Wine and Your Waistline: Why You May Be Struggling to Lose Weight
My clients often ask me, “Will I lose weight if I take a break from my nightly wine habit?” The answer is not that simple because every person is unique, both in terms of their individual biology and also because of the decisions they make with their diet when they do take a break from wine.
Before sharing my own experience (spoiler alert: I did lose weight), let’s dive into some science and nutrition.
Going back to basics, I want you to eliminate the whole “calories in calories out” paradigm. It’s archaic, dating back to the late 1800’s and deserves to be put to rest.
The paradigm relies on the assumption of energy balance. It’s all about eating less and exercising more to create a caloric deficit. The problem is, this seldom works and is certainly not a long-term solution. Science journalist Gary Taubes does an excellent job reviewing the literature on this subject in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories if you want to take a deeper dive. I also recommend The Obesity Code by Jason Fung to my clients. For now, let’s agree that not all calories are created equal. Your body does not use the 122 calories in your standard five-ounce glass of Sauvignon Blanc (and who only pours five ounces?) the same way it processes 122 calories of your free range, organic chicken breast.
Wine contains what I like to call “selfish calories.” I say selfish because your body must deal with the calories from alcohol before anything else. Wine, like any form of alcohol, is a toxin. Your body recognizes it as a toxin and immediately begins its job of breaking it down and filtering it out of the body. The organ responsible for this job is the liver.
The problem arises when we look at one of the liver’s other responsibilities – metabolizing fat calories and converting them into energy. This process stops when we drink wine. The liver essentially says, “Hold on. I’m dealing with a deluge of Sauvignon Blanc right now. Everything else must wait.” The more you drink at one sitting, the harder your liver has to work and the more likely you are to store fat. Wine itself isn’t putting on the fat; it’s the other foods you are eating that will be converted into fat while you are drinking. As much as we’d like to believe the French paradox (those damn French women don’t get fat), we must accept the facts of basic metabolic chemistry. When you consume wine, your body will metabolize it before anything else. Those selfish wine calories press the pause button on your metabolism.
Another factor coming into play is the loss of inhibition you experience while drinking. We know that alcohol effects the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making. Alcohol clouds your judgement and makes it much more difficult to stick to healthy food choices. Remember those late-night pizza deliveries in college? Now it may be a second helping you would normally turn down or the decision to have another round of drinks and order the dessert. And how about the day after you overdid the wine? You feel lousy, skip your workout, and crave greasy, salty food. All of this is a recipe for weight gain or the inability to drop those stubborn pounds.
Everyone’s experience will be different, but I lost twenty-five pounds when I stopped drinking. And my drink of choice was wine. This happened slowly, over a six-month period. During my first thirty days, I found myself eating more sugar than I typically consume (this is very common.) When I went out to eat I ordered the dessert. It was November and I became an apple and pumpkin pie connoisseur. Surprisingly, I didn’t gain weight. I dropped five pounds that first month. As I slowly removed the extra sugar from my diet, my weight continued to drop. More important than the number on the scale, though, is how you feel. I felt much less bloated and had significantly more energy. And giving up the wine had a dramatic impact on the quality of my workouts, both cardio and my yoga practice.
So, if you’re working out and everything in your diet looks good but you’re still drinking your nightly two (or three) glasses of wine, going down to one glass or taking a break entirely, can help with bringing your weight down to where you want it to be.