Have you ever woken up after drinking alcohol and you feel jittery, or on edge? Equally, have you found that your weight loss has come to an abrupt halt and you’re not quite sure why? It could all be down to the amount of alcohol you’re drinking. And the surprising news is that you don’t even have to drink that much alcohol to suffer from these side-effects. In fact, research now shows that women – particularly those who are peri-menopausal or menopausal – are more at risk from alcohol’s effects than men, and especially at this time of their lives more than any other.
So How Much is Too Much?
In my view, anything that affects your mood – even if that just means a hint of anxiety – is too much. Equally, weight that just won’t shift, despite your best efforts is another flag that it’s time to cut down or even cut out alcohol for a time period. Ask yourself these questions to delve further into the effects drinking alcohol may be having on your weight and wellbeing:
1) Do you regularly suffer from cravings? We know that alcohol consumption can lead to impaired willpower and increased cravings, often for foods that are high in fat and sugar and low in nutritional value. You know that eating too many carbs is counterproductive whilst trying to lose weight, but you continually eat bagels, croissants, scones, bread or pasta. Could you relate this to your drinking the night before? Take note of your drinking in your daily diary and try to track if it’s related to cravings or poor choices the next day – we bet it is.
2) Are you regularly fatigued and run down? The sleep you get after drinking is of a much lower quality than the sleep you get when you are not drinking. This is because alcohol can reduce the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep you get, leaving you feeling drowsy, low in energy and you may find it harder to concentrate the next day. Also alcohol can disrupt proper nutritional levels in the body, depleting essential vitamins and minerals, leaving you running on empty. Alcohol interferes with the body’s uptake of essential amino acids that are obtained by food intake, leading to vitamin and protein deficiencies, evels of vitamin A (retinol), B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), C (ascorbic acid), calcium, and folic acid may all be deficient in those who regularly consume alcohol.
3) Have you recently started to suffer from anxiety? Although this can be the result of other causes, such as stressful life events, it could also be down to the amount or frequency of your drinking. Ironically, those who suffer from anxiety can be tempted to use alcohol to help cope with it. And, initially, it does seem to work. Many of us tend to feel like it provides relief from the symptoms of anxiety as it depresses the central nervous system. However, did you know that alcohol can worsen these symptoms in the long-run? Drinking to relieve stress intesifies anxiety and irritability, not only straight after drinking, but for days afterwards. As it leaves the body, alcohol’s effects on brain chemistry can cause the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, even in people who never suffered anxiety previously. Watch this video about how alcohol can worsen anxiety the next day.
4) Have your thoughts more dark or negative? Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting how we feel for days after drinking, but also our mental health in the longer term. This is partly down to ‘neurotransmitters’, chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another. The relaxed feeling you might experience if you have an alcoholic drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol has caused in your brain. But then things take a nosedive. A few days later you may notice that you are experiencing more feelings of anger and frustration than usual, but this is no coincidence. Similar to its impact on anxiety, not only can alcohol worsen depression, it can actually cause it too. Check out this short video on alcohol’s effects on the brain.
5) Is alcohol (or food) the first thing you turn to when stressed? This is only a habit and, as we all know, habits can be changed. It is common for people to use alcohol as a coping strategy, or a way to ‘switch off’, but the truth is that it doesn’t actually work well in this way (see above). Also, if an individual repeatedly turns to alcohol when their mood deteriorates, they miss out on the opportunity of discovering other, more effective, ways of dealing with unpleasant moods. Learning new ways to cope – such as turning to exercise or learning ways to relax that don’t involve food or alcohol – can make us stronger, healthier and happier in the long term.
6) Are you experiencing disheartening weight loss results? The empty calories and bloating effects of alcohol can mean that frequent drinking can lead to disappointing weight loss results. But that’s not the only reason. Research shows that drinking alcohol can also increase your appetite for high-calorie foods. We know that this is due to the fact that alcohol stimulates the hunger hormone called ghrelin (leading to the ‘munchies’). According to an Appetite journal study, people who drank only half a shot of alcohol (20 grams worth) experiencing more cravings and ate 11 per cent more than those who abstained. Think of the result when you have four, five or six drinks, given that this study was based on having just half a drink. Last, but certainly not least, you should realise that when you consume alcohol, your body uses ethanol for energy, not other sources, like fat. If you ditch the alcohol, your body will burn carbs first and, when those are in short supply, it will turn to the fat around your belly – worth abstaining for!
A takeaway…if you reduce your alcohol intake (or give up entirely), you will not only find your mood and weight loss results improve, but you will also benefit from the following;
- Better skin
- Improved hydration levels (with increased energy and ability to exercise)
- Reduced risk of cancers (particularly of the mouth, liver, breast, colon and rectum)
- Improved heart health and reduced risk of stroke, nerve damage and high cholesterol
- Improved sex life
What to Do Next
If you’re concerned that your alcohol intake could be impacting your mood and/or weight loss attempts, try tracking the following in your daily diary: the day and time you drank, what you drank and how much, the situation you were in, your mood at the time, and your mood afterwards. Just observing your patterns will give you more information about what is going on and then you can choose whether you want to do something about it. If you’re still not sure if alcohol is adding or subtracting from your life, then take a look at our pros and cons around drinking here.