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Why Do We Drink Alcohol?

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One of the great “derailers” of effective weight control is the ingestion of alcohol.  Alcohol has a negative impact on effective weight control well beyond the caloric content.  There is a negative impact on metabolism as well as a loosening of thought processes that allow the alcohol use to be accompanied often by high caloric snack foods.  A “light beer” containing 95 calories is much more detrimental to weight control than a 120 calorie bottle of Coke.

Let’s examine why we drink alcohol.  The great taste?  Hmmm…remember the first time you had a beer?  The taste almost made you puke.  Mixed drinks?  People often marvel at some sort of sugary, milkshake-like drink when the exclamation occurs that “you can hardly tell there is alcohol in there”, implying that the great taste of this sweet drink is not being tainted by the alcohol.  People wince when they do a shot and have to go through a ritual before shooting down tequila so they can tolerate it.

So, if the “taste” is not the reason and we know it hurts our weight control efforts, then why do we drink alcohol?  For many, alcohol helps:  reduce anxiety, “chill us out”, improve sleep and perhaps lessen pain.  The pain part could be physical pain or emotional.  Additionally, for people that are shy in social situations, alcohol will help those people come out of their shells and be more comfortable in these situations.

If you are struggling with weight control and do drink alcohol on a regular basis, take a step back and examine your reasons for using alcohol.  If stress/anxiety is the reason, your doctor can work with you to find some other solution to address these issues.  Similarly, if sleep is problematic, there are other approaches to be taken other than nightly alcohol use.  Concerning pain, yes, opiates for pain control are much more dangerous than alcohol but there are a number of other pain control options that you and your doctor can discuss.

One last point:  All of us need to be honest to ourselves about our alcohol use.  In medical school we were taught the “multiplier factor” meaning that when you ask a patient how much alcohol he/she is drinking, multiply that number by 2-3 to get the truth.  Often, people that drink regularly underestimate the amount of alcohol they are consuming.  “I have one drink a night” does not indicate how many ounces of alcohol are present in that drink.

Alcohol is your enemy in weight control.  The less, the better.


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