PBR’s, Lawn Chairs, and HORSE…
When I first met Teddy 25 years ago, we had a lot in common. Both in our mid-twenties, both newly married and recently hired into our first real jobs, we had moved into a new neighborhood of starter homes in the boomtown atmosphere that was Charlotte, NC of the mid-90’s.
Teddy sold insurance and I was in medical devices. Neither of us had much of a clue about what we were doing.
The custom amongst our more senior peers was to take an “office day” on Fridays to attend to the paperwork requirements of the job. The thing was, even if I stretched it out, my paperwork would take me a total of about 45 minutes. That left me with a lot of time on my hands on Fridays.
I’m guessing the same was true for Teddy, because shortly after noon on most Fridays, I could see him shooting hoops in his driveway from my office windows. Wasn’t long before I joined him.
We’d work ourselves into a sweaty mess playing one-on-one and HORSE in the blazing Carolina heat for a couple hours. To rehydrate we would rip through a 30 pack of PBR’s. In the custom of that part of the world, we’d sit in lawn chairs in the driveway listening to George Jones and Randy Travis, crushing one PBR after another and occasionally getting back up for a desultory game of HORSE.
By the time our wives got home from work about 5 o’clock, we’d be in prime form.
Oh, to be 20 again…
The thing was, because of our 20-something metabolisms, we could consume just about anything and never worry about putting on weight. It’s such a shame that that doesn’t last forever!
Somewhere in our 30’s our burning hot metabolisms began to downshift a couple of gears. Our pants got tighter. Then we had to buy new pants.
Now, 25 years later, Teddy wants to shed 20 lbs.
So, what next?
As part of the plan we were developing for Ted, we discussed how much alcohol he was consuming on a weekly basis. Lots of people are a bit sheepish when this subject comes up. Most underestimate and under-report how much they drink.
To Teddy’s credit, he was honest with himself, acknowledging that he drinks 3-4 nights per week, each night putting away 2-4 drinks. Occasionally, he’ll over indulge and his 2-4 becomes 6+.
Anticipating my coaching suggestions, he quickly added, “but Paulie, I switched to vodka because it’s ‘fat-free’ and better for me than beer, so we probably shouldn’t ‘count’ those calories in my weekly allowance. Right???”
So, what do you think? Is vodka “fat free” and “better for me than beer?” How does the regular consumption of alcohol fit into our fitness and nutrition plans? Should those calories “count”?
Let’s dive in here and start to unpack some of this.
Before we begin, I want to assert that we neither encourage nor discourage the consumption of alcohol. We are completely agnostic on this subject. This can be a highly charged subject and this essay is in no way intended to take a stance for or against drinking. Instead let’s agree to use Teddy’s experience to illustrate how drinking can influence our efforts to maintain or lose weight.
Let’s begin by highlighting where Teddy is actually correct. Is vodka “fat-free”? Yes, it is. But, what Teddy actually meant by “fat-free” was low-carb. He’s been so conditioned by the fat-free rhetoric of the 80’s and 90’s that he mixes that up with low-carb. But, I knew what he meant. Yes, he’s correct in that assumption as well. Vodka is very low-carb. In fact, it contains no carbohydrates.
While vodka contains zero fats or carbohydrates, it does have calories. In fact, alcohol contains more potential energy than either protein or carbohydrates. Each of those macronutrients contain only 4 calories per gram. Alcohol (ethanol) contains 7 calories per gram. By mass or volume, alcohol possesses more stored energy. We know from my earlier posts that the body stores unused or excess energy as fat. (click here if you missed that post)
One “drink” of vodka contains 65 calories. A measured drink is 1.5 ounces.
But, you’re too generous…
Where a lot of us go astray, and I’ll include Teddy in this group, is that we mistakenly underestimate the size of our pours. The massive tumblers and wine glasses that we commonly use don’t help. I believe that very few of us are strictly pouring out 1.5 ounces of vodka in our mixed drinks or 6 ounces of Merlot in the bucket sized chalices that I see so many people drinking from.
Knowing my friend Teddy as I do, his 2-4 drinks per night may in fact be closer to 3-6 drinks in actual volume.
