Avoid alcohol to get rid of belly fat and support a lean physique. Mary-Pier Gaudet, a PICP instructor and personal trainer knows this to be true and includes it in her top ten list of things she does to stay healthy and fit--check it out!
Opting for a drink is not going to kill you, but you might as well have all the facts when making that choice, and research shows that even minimal regular alcohol use will hinder belly fat (and all other fat) loss, while lowering testosterone in men. For women the evidence is more complicated, and it appears that alcohol from wine may actually support a leaner belly, but the research is far from conclusive.
A new large-scale European study of more than 250,000 people from ten countries gathered data on body composition, alcohol use and related factors. Questionnaires on lifestyle and diet that had been validated were used, and participants had body composition taken by trained personnel. Data on alcohol was modified based on gender-specific definitions of a standard drink for each country surveyed.
For men, lifetime alcohol use, even one drink a day, led to increased risk of greater belly fat, and those who drank beer rather than wine had substantially more belly fat. Men who were heavy drinkers, consuming more than four drinks a day, were significantly fatter and had more belly fat than those who drank less. The more drinks the men consumed a day also correlated with increasingly larger caloric intake from food. They also at more total fat and were more likely to smoke. There was a general link between men who drank alcohol, smoked, and ate more calories and fat, indicating a possible relationship of unhealthy behaviors.
Interestingly, men who previously drank, but did not drink at the time of the study, had a greater rate of chronic disease than nondrinkers and current drinkers. Of all former drinkers (unidentified amount daily), 22 percent had a chronic disease, while the rate of chronic disease in men who never drank and currently drank was about 12 percent. Researchers do not explain this difference, but it’s possible that with the diagnosis of a chronic disease, the men quit drinking. There was a similar trend among women, with those who did not currently drink having a higher rate of chronic disease by roughly five percent.
For women, the results were less clear. The women who drank the most alcohol had the lowest body mass index, but the largest average waist circumference. The women who never drank had the largest body mass index, but the same waist circumference as women who were former drinkers or who never drank. Women who drank beer rather than wine were likely to have more belly fat.
Women were less likely to drink beer, and wine use was much more common in women than men. It’s likely that the beverage choice affects body composition, particularly visceral belly fat gain, and this may be one reason why researchers found less clarity in the results among the female population.
I doubt it’s a big surprise that avoiding chronic alcohol use is best for a lean body composition, but do you know why? It’s not just the added calories (alcohol offers seven calories per gram compared to carbs and protein, which contain four each). Alcohol affects metabolism because when you drink it, and your body puts all other metabolic processes on hold until it has processed the alcohol. Your body can’t convert the calories from the alcohol to fat, meaning it needs to use them up, and will delay all other fat burning and energy use until the alcohol has been processed.
Drinking alcohol affects your hormones as well, increasing cortisol and modifying steroid metabolism in the liver. This results in lower androgens for both sexes. Women with higher levels of androgens and men with lower levels are equally at risk for belly fat gain, and for men, lower androgens mean less testosterone. Bad news!
On the up side, moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a decreased risk of diabetes, and red wine is well known for containing resveratrol, an antioxidant that has been shown to delay aging and decrease chronic inflammation. Although alcohol is thought to increase insulin sensitivity, remember it temporarily paralyzes the liver and other metabolic processes, an effect that is not good for weight loss or maintenance. For men the best bet is extreme moderation, and avoiding beer cannot hurt. For women the evidence is not as clear, but moderation and red wine are indicated.
Bergmann, M., Schutze, M., et al. The Association of Lifetime Alcohol Use With Measures of Abdominal and General Adiposity in a Large-Scale European Cohort. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011. 65, 1079-1087.
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