FAQ: Is a “beer belly” a real phenomenon?
FAQs - Did You Know? Health
Morgan Medeiros MSc
June 1, 2018
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is beer belly realWondering if your favorite craft brew is going to add some unwanted padding around your midsection? Is the beer belly real?

While occasionally consuming beer or any other alcoholic beverage isn’t going to lead to a larger than desired belly, alcohol consumption is associated with a larger waistline, thanks to a number of factors related to alcohol digestion.

Alcohol is inherently different than any other food or beverage consumed by humans: regardless of how much you consume, your body views alcohol as a toxin, and acts to remove it from your bloodstream as quickly as possible.

As your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) climbs, your body prioritizes the metabolism of alcohol over the metabolism of stored fat and carbohydrate. In essence, your body turns the volume down on its typical metabolic rhythms, focusing instead on processing the alcohol in an attempt to reinstate normal BAC.

When this occurs, your body is existing in a metabolic state where stored Calories are not being burned as efficiently, which makes the beer belly real indeed.

Additionally, beer, wine, hard alcohol, and mixers are pure sugar. When sugar enters the bloodstream, blood sugar begins to climb, signaling the pancreas to secrete insulin, the hormone meant to carry sugar out of the bloodstream and into working cells for energy, or into fat for storage.

This means that-when you consume an alcoholic beverage- you aren’t just pressing pause on metabolism, you’re also adding additional Calories to the mix that will automatically be stored as fat in the easiest storage site: the visceral cavity.

The visceral cavity in the abdomen is home to your organs. Belly fat is a combination of both visceral and subcutaneous fat( fats that lies beneath the skin, but over the visceral cavity).

Alcohol consumption first drives fat to the visceral cavity, but will also drive fat to subcutaneous areas of the body (belly included) if the Calories consumed from alcohol are in excess of Caloric need.

So just how profound is this effect?

Luckily, the relationship between alcohol consumption and belly fat is largely dose-dependent.

In other words, the more you drink, the higher the anticipated waist size.

However, it doesn’t take much to start tipping the scales: studies have shown that even moderate drinking under the currently defined levels (1 drink per day for women, 2 for men) is associated with a significantly higher waist size when compared to individuals who consume alcohol less frequently.

So what should you do if you’re concerned about the effect that alcohol may be having on your belly line, but aren’t willing to give up your favorite sip?

Remember that number of drinks and portion size are crucial: most consumers are not able to readily gauge portion size without measuring.

A standard drink is 5 oz wine, 12 oz beer, or 1.5 oz hard alcohol. Mixed drinks are almost always more Caloric and higher in sugar than beer or wine, which should be taken into consideration.

Additionally, simply complying with the definition of moderate drinking isn’t a panacea for weight or belly fat management. For many individuals, 1-2 drinks per day may still be in excess of individual Calorie needs, thereby contributing to weight gain and belly fat outcomes.

Morgan Medeiros is a certified nutritionist, holding a both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Morgan completed her undergraduate education at Central Washington University, and her graduate education at Northeastern University. During her time as a graduate student, Morgan focused her area of expertise in health education, weight management, and behavioral change. Morgan has experience working in areas of nutritional neuroscience and disease prevention, obesity prevention, and weight loss. Morgan also works in areas of nutritional analysis and menu labeling for restaurants, where she is able to creatively bridge her interest in food culture and health education. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, reading, writing, running, and spending time with her family and friends (including- most importantly- her dog, Clyde).

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