Saturday, April 14, 2007

Drinking Alcohol Stops Fat-Burning On Low-Carb

Alcoholic beverages may keep your low-carb diet from working

I was lucky when I started livin' la vida low-carb in 2004 because I am not a drinker. I tried beer once and it totally grossed me out. On my honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas back in 1995, I tried champagne for the first time. Blech! And I even had a chance to drink some wine earlier this year, but the smell was enough to knock me down.

Yep, I'm pretty weak when it comes to drinking alcohol, but I realize there are others who are just starting out on their low-carb lifestyle who do enjoy the occasional adult beverage from time to time. Unfortunately, frequent consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially in the early stages of livin' la vida low-carb, is about as foolish as drinking a sugary beverage.

Why? Well, let me share with you a recent e-mail from one of my readers and my response to illustrate.

Here's what she wrote:

I started Atkins two weeks ago and have adhered to it religiously--almost. Bit of a contradiction there, I admit, so perhaps this is where I'm going wrong.

I've got 40 pounds to lose, and am trying (hoping!) to do so over the next 13 weeks for my sister-in-law's wedding. During the first two weeks, I've been using the Induction Phase chapter of Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution as my reference guide and following the eating plan.

I'm having a creamcheese and smoked salmon filled celery sticks for breakfast, decaffeinated coffee with cream once a day, lunch of roast chicken and small salad with olive oil dressing, and dinner of fresh salmon with spinach--for example. I'm weighing all vegetables and am not going over the recommended amount.

I know that I'm in ketosis because I've been using the sticks and they tell me so. But I've only lost 2 pounds. I'm drinking water, walking to work and doing everything else that I think is right, but it just doesn't seem to be working.

So now to my confession--I've had a few alcoholic drinks during the first two weeks; vodka and club soda, which is carb-free, but perhaps not sugar-free? Could this be impacting my weight loss?

I'd really appreciate any guidance you can give as I'm considering giving up and trying a low fat diet instead; the wedding date is looming!

Hmmm, it sounds like she answered her own question even before I responded. But if you look on page 230 of Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution in the chapter on "A Regimen To Jump-Start Weight Loss," the brilliant Dr. Robert C. Atkins shared so succinctly in his #11 recommendation that "Alcohol is not permitted in any form" when you are first trying to lose weight.

WHY?! What do you mean I can't have my alcoholic beverages?! What kinda screwed up diet plan is this that you can't even drink? Sheeez, I think I need a drink! EEEEEK!

Calm down for a moment because the good doctor explained all about it on page 181 in discussing "Ongoing Weight Loss." Here's how he answered the question, "Can I drink alcohol now that I am in Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL)?":

"The body burns alcohol for fuel when alcohol is available. So when it is burning alcohol, your body will not burn fat. This does not stop weight loss; it simply postpones it. Since the alcohol does not get stored as glycogen, you immediately get back into lipolysis after the alcohol is used up."

Sage advice from the late great Dr. Atkins and I'll share more nuggets of truth from him in a moment. First, I'd like to show you my response to my reader's concerns based on what I know about livin' la vida low-carb.

THANKS so much for writing and I'm happy to help anyone who writes to me. Your concerns are not all that uncommon and it will be my pleasure to give you the rather simple answer.

When you are eating a low-carb diet and in ketosis as you have been, your body begins to burn the stored fat for fuel which is why you lose weight. However, when you add alcoholic beverages to your diet as you have, then you might as well start stuffing your face with sugar and refined carbs.


Because the alcohol must be burned off FIRST before stored fat can be burned. This may seem awful that you can't have alcohol while losing weight on low-carb, but it's only for the next 11 weeks as you seek to get down to your goal weight.

Do this: Read the book again, follow it exactly as prescribed, and by all means PUT THE SCALE AWAY! :) Don't just make this a diet you go on and off at a moment's notice. Either you are low-carbing it or you are not.

If you do decide to eat a high-carb, low-fat diet, then I would advise the same thing. Don't ever stop doing it (although you'll be absolutely MISERABLE eating that way for life!). YOU CAN DO THIS! It's not impossible if you believe you WILL succeed.

Now GO FOR IT! THANK YOU again for writing!

To be honest, I couldn't believe she would even THINK about going on a low-fat diet, but I suppose people get desperate enough to try ANYTHING when they feel their diet isn't working. It seems my response must have struck a real chord with her because she wrote me back one more time with this appreciative note:

Brilliant Jimmy! I feel I've been well and truly told! But more than that, you've identified where I'm going wrong, and as suspected, it's because of the booze. Well, I'll just have to go without, won't I?!

Thanks also for the advice re on/off--I suspect you're spot on; "diets" are a way of eating for life and the reason I've put on the weight I have is because I've been indulging in too much of both--high carbs, high fat.

I must admit it's been a tough two weeks on Atkins to date, but it's getting easier and I'm starting to settle into a routine now, and am quite surprised at some side effects I wasn't expecting; my skin is quite smooth and blemish free, and I've noticed that I've stopped getting little ulcers in my mouth. Strange benefits, but welcome nonetheless!

Righto, off I go to enjoy my scrambled eggs with cheese and chives for breakfast! I'll let you know how I get on by July. Thanks again for taking the time to respond, I really am most grateful.

Don't neglect that fat in your diet and you'll be doing wonderfully on the Atkins diet. The side health benefits she mentions are only the beginning of many awesome changes to come. You're gonna do GREAT, I just KNOW it! :)

Dr. Atkins had a few more thoughts to share about Atkins and alcohol:

"Keep in mind that alcohol consumption may increase yeast-related symptoms in some people and interfere with weight loss. If [drinking alcohol] does not slow your weight loss, an occasional glass of wine is acceptable once you are out of Induction so long as you count the carbohydrates in your daily tally. (A 3 1/2-ounce glass of wine contains about 4.3 grams of carbohydrate.) Spirits such as Scotch, rye, vodka and gin are acceptable, but do not mix with juice, tonic water or non-diet soda, all of which contain sugar. Seltzer, diet tonic and non-aspartame diet soda mixers are permitted."

Wonderful advice for all of you drinkers who are low-carbin' it! Here's one more thought from Dr. Atkins to people like my reader who has seen her weight loss efforts fall flat because she drank a few alcoholic beverages:

"If you have added alcohol to your regimen and suddenly stop losing weight, discontinue your alcohol intake."

The advice doesn't get any more simple than that! THANKS for the question! Feel free to send me your questions about livin' la vida low-carb anytime at

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Blogger mrfritznyc said...

there's no reason not to have an drink or two during "induction," because, in the long run it wont make much difference at all. If that's part of your lifestyle, then post "induction" you'll be doing the same thing. My point here is that there is nothing magical about the induction period. The booze will slow you down a bit, but so what? It wont make a bit of difference in how much you're gonna weigh in 6 months, assuming you'll be drinking from time to time post induction as well. Now, if you're drinking a lot, and often, that's another issue altogether...

one thing the good Dr. A. never mentioned regarding alcohol is that once you start low carbing, you will find yourself getting tipsier must faster. Face it, you are getting smashed in half the time. I learned this the hard way...

4/15/2007 9:10 AM  
Blogger Darleen said...

That's a truth I can testify to. Ive been low carbing for a couple years but even drinking a martini with no sugary mixers can cause me to be up a couple pounds the next day. I'm sure part of it is the water retenion for me but I'm also sure it is because I am not burning the fat (and since I eat liberal amounts of it I do need to keep burning it.)

4/15/2007 10:05 AM  

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