If we give him the benefit of the doubt and use the lower end of that range (3 drinks), that represents 195 calories on the days he has a few. On the higher end of that range (6 drinks), he’s consuming 390 calories.
Based on the daily plan that we constructed, by which he would burn 1 lb of fat per week using a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day, his daily calorie target was 2100 calories. If 195-390 of those come from his vodka, he’s now limited to from 1710-1905 calories per day of food (click here if you’d like to learn how we put together Teddy’s plan).
So, what do you think? Will he be hungry on those days? How many of us stay disciplined when we become hungry? How many of us remain disciplined when we are hungry and drinking? Can you guess what the likely outcome of this plan will be unless we agree to take a hard look at how much and how often Teddy is consuming alcohol?
Of course, the answers to those questions are blindingly obvious. Our carefully constructed plan will fail, and Teddy will become discouraged and probably quit. Does that sound familiar to anybody? Yeah, that’s the most common outcome of about 90% of the diets and nutrition plans ever attempted.
Over the long haul…
When we calculate the weekly caloric intake from the alcohol at the low end of Teddy’s guesstimate for a week’s worth of consumption, he’s drinking at least 585 calories per week. If not compensated for with exercise or calorie restriction elsewhere in his diet, that’s an excess of over 30,000 calories per year, or 9 lbs of fat added every year. So, you can see how sneaky a “couple of drinks” can be and how they will add up over 10-20 years. No wonder so many of us find ourselves approaching 50 and wondering how it could be possible that we’ve put on 50 pounds or more.
There’s one other aspect of alcohol that I’d like to point out. Our bodies metabolize it first, in the liver, before we metabolize fats and carbohydrates. Depending on how active we are, that can result in the excess energy from those macronutrients being stored as fat.
So, while alcohol contains no fat, and hard spirits have low or no carbs, it does have calories and bumps the metabolism of key macronutrients down in the order of priority which could result in us putting on weight.
On top of all that, we know that alcohol increases appetite in some people. In a similar way it also suppresses our sense of satiety. To make matters even worse, it lowers our inhibitions and undermines self-control.
Uh, oh… this ain’t gonna go well!
So, maybe we have a couple cocktails, or a couple more than a couple, then we get the munchies, grab a bag of Ranch flavored Doritos, power through the full bag and a jar of queso, don’t feel full from that, so we tear into some chocolate chip cookies, and rather than enjoying one, we snarfle up half a dozen before we even realize how far off the rails we’ve gone. Sound familiar?
I don’t even want to begin trying to calculate the caloric bomb that the above scenario totals up to. No doubt though, an evening like that will certainly set us back in our efforts to control our weight.
After thinking this through, what are your thoughts about Teddy’s switch from PBR’s to vodka? Does that move help him to better control his weight? Will his level of alcohol consumption serve his goals of shedding the desired 20 lbs?
Yeah, Teddy came to the same conclusion. Faced with the facts and really looking deep at why he wants to lose the weight, he decided to rein in his consumption considerably. He decided to limit his weekly total to just six drinks. It has been several months since that decision and, so far, he’s been really disciplined. Sure, there has been a week or two when he exceeded his self-imposed limit, like when he went on a cruise. But, he has also ramped up his activity on those days, thereby compensating for the surplus calories from the alcohol.
While there is so much more that I can share about the impact of alcohol on weight loss, let’s pause here for now. Suffice to say, for a great many of us, regular alcohol consumption, even if it’s within the sphere of what anybody would consider as “moderate”, will add substantial calories to our diet. We delude ourselves, and by doing so, derail our efforts to lose weight, when we pretend that those calories “don’t count”.
In my next post, we’re going to take a closer look at another way that we often delude ourselves. Very few of us workout at a level of intensity and consistency that will really move the needle much on our weight. Like many of us, Teddy thinks he’s training three or more times every week. Yet the facts tell us something different. We’ll check in again on Teddy and help him face those facts. Look for that post titled, Two Workouts A Week Just Ain’t Gonna Get It Done.
Julie has put the finishing touches on our Small Group Nutrition Coaching program! We’re ready to roll. Look for an email this weekend from us with all the details and an application to sign up!
As always, we are grateful for your support and encouragement!
Be strong and have fun!