Drinking alcohol is a great part of today’s (western) culture and considered ‘normal’ in my life and social circles. In this post I will be setting out the (health) benefits and risks related to drinking alcohol. I will discuss the struggles between drinking alcohol as part of our culture and daily live and abstaining from drinking alcohol because it is unhealthy. Personally, I am still working on my own healthy and balanced relationship with alcohol. I have yet to discover what really works for me. With this article I hope to be able to find the right balance.
My personal relationship with alcohol
I have always had a love & hate relationship with alcohol. Unfortunately, alcoholism has been a big issue in my family’s history and genes. I have even lost people to this disease. Last year during a conversation with my cousins we discovered that we all have the same hesitant relationship with alcohol. We all drink alcohol, we liked to party, and alcohol is a part of our lives. However, in the back of our minds we are always conscious about the negative effects of alcohol. We are aware of the fact that we might be genetically inclined towards alcoholism and we should always be very careful about this.
For me personally drinking alcohol is a social thing. When I go out to dinner, meet with friends at a bar or have people over at my house this would always include alcohol. However, I never drink when I am alone just for the effect alcohol has on me. Having a glass of wine when I get home from work or during dinner has never appealed to me. I am not judging people that do however I believe that with regards to once health this is not something that should be encouraged.
All or nothing
My “problem” with alcohol is that I am all or nothing. Abstaining from drinking alcohol completely is not hard for me. Like I said before I never drink at home alone to begin with and I would just choose not to put myself in situations where drinking alcohol is socially expected. However, when I do go out to dinner, to a party or meet with friends I will always drink. And not just 2 glasses of wine. No more like 2 bottles. I always say, “when I have 1 glass of alcohol, I want another one and when I have 2, I want 4 and 4 means 10”.
Trust me this is not something that I am proud of and I find it difficult to be sharing this on my blog. But it is the truth. Luckily this does not happen every week or even every month. The last time I drank was 3 months ago. But I am aware of the fact that my inability to only drink in moderation is not healthy and I have been struggling with this for quite some time.
If you don’t get drunk, does that mean it isn’t bad for you?
Then there are people that do not go out and drink like I do. However, these people do drink and much more often compared to me. They would drink just one or 2 glasses of wine in the evening. But they drink (almost) daily. And I know for a fact that ‘1 or 2 glasses’ almost unnoticedly turns into half a bottle or even one bottle per evening. Every day.
Here is a question I have for you: how often and how much do you drink alcohol? Do you think you have a good and balanced relationship with alcohol or would you like to make certain changes for health or other benefits? Think about this for a second, reflect and perhaps take action after finishing this article.
What is the right ‘balance’? And what do I want my relationship with alcohol to be?
Currently I am not drinking. Because the last time I did I overdid it and I got really sick. Because I live a life where I focus on being fit and active and eating a healthy balanced mostly wholefoods plantbased diet every day. So last time when I drank my body just rejected the literal poison I was ingesting. And that actually made a lot of sense to me. How can I be all about health and nutrition and then consume so much – poisonous – alcohol?
But then again, in my social circle drinking alcohol is normal and even expected. It did not even occur to me to ‘just not drink alcohol’ because of fear people would not like me because of it.
So, here is my question. Alcohol consumption. Is this just unhealthy and should it be avoided at all cost. Or can it be part of a healthy balanced and happy life?
There is a difference in the amount of alcohol consumed
There have been many studies to the effects of alcohol on our health. These studies have shown that there should be a distinction between moderate drinking and heavy drinking. When one drink contains 12-14 gr of alcohol moderate drinking for men means 1-2 glasses a day and women no more than 1 a day. Anything more constitutes as heavy drinking which is a major cause of many preventable deaths. Globally alcohol consumption constitutes to 3 million deaths each year. Shockingly the harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5,1% of all diseases. (www.who.int)
What about one glass of wine a day?
Alcohol consumption in moderation has been linked to certain cardiovascular health benefits and type 2 diabetes prevention. So yes based only on these scientific facts 1 glass of wine – preferably red wine because of the healthy resveratrol component – is okay.
Firstly, for women however even moderate drinking is linked to an increase risk of breast cancer. Purely based on health reasons women should therefore not drink alcohol at all.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health the benefits and risks of moderate drinking are different for men and women and change over a lifetime.
When we get older and the risks of cardiovascular diseases increase, statistically the health benefits are higher compared to healthy young people.
Health risks related to alcohol
Secondly, the health risks of heavy drinking are high and include but are not limited to liver and hart damage, breast and other cancer, depression and more. Yet even moderate drinking has certain health risks that offset the possible health benefits. Furthermore, alcohol is highly addictive, especially for people with a family history of alcoholism.
