long term. It makes even less sense when you add in the fact that serotonin levels can be lowered at the same time which would leave you more prone to low mood and depression. Lowered levels of testosterone are common which in turn affects libido, motivation levels and your overall sense of wellbeing. That is not quite the stress reliever I hear about!
What about your liver?
For most of us our livers are already working incredibly hard to deal with all the toxins and hormones that need to be processed. Alcohol produces acetaldehyde which can cause headaches, nausea and brain fog if it is not processed quickly enough. I think that describes a typical hangover! It is largely accepted that if you do drink alcohol you must give your liver at least 3 consecutive days rest each week for it to catch up and to continue to work effectively.
Bloating, discomfort and your gut
Alcohol can damage the cells in the lining of your gut. This can create inflammation and all sorts of discomfort for you. It changes the way that nutrients are absorbed as it affects your production of key enzymes. Clearly the more you drink and the more often you do, the bigger the risk of doing damage to your gut. Drinking, even a little, makes your stomach produce more acid than usual. This can trigger stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and in heavy drinkers even bleeding. That really does not paint a pretty picture!
How did you sleep?
I don’t know about you but it seems ever harder to get a good nights sleep. The good news is that if you drink alcohol it may help you to get off to sleep. The not so good news is that more often than not it can reduce the amount of deep sleep that you get and you will often find yourself awake at 3am with low blood sugar and often dehydration too. They stress the body further leading to raised cortisol levels and therefore making it ever less likely that you will get back to sleep.
A sensible approach to take
There are times when I really enjoy a glass of chilled, dry white wine. There are also times when I won’t have a drink for months on end. I know that if I don’t drink I will sleep better, lose 4 pounds in weight and slim at my waist. I train most days and need to have a clear head. For me alcohol is not a major part of my life.
I know that for many of you having a drink whilst socialising is an important and enjoyable element of your week. What I want you to take away today are some key steps that you can take to keep it as safe as possible.
- Always try and have food if you are having alcohol
- Choose wine rather than cocktails, beers or spirits. Red wine is the best option as you drink less and do get some great antioxidants too.
- Drink water throughout the evening. Try and have a glass to every alcoholic drink that you have at least.
- Remember to have at least 3 consecutive days when you don’t drink any alcohol.
- Take a longer break on occasion – there are lots of charity events such as Dry January or Go Sober for October to help to keep you on track.
- Make alcohol your treat rather than a habit. When you do drink go for quality over quantity and really enjoy it.
- Eat lots of cruciferous vegetables – think broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, chard, rocket, sprouts, watercress – as these will help your liver with detoxification
- A good multivitamin with active B vitamins can help too.
If you have found this useful and want more tools and tips to help you to live a healthier and happier life then you can buy my book ‘ Moving More’ here. There are trackers, planners, help to get you started, recipes, workouts and more.
Here are some of the reviews from those who have already purchased the book from Amazon.
‘I enjoyed reading Clare’s book immensely. It is user friendly, full of helpful advice and taking you carefully through the stages necessary to achieve success in finding a healthier, happier lifestyle. The use of quotations from her clients is extremely motivating – if they can do it, I can. I have already recommended this book to my family and friends here and in North America.’
‘This book will have you off the sofa and moving well before you get to the end. Clare takes a simple no nonsense approach that is impossible to ignore. She is the little angel on your shoulder dismissing all your excuses with sensible and practical advice. This book is definitely worth the small investment and you also get access to lots of additional advice and support through her website. The stories of real clients making small steps are hugely motivating too. You won’t regret buying it.’
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