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Alcohol Consumption: The REAL Tradeoff

You grab a couple glasses of wine after a long day, or a brandy old fashioned on Fridays with friends after the workweek. Bloody Mary’s for weekly Sunday brunch, vodka tonics on your date with your partner on Saturday nights…

Is that a problem? Can drinking get in the way of your health? OR is it actually good for you? How much? What other factors matter?

What I hear from many of my clients is “my alcohol use is pretty normal” it’s not an issue. Or is it? Have a good day? Celebrate with a cocktail. Have a bad day? Grab a beer. Going to a wedding? Pour the champagne! If we consider ourselves “healthy”-like we exercise and eat “decent” then I think it's easy to justify.

If you don’t already drink, research suggests you don’t start. Most research on alcohols’ potential benefits are large long term studies which cannot prove causation, only correlation. So even if some studies say that light to moderate drinkers have lower rates of heart disease and diabetes, let’s say, it does not mean drinking CAUSES those benefits. Maybe its that people who drink a moderate amount have something else unrelated that keeps them healthy-as in that segment of the population who happens to drink moderately is healthier overall because of other choices they make. Maybe some good social connections, or financial stability.

So, what is “moderation” then? For women it’s no more than 7 STANDARD drinks per week and no more than 3 in a 2-hour sitting. Is that your definition of moderate? For men its 14 and 4… The thing is, people generally underestimate their alcohol consumption. Often the glass of wine is in a 12-ounce glass when a standard drink for wine is only 5 ounces. Risks associated with more alcohol include but are not limited to high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, lowered immune system, flare ups of autoimmune disorders, hormone disruption, impaired sexual function, fatty liver and thyroid issues. In young males moderate drinking increases the risk of injury or death because there is often a loss of impulse control. How you metabolize alcohol varies by age, sex, weight, genetics, and your gut microbiome.

Moderate drinking is NOT risk free. Also, I work with people who are looking to lose weight. Did you know alcohol in any amount lowers your metabolism? Your body will burn alcohol before it burns carbs or fat for energy. When I have people track alcohol for macros we track it as carbs because that’s often how it's processed. Otherwise, people get a vodka and a seltzer and assume because there is next to no calories that it is a “FREE’ indulgence. It's not.

Benefits derived from alcohol:
  • Pleasure

  • Leisure

  • Creativity

  • Social connection

If you’re going to drink, do it because it adds value to your life. Not because you are stressed, or it’s a habit, or you don’t want to NOT when others are, or because its “good for you” (we crushed that myth earlier). Its like what you eat-if you’re going to indulge once in awhile on a piece of cake, make it your favorite cake and just have a small piece. That’s true moderation.

The tradeoffs with alcohol:
  • Saying YES to 6-pack abs might mean NO to Friday night cocktails

  • Saying YES to Thursday evening mojitos might mean saying no to Saturday morning yoga

  • Saying YES to training for a half marathon mighty mean saying NO to booze at Sunday brunch

  • Saying YES to better sleep might mean no nightcap of bourbon before bed.

  • Saying NO to moderate to light drinking might mean taking the time to find your true triggers for stress and dealing with them in other ways.

Maybe you’re trying to lose weight so you would consider drinking a bit less. Its up to you where you fall on the continuum, listen to your body-let it lead you. Observe your drinking habits. Are you drinking more than you thought? Is your drinking mindless or rushed? Are there themes or patterns with your drinking? Is it helping you enjoy life or are you trying to forget it?

How does it affect your body? Do you generally feel good? How’s your recovery the next day after drinking? Are you puffy or have a headache or upset stomach? Does it add calories you don’t want? Anything else you notice?

Do you feel in control of your drinking? Could you stop drinking for a month if I suggested it? When I suggest that, what is your reaction or feeling? Try delaying your next drink by 15 min and see if that changes what you decide to do… Swap quantity (cheap beer) for quality (an upscale fancy old fashioned once a month).

Hope this provides some food for thought on everyone’s choices around alcohol! As always, reach out if you need guidance on this or other health related topics.

Keep Moving Forward 😊 Sarah

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