Even more important, the (small) benefits that come with moderate drinking can also – very easily – be achieved through exercise and healthy(ier) eating. Therefore, there is no reason to drink alcohol purely for health benefits.
There is another form of drinking that is proven to have even more negative health effects on the body both short and long term: binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined for men as drinking 5 or more drinks in 2 hours and for women 4 or more. The health implications are very serious and therefore this should be avoided at all cost.
Alcohol and weight gain
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Compared to carbohydrates and protein (4 calories per gram) alcohol is twice as fattening. One glass of alcohol contains around 100-150 kcal and is therefore a big benefactor for gaining weight. Studies have also shown that when drinking alcohol, the consumption of (unhealthy and fattening) foods increases, leading to even more weight gain.
It has been indisputably proven that weight gain and being overweight or obese has serious negative health effects. Being overweight leads to an increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions. To name a few: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart desease, type 2 diabetes, many types of cancer, mental illness, and many more.
Alcohol and fitness
Especially when you lead an active and fit lifestyle or when you want to get fit drinking alcohol has a big negative impact on both your body and overall fit-ness.
There are several impacts. First, because alcohol makes you lose excess water it has a negative impact on the hydration of the body. Especially during exercise – where you will also lose excess water – this has a double negative effect and should therefore be avoided.
Furthermore, because alcohol is a toxin. The liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body. That is the reason why drinking alcohol has such an impact on your liver and causes serious liver problems and diseases. When consuming alcohol the liver will have to work extra hard to remove this toxin from your body first. The liver is solely focusing on the alcohol and will not be able to properly digest the other foods you are consuming. This will result in a lower metabolism which in effect can cause weight gain.
Alcohol will impact your performance
Also, during this process your liver will be depleted of glycogen. This means that your body has less glycogen storage capacity. Glycogen is needed during a workout as it is your bodies source of energy. This will consequently result in a decrease in strength and endurance and will negatively impact your athletic performance.
never consume alcohol (the day) before a race, intense workout or big game!
Lastly, drinking after a workout has a negative effect on muscle recovery. Immediately after a workout your body needs to work hard to recover, rebuild and rehydrate. Therefore, it is not advised to have a drink right after but focus on replenishing your body first with healthy and nutritious foods and drinks.
More about my fitness journey and the health benefits of a healthy and fit lifestyle in my blog here.
Conclusion: find the (un)healthy balance
After doing my research I can only conclude that drinking alcohol is not healthy – not ever. Drinking heavily and especially binge drinking has an immense negative impact on your body and your life and should therefore always be discouraged. Where there are (small) health benefits related to moderate drinking, these benefits do not out way the risks. More importantly the health benefits from drinking 1 glass of alcohol per day can also be met through exercise and healthy diet.
Social alcohol consumption
However, alcohol has also a different purpose: it is a big part of our western social life and food & drink culture. Where I am absolutely opposed to the harmful peer pressure that goes on in social circles I do believe in the mental and social benefits of enjoying a drink with friends or family. I truly hope that with the current world heath crisis drinking alcohol in moderation or not drinking at all even during social gatherings will become even more accepted.
Not drinking alcohol or drinking only 1 or 2 glasses should become the new normal.
In recent years there has been a huge increase in the number of low or non-alcoholic beverages being offered. This is such a great trend which send the message that choosing to not drink is okay. The options are endless, think about all the different 0% beers we have nowadays, the ‘fancy’ soda’s and the fermented drink kombucha with even additional health benefits. Double win!
My promise to myself
Even though I was aware of the health risks of binge drinking, reading about it and writing it down in this post made me even more aware of my own alcohol abuse. Yes, I easily go weeks or even months without a drink. However, when I drink, I am not a ‘moderate drinker’ and sometimes I would even have to qualify myself as a binge drinker. This goes against my search for and believe in a healthy and fit life.
Therefore I never want to binge drink again. This I will promise to myself. I cannot guarantee that I will not mess up. Especially under social peer pressure I have been proven to sometimes give in. When this happens, I will have to live with the consequences the next day and in the long term. And then I just have to remind myself again why I do not want this and move on.
For me the true challenge lies in finding my BALANCE
I would like to be able to have just 1 or 2 drinks or occasionally (!) even a bit more. This past weekend I went out for dinner and drinks and I consumed one – very delicious – glass of white wine. And that was it.
I have promised myself that when I drink, I will only drink something that I truly like and enjoy. Such as a glass of Champagne, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or a delicious light pink rose from the Provence. I want to be living the good life of course, preferable hungover free!
Balance is key. It is okay if you stumble sometimes just as long as you find your balance again.
Love xoxo Jen