It’s true! You can enjoy a few drinks this party season without undoing all the great work you’ve done this year. But there’s some info you need to know to help you enjoy drinking alcohol while you focus on your weight-loss and wellness goals.
The kilojoules in alcohol
The not-so-good news before you let loose is that alcohol isn't your bestie when it comes to losing weight – and that’s not just because it’s high in kilojoules, at 29kJ per gram (compare that to 17kJ per gram of protein or carbohydrate). Alcohol actually gets in the way of your body using other sources of energy for fuel.
How the body processes alcohol
“It’s a toxic molecule and our body doesn't have a storage place for it. Due to this, the body is forced to prioritise the breakdown and removal of alcohol over the metabolism of all other macro-nutrients such as fat and carbohydrates,” says accredited practising dietitian (APD) Anna-Jane Debenham.
“While our body is processing alcohol, it stops processing fat, and sometimes this can be for hours after drinking,” adds Alexandra Parker, APD. “For those who drink regularly, the body starts to recognise alcohol as a consistent energy source and over time may start to promote body fat storage rather than processing it. This is where the term ‘beer gut’ comes from, as the most common site of fat storage is around your mid-section.”
Other effects of alcohol
There are other reasons to be smart about alcohol too. “Drinking impairs brain function and leads to poor judgement and bad decision-making,” says Dr Helena Popovic, a GP and leading expert on brain function. “You might walk into a party thinking, ‘I’m going to stick to my diet,’ but after a few drinks your willpower might falter.”
Then there’s alcohol’s disruptive effect on sleep. “The minute you don’t sleep well or are sleep-deprived, it interferes with your hormone regulation so you will wake up feeling hungrier,” Dr Popovic says. This is because you’ll have higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and stress hormone cortisol, and lower levels of satiety hormone leptin, “all of which work against you making healthy food choices, and drive you to eat sugary, fatty foods.”
Tips for making smarter drinking decisions
1. Be strategic
If you have a packed social calendar, Melanie McGrice, APD recommends being strategic. “If you have three or four parties coming up, choose a couple where you’ll use more of your Budget, then try to stick to fewer SmartPoints® at the other events,” she says. “It comes back to moderation, being strategic and planning in advance.”
2. Make your drinks last
Instead of having the house wine, McGrice suggests making spritzers by mixing one part wine with two parts sparkling mineral water or soda water. “It means you’ll still feel like you’re drinking wine and enjoying your time with friends,” she says.
3. Consider the SmartPoints
Wine is generally lower in SmartPoints compared to other drinks, but it still counts towards your intake. “Two glasses of dry white wine contains 8 SmartPoints – similar to a traditional cinnamon Krispy Kreme doughnut, which has 9 SmartPoints!” Parker says. With that in mind, if you’re going to have a couple of chardies, you might consider opting out of having sweets too – or do as McGrice suggests and bring a fruit platter to the party so you have a healthy sweet option for dessert.
4. Keep your hands occupied
“A lot of people drink because it’s social etiquette to have your hands full of something,” McGrice says. So rather than succumb to the pressure, carry a glass of water or offer to help your host. “If your hands are full with a plate that you’re carrying around, even if you are stopping for five minutes to have a chat with someone, people won’t be trying to top up your glass of wine.”
Smart swaps to save SmartPoints