Is your waist feeling softer than it used to? Yet you eat a healthy diet, so you can’t understand why?
If you enjoy a glass of wine (or two) with dinner, you could have a ‘wine waist’. Here’s how to lose it.
Most Aussies love a drink or two. In fact, when surveyed, 83 per cent of us said we were recent drinkers. While most of us are aware of the negative health effects of too much alcohol, the impact on our appearance and weight are usually overlooked.
“I see so many men and women with a ‘wine waist’”, says HFG dietitian Zoe Wilson.
“Sometimes it isn’t always about the wrong food, often it’s the result of drinking wine at least three nights a week.”
It’s so easy to overlook the two glasses of red we have with a healthy dinner. But alcoholic drinks give us ‘empty kilojoules’ as they don’t give us any other beneficial nutrients like protein, fibre, vitamins or minerals.
“Many people don’t realise that wine is loaded with kilojoules,” says Wilson. “Think of it this way, just 1g of pure alcohol contains 29kJ, almost as much as 1g fat, at 37kJ! So having one big glass (which is normally the size we pour at home), you’re consuming about the same amount of kilojoules as a slice of ham and cheese pizza without realising.”
Refraining on most days of the week isn’t going to help if you drink a lot (ie. a bottle) over one or two nights. A study found women who drank in this sort of pattern had an extra 10cm around their waist, and men had an extra 5cm. This was compared to those who drank a little (ie. one small glass), but more often (ie. most nights).
While the reasons for this hefty weight gain weren’t clear, the authors theorised it could be the combination of kilojoules in the drinks and the poor food choices that are often made around a high intake of alcohol.
However, it’s not all bad news. Studies show a moderate amount of red wine, which contains an antioxidant called resveratrol, is beneficial for the heart. But the benefits don’t accumulate the more you drink, so stick to the recommended 1–2 standard drinks or less per day, with a few days off a week. More than that, and you’re into kilojoule overload.
The ‘beer belly’ phenomenon
It’s not only wine that can affect your waistline. Other alcohol, including beer and spirits, can have the same impact. A study published in Nutritional Epidemiology found the more alcohol (not just wine) drunk in a day the more central adiposity, or in plain English, belly fat the subjects had. Other studies have actually shown alcohol to increase the fat that sits around our vital organs, such as the heart, liver and kidney. So while you may think a little weight around the middle isn’t too much of a worry, this fat actually increases our risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So why does alcohol increase belly fat, as opposed to generalised weight gain? The answer is still somewhat of a mystery. One possible theory is that when alcohol is metabolised it increases testosterone levels, leading to this male-pattern weight gain.How much is too much? H2
At present, the Australian Government recommends both men and women limit their intake of alcohol to no more than two standard drinks per day. However, many of us still don’t realise how many standard drinks different beverages contain. For example, the standard glass of wine served in a restaurant is actually 150ml or 1.5 standard drinks – see box below for more info on standard drinks. In Australia, alcohol products containing more than 0.5% alcohol are legally required to state the alcoholic strength and number of standard drinks on the label – so use that as your pouring guide. There’s also a push to include health warnings on the labels, similar to those that are found on cigarette packages, in an attempt to deter overconsumption. However, currently the only labeling initiative you’ll see in the store is a Drinkwise Australia label aimed at deterring pregnant women from drinking alcohol.
What’s in my drink?
Small glass red wine (150ml, 13% alc. vol) = 1.5 standard drinks = 490kJ
Small glass white wine ((150ml,11.5% alc.vol) = 1.4 standard drinks = 440kJ
Small glass reduced-alcohol red wine (150ml, 8–9% alc. vol) = 1 standard drink = 340kJ
Small glass reduced-alcohol white wine (150ml, 8–9% alc. vol) = 1 standard drink = 320kJ
Small glass champagne (150ml, 12% alc. vol) = 1.4 standard drinks = 420kJ
30ml shot of spirits (40% alc. vol) with 170ml regular soft drink = 1 standard drink = 520kJ
One standard drink contains 10g alcohol, meaning at least 270kJ per glass.
Alcohol naturally contains chemicals such as salicylates, amines and glutamates, and preservatives called sulphites. Sulphites are naturally occurring but also added during production to prevent further fermentation. In people sensitive to these chemicals, they can cause a range of unpleasant side effects including IBS-like symptoms (eg. bloating, wind, diarrhoea), wheezing, eczema, migraines or flushing. There’s an increasing number of wines made ‘preservative-free’ for those sensitive to sulphites. Look for ‘preservative-free’ or ‘no preservative added’ on the label. If symptoms are causing you major discomfort, it’s a good idea to consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian for personalised advice.
Quick tips to cut down
When do you drink most?
Is it when you’ve had a tough day? Often we think a glass of wine will help to improve our mood, but it’s not the answer. Alcohol is a depressant so could actually make your mood worse.
Instead of reaching for the bottle as soon as you get home, have a calming bath or a cup of tea first. This may take the edge off your need for wine. Wait until after you’ve eaten, you may then find you don’t want one.
Rethink your social life
If you usually meet friends in a pub after work, change your activities. Try meeting for a coffee or quick bite before going to the cinema instead.
Dedicate two or three nights a week to non-drinking activities, such as an art class or exercise class, so you won’t be so tempted by wine when you’re bored at night.
Use smaller glasses at home and put the bottle away once you’ve poured a glass. That way you’ll have to think about whether or not you really want a second or third glass.
Choose a non-alcoholic drink (preferably water) between glasses of wine so you reduce how much you drink and also reduce the dehydrating effects of the alcohol.
Work out how much you spend on alcohol every month and buy something nice for yourself with the money you save by cutting down instead.
Treat your favourite wine like dark chocolate. Stick to one or two small glasses only, drink it slowly and savour it. Teach yourself to put the wine glass down after each sip so you aren’t tempted to drink too quickly.
Stop and think
Before pouring yourself a second glass, walk away for five minutes and ask yourself if you really need another. Try cleaning your teeth so you feel fresh and imagine how much better you’ll feel the next day.
Steer clear of rounds
This creates pressure to keep drinking. Buying your own also makes it easier to alternate a non-alcoholic drink with an alcoholic one.
Shop earlier in the day
A late-night dash to get dinner will make it more tempting to grab a bottle of wine too.
Look good, feel great – the benefits of saying no
You’ll sleep better
Alcohol disrupts the natural sequence and duration of the sleep cycle. While you may nod off easily, you’re likely to wake easily during the second stage of sleep, so you won’t feel alert and energised the following day.
You’ll have brighter eyes
Without alcohol dilating the blood vessels, the whites of your eyes will be clear, you’ll also be less prone to the puffiness and dark circles, which is caused by dehydration and disturbed sleep.
Your skin will be clearer
Alcohol dehydrates the body, including skin – our biggest organ – so your complexion will look dull and sometimes puffy as your body strives to retain water. Drinking alcohol also dilates small blood vessels so that skin becomes red and blotchy.
You may lose some weight
A 250ml glass of red wine with 13% alcohol contains 800kJ (a bottle has a whopping 2400kJ). Cutting down will mean you’ll most likely shed a few kilos, even if you just make your current glass at night a bit smaller!
You’ll be more productive
Alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant, and affects the chemistry of the brain, slowing it and the nervous system down.
You’ll cut your risk of chronic disease
Cutting down reduces the risk of liver disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and stroke.
Did you know?
A standard restaurant pour is 150ml, which is more than a standard drink of wine (around 100ml).
One standard drink contains 10g alcohol, meaning at least 270kJ per glass.