Distill My Heart
“Oh, that man should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasure, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!”
-William Shakespeare, Othello, Act II, Scene III
Alcohol and fat loss have a complicated relationship. We’d like them to act like Lennon and McCartney and make a melodious pair. Too often, they end up like Oasis’ Gallagher brothers, always at odds. At first sip, we expect to ooze the charm of Sean Connery ordering his martini in Goldfinger. The next morning, we wake up in a destroyed hotel room like Axl Rose. Is it the nature of alcohol to be an enemy, as Cassio laments in Othello? Does it stop fat loss dead in its tracks? Is there a way the liquid can flow whilst the fat falls?
Some fitness people will say alcohol has no place in a fat loss program. They will draw a hard line and recommend, or even mandate abstinence. When studying the Human Condition, one thing is clear: people are rebellious. Sometimes that can be a good or brave thing.
Think, the “Tank Man” at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Other times, it can be a terrible thing. In America, the last “official” time the people had to abstain was the 18th Amendment. The Volstead Act of 1920 soon followed, ushering in 13 years of prohibition. As an unintended consequence, we saw the rise of bootlegging and the birth of Organized Crime. Of course, telling someone not to drink for weight loss won’t turn them into Al Capone. It can have less extreme, but destructive consequences, like a reactive binge.
There are other fitness people, myself included, that don’t mandate abstinence. A tempered alcohol intake can improve health markers and make dieting more enjoyable. One of our Founders, Benjamin Franklin said it best:
“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!”
Funny things happen when you drink, aside from slurred speech and uncoordinated dance moves. Alcohol is a “toxin” and does not have a storage facility in the body. Its metabolism (burning) needs to happen immediately. By immediately, I mean first and before anything else. That means carbohydrates and fats take a back seat. While you metabolize your wine, your body stores the lamb chops.
Despite popular assumption, it’s not the alcohol that gets you into trouble. It’s the combination of runaway calories from alcohol and the food you eat alongside. The implication here is that calories matter. If we’re talking fat loss, calories matter a lot. In a caloric deficit, moderate alcohol consumption is no problem. If you disregard caloric intake, you’re in trouble.
The premise is simple: If your caloric target is 1600, that includes all adult beverages.
If you’re a detail-oriented person, you can take it a step further. Protein is safe(ish) in the fat burning “pecking order” that alcohol creates. If you want to eat while you drink, limit your selection to lean proteins and vegetables.
If you’re more courageous, you can raise calories up to “maintenance” levels. This gives you more room for more alcohol. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not giving carte blanche to drink away most of your calories. That will end you up in the hospital, or at the least, produce a nasty hangover. This “maintenance” day will register as neutral. You won’t make progress and you won’t slip backward. If you’re in a rush to get lean; don’t use this approach. If you’re one of those who is “in a rush,” you’re not interested in sneaking in hooch in the first place.
In the end, there need not be any Draconian rules on alcohol so you can succeed. Stay tuned for my new book The Siberian Diet which is a combination of Venison and Vodka. Salut!