Alcohol and weight …

Talking about the events of my life from over 3 years ago has brought into focus many of the things that I had buried since that time, and made me reflect on a lot of my own personal ways of being and ways of addressing pain. Unfortunately since I was about 18 – drowning my sorrows, toasting my successes and just passing time – has meant I had alcohol for most of the days of my life since this time (barring pregnancy and periods of determined abstinence).

This period of my life saw me turn to many things to try to get through what was a really difficult time. I turned to people – which is not really in my nature (more on that later), I turned to exercise, and I started to read some self help books. In general I try to stay away from self help manuals simply because I feel like as a person I can be a bit of a sponge and easily convinced of being in need of change.

What really got me through the time was routine – I would rise at 4 – work – exercise – have breakfast – get my kids ready for school – drive them to school – get to work – exercise some more – work some more – get home – make dinner, clean the house, try to engage as a parent – then eat dinner. I would also get through the day by having at least 2 glasses of wine in the evening. This was not a special occasion – it was every night – and it was at least 2.

I dropped a lot of weight when my past relationship split – it just fell off – it wasn’t really through any changes in behavior – it was related to stress. I probably looked like hell, and felt even worse. Eventually when the stress started to level out I noticed that the weight was gradually creeping back on and even though I was happy to lose it for no reason – I was less than happy to be gaining it without changing any habits.

I will post more about my relationship with wine – where it came from and why I feel the need to address it closely now – but I wanted this post to be a little bit about why alcohol has such an impact on our weight.  There are of course the unwanted calories that do nothing to provide nutrition for our engine – but according to research there are other ways that this substance can have an impact on our body that will impact on weight loss.

First, alcohol is the first fuel to be used when combined with carbohydrates, fats and proteins, postponing the fat-burning process and contributing to greater fat storage.

I am not a fan of the Atkins diet, but Dr Atkins did have this to say about alcohol and weight loss:

“Here’s the problem with all alcoholic beverages, and the reason I recommend refraining from alcohol consumption on the diet. Alcohol, whenever taken in, is the first fuel to burn. While that’s going on, your body will not burn fat. This does not stop the weight loss, it simply postpones it, since the alcohol does not store as glycogen, and you immediately go back into ketosis/lipolysis after the alcohol is used up.

Second, the pancreas is affected by alcohol.

The pancreas plays an important role in food digestion and its conversion into fuel to power your body. It sends enzymes into the small intestine to digest carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. It also secretes insulin and glucagon, hormones that regulate the process of utilizing glucose, the body’s main source of energy. Insulin and glucagon control glucose levels, which helps all cells use the energy glucose provides. Insulin also ensures that extra glucose gets stored away as either glycogen or fat.

When you drink, alcohol damages pancreatic cells and influences metabolic processes involving insulin. In an extreme case pancreatitis may result from excessive alcohol consumption. Large amounts of alcohol can confuse the pancreas causing it to secret enzymes internally instead of sending them to the small intestines. The buildup of enzymes in the pancreas will eventually cause inflammation of that organ.

A pancreas unaffected by alcohol sends enzymes out to the small intestine to metabolize food. Alcohol jumbles this process. It causes the pancreas to secrete its digestive juices internally, rather than sending the enzymes to the small intestine. These enzymes, as well as acetaldehyde—a substance produced from metabolizing, or breaking down the alcohol—are harmful to the pancreas. If you consume alcohol excessively over a long time, this continued process can cause inflammation, as well as swelling of tissues and blood vessels.

Third, as most of us are aware, the liver will be affected by alcohol consumption

Your liver is an essential organ for overall health. It stores energy and nutrients. It generates proteins and enzymes that your body uses to detoxify and ward off disease. It also rids your body of substances that can be dangerous—including alcohol.

The liver breaks down most of the alcohol a person consumes. But the process of breaking alcohol down generates toxins even more harmful than alcohol itself. These by-products damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s natural defenses. Eventually, these problems can disrupt the body’s metabolism and impair the function of other organs.

Heavy drinking—even for just a few days at a time—can cause fat to build up in the liver. This condition, called steatosis, or fatty liver, is the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease and the most common alcohol-induced liver disorder. The excessive fat makes it more difficult for the liver to operate and leaves it open to developing dangerous inflammations.

Fourth, we will generally eat more when we are drinking.

In a recent study (it was a small study – so no sweeping conclusions here – although I feel like the results reflect my own personal behavior) it was demonstrated that women who had been exposed to alcohol would eat up to 30% more food than those who had abstained. It was thought that alcohol inhibited feelings of fullness and perhaps made the brain more sensitive to food aromas. For me, I know that alcohol makes me less mindful generally, so without realizing it I would have consumed more food than I otherwise would have.

But wine is my friend …

Over the past several decades there have been various studies done in regards to the impacts of alcohol on long term wellness and health. Many suggest that there are some benefits associated with moderate amounts of drinking and others say that the only safe level is abstinence. I was always of the opinion that the body could handle a certain level – and also that it was sometimes great for a workout session for the next day to have a few glasses of wine at night. I am conscious of the fact that this was probably due to calories rather than ‘burning ethanol’ as I have frequently joked about.

