The list of the negative effects of consuming alcohol is, unfortunately, not a short one. Drinking, whether it’s done regularly over time or in massive amounts all at once, can result in greater risk of heart issues, liver inflammation, pancreatitis, mood disruptions, and some types of cancer.
But even those who follow CDC recommendations and stick to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink daily for women aren’t completely insulated from alcohol’s more insidious impacts, especially when it comes to weight loss. Not only does drinking add empty calories to daily intake, it kicks cravings into high gear and interferes in the body’s ability to burn fat.
Why does alcohol stop fat burning?
Alcohol is calorie dense—much more so than nutritious proteins, grains, and dairy—making it a more attractive energy source for the body. Like a kid who’s allowed to eat dessert before dinner, the body wants to process all of the alcohol in the system before it even touches the brussels sprouts and salmon that are also waiting to be digested.
“The alcohol must be fully eliminated before your body starts to break down any of the other energy sources,” explains Bay Area Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist (CAND) Jasmine France. Once that’s finished, the body will slowly work its way through sugar and simple carbohydrates before finally beginning to burn fat.
While the body is attracted to the high calorie content of beer, wine and spirits, it’s a love-hate relationship. “Your body considers ethanol, [the organic compound produced during fermentation], a toxin or waste product,” says France. “It will shut down all other metabolic pathways until the alcohol is out of your system.” Working through that ethanol can take the body up to 36 hours; that’s a full day-and-a-half that won’t contain a bit of fat burning.
The blood sugar conundrum
As alcohol wreaks havoc with your metabolism, it launches a second assault to sabotage weight loss. The more you drink, the more your brain and body desire more food. Counterintuitively, drinking alcohol (which is high in sugar) causes the body’s blood sugar levels to drop, explains France, a condition called reactive hypoglycemia. As part of the body’s effort to rebalance blood sugar, appetite increases.
“Alcohol often leads to cravings for foods that will increase your blood sugar quickly like low-fiber starches,” she continues. The dehydration and electrolyte imbalance also caused by drinking especially increases cravings for salty foods like french fries. And, of course, the more food you consume, especially that with limited nutritional value, the more calories there are for your body to work through before getting back to fat burning.
Although drinking in moderation, that one to two drinks per day recommended by the CDC, isn’t likely to increase cravings significantly, it can’t stop the body’s metabolic pathways from going a little haywire. The less you drink though, “the easier it is for your body to get back into fat burning mode,” says France.
What you can do
“Some research has also found that drinking soda water, green tea and honey chrysanthemum tea can accelerate ethanol metabolism which, in addition to getting your body back to burning fat, may have a protective effect on your liver,” she explains.
Switching from higher ABV drinks to those with a lower alcohol content—trading your 8% IPA for a 4% pale ale, for example, or turning your glass of sauvignon blanc into a spritz by adding soda water—can also help by giving your body less ethanol to break down. The less ethanol that’s present, the more quickly the body can return to burning fat.
If weight loss is a top priority though, the best way to stay on track is to decrease the amount you’re drinking overall. Start thinking of alcohol more as a way of celebration, and less as a way of daily life. Your body will thank you.
This article originally appeared on AlcoholProfessor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.