Q: I’m pretty sure it’s there, just need some guidance on the ramifications of alcoholic beverages on your diet (caloric intake)?

Welp. Here goes nothin’.

I used to bartend. I also used to work in a wine bar. Needless to say… I love my spirits, and I was hard pressed to be separated from them.

That is… until I abstained from them (and smoking) for exactly one year. I can count on my left hand the number of times I’ve drank in the past 12 months… most of which have occurred within the past two months. (But in all fairness, the Colts drive me to drink. Just kidding… sorta.)

With alcohol… you know that overindulgence damages the liver, but do we all know why? Furthermore, do we know the resulting effect of alcohol on the body?

I mean, let’s get this out of the way early – alcohol is absolutely not “clean.” It is a chemical – a fermented version of sugars from various sources, be they potatoes, agave plants, grapes, molasses, berries, barley, whatever.

The fermented version of these sources is, in fact, considered a “foreign substance” inside the body. It does not provide nutritional benefit. It does not provide sustenance. It does not fill up the body. It does not provide energy. If anything, it slows you down and make you binge on garbage food. (At least, it did in college… or maybe that’s because all the food in college was garbage food. Not sure.)

When the body ingests something it considers a “foreign substance,” the substance is then passed down to the liver to be “handled.” The liver is the “detoxifying” organ. That’s one of its jobs. The liver digests the substance… converts it into an energy source, and then sees to it that the energy source is properly stored away for future use.

Read that again:

The liver digests the substance… converts it into an energy source, and then sees to it that the energy source is properly stored away for future use.

That means it is stored away as fat.

Overworking the liver can cause all kinds of maladies, specifically liver disease. (Remember: high fructose corn syrup overworks the liver as well because it is seen as a “foreign substance,” lending itself to non-fatty liver disease.. and we’re alllllllll all up in arms over that one.) That’s the big issue, here. Regular indulgence of alcohol does exactly that – it overworks the liver, resulting not only in liver problems, but in the excess fat as well. Think “freshman 15:” it doesn’t all come from ramen noodles.

(See how that works? Internal problems result in outward reflection of the real issue. Drink too much, gain weight because of it. No one can tell me weight and wellness aren’t linked together.)

That being said… is it ideal for someone to give up alcohol completely? Yes. Is that possible at all times? It is a challenge. It’s hard because I know that alcohol fuels addiction just like regular sugars – although they are two different issues triggering two different emotions in the brain – but I also know that there are people who do enjoy the occasional drink (and by occasional, I mean one event every couple of months) and don’t get sloppy drunk. There are different levels to enjoying alcohol, different elements to those levels of enjoyment and different ways to qualify each.

Like, for instance – when we hear about “a glass of wine a day…” that’s not talking about our bodies. That’s talking about “how much we can drink without it causing our insides harm,” and even then those figures are questionable (…and probably funded by a wine producer’s association.) That doesn’t change the fact that the ethanol in the drink is still converted to fat inside the body. If you’re someone who wants to be conscious of that… you’ll limit your wine intake to the rare-yet-amazing-one-of-a-kind-bottle that you can get your hands on… not the two-buck-chuck, no matter how dope it may be.

And with hard liquor, what do you do? Throw back shots? You certainly don’t mix it with a soft drink. Yeesh.

I mean, let’s be realistic. Sometimes, you want to indulge. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You do have to temper your indulgences the same way you should temper anything else that is not clean. Keep it as rare as possible. And no, I don’t mean “moderation.” I mean “keep it a rarity.” Save it for the most special of events and situations.

If you’re at a networking event or something similar, where you’re letting your hair down with other similarly-situated professionals, liquor will be everywhere. If I don’t want it, I ask the bartender for a glass of water with ice, and talk a little slower than normal. No one’s gonna question what’s in your glass and if they do.. it’s vodka and water or it’s “none of your business, nosy!” When I’m in that situation and I know I want a drink, I get a screwdriver – orange juice and vodka. That’s my go-to drink.

Do I believe in abstaining from alcohol? Absolutely. After giving it up for a year straight, then indulging a bit at my leisure… I don’t know that I see a need for it in my life anymore. It has the same effect on me that sugar does when I partake, now – it’s nowhere near as exciting, nowhere near as engaging, and feels more like a burden than anything else.

For those that don’t want to take that route, my best advice is the same as it is for indulging in basic sweets – scale back, save them for the most special of occasions and keep them as rare as possible. Your body (inside and out) will thank you for it!