For now I am trying to abstain as much as possible. There are many reasons for this – for instance I am more irritable when I drink, I put on weight, I have a harder time sleeping and my head is far less clear a night after one or two glasses of wine. More importantly, I am aware of my relationship with alcohol. It is not something that stops me from functioning – I have never missed one day of work as a result of a hangover (honestly – even when I had to go to work once after 2 hours sleep when I was in my 20s) – but what I do know is that a glass of wine at the end of the day used to make me happy – for that short period of time that I was drinking it at least. I have decided that this is an unhealthy way to be happy as there are many other things in the world that will fulfill me more than what is in a glass – and the process of abstaining leads to other activities that feel so much better than 100ml of liquid … (ok – it was always more than 100ml!)2016-09-15-18-01-03

Meeting Chris

To continue from the initial post I thought I would provide a little context as to why my balance was so far off at the time that I started training with Chris, and why the community and his methods have helped so much since. It remains a daily work in progress in my mind.

Three years ago my life changed. Sometimes you just know something is coming – and this was an interesting time of premonitions and instinctive reactions – which I now think was probably both a good and a bad thing.

After one week of knowing Chris I knew that he was going to be in my life for a long time. I didn’t know that he was going to become my partner and that we would be living together, working to combine a family of three children, but I knew that he and I had a connection. It was also a time when I had cut a lot of people out of my life and was living in a somewhat introverted world that I thought I loved.

The timing of Chris’ introduction at Healthstream Gardens Point was somewhat fateful. I had seen Chris around the gym and I had already decided I didn’t like him on the basis of appearances. This was strange because Chris is a very attractive man, and he seemed to work hard helping people in the gym. I guess my opinion of him improved a little when I could see he wasn’t training all the really fit people but rather helping some clients with some health issues who may not have been able to workout without his guidance. Looking back perhaps it was the confidence he seemed to have in himself that annoyed me – because it was a confidence that I clearly lacked at the time.

I arrived at our first training session expecting to be told to lift some heavy things, put them down and maybe try a few machines that looked like torture devices. I was a cardio junkie at the time, and weights were not in my comfort zone. Strangely enough I didn’t touch a weight the first session, but it was still one of the hardest sessions I had experienced for a while. Chris had me doing yoga poses, stretching and balance (this video shows you the basic idea – believe me – it was hard back then!). I now know that this is called Re.form and it is almost always where he begins with new people because he is a trainer who likes to know the nuances of his clients’ bodies – to really understand what they need to give them good balance, strength and overall wellness. What he found out about my body that day was that it had been neglected – despite exercising for upwards of 2 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Other than learning that my body was a mess from years of thrashing it in triathlon training we had a good time at our first session. We laughed a bit (I remember thinking that when he smiled his face changed – and an innocence appeared that made it impossible not to like him). We also talked about our addictive personalities a little and our tendency to throw ourselves into things. This was actually quite a significant conversation for us – and I now look back at it and realise that Chris was telling me a lot about himself when I thought we were talking about me.

I left our first session a little perplexed that I hadn’t burnt enough calories – (crazy) and quite concerned that I was incapable of basic stretching when I thought I was in excellent shape. Following his advice I started to attend Chris’ weekly Re.form classes. After the first class I joked with Chris that I felt incredibly uncoordinated, expecting a little bit of reassurance that I actually did incredibly well for my first time. However, in what I now know is Chris’ way he responded ‘you looked worse than you felt’. It was pretty funny – I had to laugh.

Two weeks passed of training happily with Chris – my flexibility improved (incredibly slowly) and I started to look forward to the fun we had in the gym. It was all completely innocent of course. I was in a relationship with the father of my two children (although things were not going well there) and Chris had a girlfriend. We were well aware of our connection, but there was not even a suggestion of anything further. Except in my head.

I mentioned that sometimes you know when something is going to happen, and I knew that my life was in for some changes. I was about to start a full time lecturing position at University and I had finished off my PhD which had consumed my life for many years. I was also a little concerned about rewriting my thesis into a book about Climate Change and World Trade when the original manuscript had taken me 3 years to create. I thought these were going to be my challenges for the next year or so. However, these events were insignificant compared to the changes that were about to happen in my personal life.

Things were not going well with the father of my children. One Friday night we decided that we would spend some time to figure things out a little and decide if the partnership was what we wanted. It was an easy conversation, we were both happy with the outcome and I was fully prepared in my own mind to work towards a better relationship or move on. Realistically, neither one of us had the intention of improving the relationship that we had let fall apart. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I had feelings for my trainer (yes, I admit it) even though I had only known him 3 weeks. I thought that these feelings (although I had zero intention of acting on them) was an indication that perhaps I should exit my existing relationship and explore the outside world, for whatever that held.

This was not a dramatic time until the next week when I discovered something that I didn’t think was possible – and it pretty much destroyed my previously healthy ego (or should we call it self esteem?). The father of my children, who had been my trusted friend, emotional rock and financial security for 11 years, had fallen in love with someone else. To be fair, he was also the regular recipient of my terrible moods, tiredness and selfish pursuit of goals that would not have been fun. Regardless, this discovery meant that all of a sudden my choices were taken away and I needed to adapt to what was going to be a new life.


A happy face for the camera