Archive | June, 2014

The alcohol calorie catastrophe

19 Jun

A single drinking occasion can lead to a multiple calorie catastrophe that can really undermine attempts at weight loss or healthy lifestyles. So even if health or other risks aren’t a concern for someone, its hard not respect the extra calorie count that alcohol can ramp up. But its not simply the calories in drinks themselves to be aware of…calories

First off, the calories in alcohol itself – an average UK drinker may consume 10% of their total calorie intake through alcohol alone. Per gram, alcohol has nearly the same calorie content as fat (7 calories per gram for alcohol and 9 per gram for fat).

And its not just beer that’s calorie loaded – a large glass of wine can have as many calories as a pint of lager. That’s around 180 calories, significantly more than a  packet of crisps (130 kcal in a 28g bag). So whilst someone on a diet would presumably never consider three bags of crisps in one go, three glasses of wine on a weekend occasion might not get a second thought.

There’s then there’s the possibility of a drink induced food binge. Alcohol is thought to interfere with the brain in way that can lead to hunger cravings, despite the body not needing more food. It is also thought that alcohol reduces the amount of fat the body burns for energy.

The final nail in the great calorie catastrophe is what might follow the next day – a recent study said drinking more than three large glasses of wine can push people to consume up to 6,300 extra calories in the following 24 hours. The survey found that around half of people consuming over 9 units consumed an extra 2,051 calories the next day on top of their usual diet. In addition, many stayed in bed, watching TV and using social media while hungover – instead of doing anything active.

Of course the additional downside is that alcohol calories are empty calories – there is not real nutritional value. So no, cider does not count towards your five a day!

Adding it all up…

So the alcohol calorie catastrophe can be a quadruple whammy of:

  • The calories in the drink itself
  • The extra calories consumed due to alcohol induced hunger (or perhaps loss of self-control!)
  • Alcohol reducing the amount of fat the body burns for energy
  • The extra calories consumed or not burned the following day

So it’s not surprising that many people might be more motivated to cut back on the drinks for reducing calories above reducing longer term health risks. This might be especially true for younger people, where more immediate issues like appearance or saving money might have stronger appeal.

One concern sometimes raised is young people aware of alcohol’s high calorie content opting to skip meals to compensate. Certainly a worrying issue and unfortunately sometimes there is little parents or professionals can do to prevent young people taking such risks. But adopting motivational brief intervention approaches, supporting and encouraging a person to reflect on the pros and cons of any risky behaviour can help.

But generally, cutting back on alcohol consumption for reducing calories can still bring many other benefits. When it comes to changes in drinking, it’s often a world of vicious -or virtuous – cycles.