We’ve all been there. Especially if, like me, you went to college away from home. You were 18 years young, and finally got to experience that sweet taste of freedom and cheap, watered down beer. I am 110% guilty of falling down this college-drinking rabbit hole and gained more than the freshman fifteen. I had immense difficulty losing (and maintaining that loss) until recent years. What starts off as benign college fun can turn into something more sinister, and even affect your health.
Isn’t alcohol what being an adult is all about?!
It’s the culture – you go to house parties, go out for drinks with your friends every weekend night starting on Thursday (Thirsty Thursday is a real thing, people), you sneak pregame drinks in your dorm room. But this doesn’t stop at college, it carries over into after work happy hours three days a week, and turns into “needing” that glass of wine (or four) every night after work just to wind down. I was that chick at college parties that would literally HOARD room temperature bud lights in my purse, just to be stocked up when the party inevitable ran out of booze. I firmly believed that you could not go out and have a “fun” weekend unless it involved a whirlwind of cocktails and bad decisions. Needless to say, I entered into adulthood with a very unhealthy, “all-or-nothing” relationship with alcohol.
My junior year of college, I started working out because I seriously wanted to shed that freshman fifteen – which at this point had become more like the freshman 25ish. I became obsessive about counting the calories I ate, never once stopping to give second thought to the calories I DRANK. Yes, I lost some weight due to eating lower calorie foods, incorporating lots of veggies, hitting cardio 4x a week with mild strength training (I had yet to discover crossfit!!), but I always seemed to kind of plateau. I never quite got to the level of fitness and health that I wanted. I thought I was doing everything right! Oh, the frustration that ensued!
Alcohol goes straight to the a** (and belly and face and joints).
At this time I was still drinking a lot of wine on the weeknights – you know, because that’s what adults do, right?! – and going out to drink on weekends Friday through Saturday. And don’t forget about mimosa-fueled Sunday brunches. That’s a lot of empty liquid calories. Like, a lot. One mimosa has about 160 calories with 9 grams of sugar. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had just one mimosa… yeah I didn’t think so. Multiply that by 4 or 5 and you’re staring down the barrel of almost 1000 calories, just from your brunch drinks alone.
And there’s the other sneaky thing about drinking: it affects your eating habits as well. When you’ve had a few drinks, all of a sudden it becomes so much easier to make poor food choices. Who cares about that 1 am pizza??? I’ll tell you who doesn’t care: those three beers, two tequila shots, and four vodka sodas you consumed in a span of 3 hours. And what about the next morning when you wake up cranky, dehydrated, and feeling like a jackhammer wrecked your whole body? Definitely gonna need a triple stack of pancakes and/or a giant plate of sour cream chicken enchiladas to soak up those bad decisions. And then the downward spiral ensues.
As I started to maintain a healthier lifestyle throughout the week, it became so much more noticeable how crappy I felt on the weekends after countless drinks and junk food. By every Monday morning, I felt like an inflamed whale, only to get right back on track and feel great again by Friday night. This cycle of healthy week, boozy weekend, Monday morning guilt lasted for years. I thought this was normal, along with my IBS issues that came along with it.
Alcohol: the other macronutrient???
Now I am certainly not saying alcohol is terrible or that you should NEVER drink it, but in my personal experience I have just found that overall I feel better when I don’t. I don’t need to get blackout wasted to have a good time, and I’d rather just not experience the post-drink inflammation and blues. If you are trying to lose weight, an easy way to boost your progress is to seriously limit or cut out alcohol altogether. Remember, alcohol is NOT a macronutrient that your body needs. On the contrary, your body views alcohol as a toxin, and will always preferentially burn any alcohol that enters your system. That means any carbohydrates, fat, or protein that enters your system at the same time as alcohol will not be processed. I repeat, ALL OTHER METABOLIC PROCESSES WILL CEASE. All of a sudden, you have all these extra carbs, fats, and proteins floating around in your body, so what happens to them? They get converted to fat and stored for later!
So next time you go out for dinner and drinks, remember that when you drink a lot of alcohol, and eat excess calories, the alcohol is hindering your body’s ability to metabolize that food. Again, I am not saying to never drink. It’s just no wonder so many of us gain the freshman fifteen when we are poor college kids drinking alcohol all the time and eating fast food at 2 am after a night of partying.
The key is to find BALANCE. If you must drink, save it for special celebratory occasions. And when you do drink, don’t drink to excess. Have a few drinks, and remember to drink water so you don’t get dehydrated. And try not to give in to those late night alcohol-fueled munchies: they are not your friend.