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Holiday drinking can reverse your fitness gains

  • McClatchy-Tribune
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, at 12 a.m.

If you Google “Holiday Drinking Guide” one of the most popular results is “How Drunk Can You Get at Your Office Christmas Party.” This is not that kind of guide – this is about how to enjoy some alcohol this holiday season without blowing everything you’ve gained – or the flab you’ve lost – in the gym this year.

It’s important to know why alcohol matters when it comes to “fitness success.” The first reason is metabolic – alcohol does some nasty things to your body. While alcohol is in your liver one of the things it can stimulate is something called de novo lipogensis, which is a fancy way of saying it can trigger the creation of new fat. Alcohol may also decrease the quality of your sleep, so besides waking up tired (and less likely to eat right or work out), this also means your metabolism will be negatively affected for that day. Unfortunately, the older you get the less alcohol it takes to affect you and the longer those effects last.

Nobody likes to hear this fact, but drinking frequently can completely cancel out a good diet and exercise plan when it comes to weight loss.

With all of that said, here’s how you can still enjoy some alcohol this holiday season without blowing all your progress:

1. Find out what 5 ounces really looks like. It’s almost impossible to find a restaurant or friend that will serve you a glass of wine that actually qualifies as just one glass of wine – most are closing in on two. At home, measure out 5 ounces of water and put it in a wine glass to get a visual for what counts as a glass. Accidentally drinking twice as much as you intended to will leave you pretty disappointed for the effort you invest.

2. Drink better. Drinking a margarita is like drinking a slice of cheesecake – same calories, more sugar and even worse metabolic effect. A Long Island iced tea has almost as much sugar as two full-sized Snickers bars. If you’re going to put alcohol into your system, you don’t need to add insult to injury by throwing a bunch of sugar in there too. Mixed drinks and sweet alcohol (including sherry and dessert wines) are almost always unbelievably bad news for your body. Better choices are wine (by the glass, as in 5 ounces, not a glassful – or even half full with glasses today), and using sugar-free mixers like vodka soda with lime.

3. Know your number. Some people like the “one or none” rule – either you have one drink, or you don’t drink at all. You need to have a number for your limits for drinks in a week. For most women, it usually needs to be under four to see results; and for men it’s about five. Binging by having all of them at once doesn’t seem to work.

4. Take the peer pressure off yourself. Unfortunately, there is pressure to drink and drink a lot at most parties. But there are a few socially acceptable ways to get around the pressure. The simplest one is to be the designated driver. The worst idea is to tell other people (who are probably drunk) that you’re “watching your figure” and that’s why you’re not drinking. Saying things like that seems to be an invitation for harassment.

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