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How to get rid of an alcohol belly as a woman‍

Many of us have heard of the term "beer belly" and usually associate it with regular pubgoers. However, is it possible for other types of alcoholic beverages to have the same impact? In this article, we will discuss how consuming alcohol can increase the likelihood for women to develop excess weight around our midsection commonly known as “alcohol belly”, the potential risks associated with it, and potential solutions to address the issue

Nicol Ingram
Nicol Ingram
Health coach
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How to get rid of an alcohol belly as a woman‍

What is an alcohol belly?

When discussing an alcohol belly, people are often referring to those who have a significant amount of fat around their midsection as a result of their drinking habits, commonly known as a "beer belly". 

However, the truth is that any type of alcoholic beverage can have this effect. This is due to the impact that alcohol has on our body's processes. When we consume alcohol, our bodies prioritize metabolizing the alcohol first before anything else. This causes other metabolic processes to be delayed, resulting in additional calories being stored as fat instead of being metabolized and used for energy. Alcoholic drinks also contain hidden calories, which can contribute to weight gain, particularly around the waistline.

Additionally, alcohol can increase our appetite, making it easier to overconsume calories. It also impairs our decision-making abilities, which means that we may be more likely to eat something high in fat and sugar after drinking- contributing to fat gain.

How alcohol impacts women compared to men

Both men and women require a certain amount of essential fat to maintain normal bodily functions. 

However, women are biologically predisposed to carrying a higher percentage of body fat than men. Moreover, how women store fat is different from that of men. While the distribution of fat across individuals is mostly influenced by genetics, women tend to have a pear-shaped figure, with more fat stored in their hips, thighs, lower abdomen, and buttocks. However this distribution changes for women during menopause due to hormonal changes by which women then tend to gain more weight around their abdominal area as well.

So, for post-menopausal women, if they are consuming more calories due to alcohol, this could be contributing to the increased abdominal fat.

Wine belly” vs “beer belly”

"Wine belly" and "beer belly" are essentially the same thing since both types of alcohol contain calories that can lead to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. 

However, research has shown that people who drink red wine tend to have less stomach fat. One study found that red wine drinkers had less visceral fat, which in turn reduces their risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

This effect may be due to the difference in calories and sugar content between wine and beer, as beer drinkers are more likely to consume more calories per volume than wine drinkers.

The difference between an alcohol belly and a hormonal belly

Women may experience weight gain in their abdomen due to hormonal imbalances that can often resemble the appearance of an "alcohol belly". 

For example, as we briefly touched upon previously, significant fluctuations in hormone levels during menopause can lead to weight gain, especially in the belly area, due to the decreased production of estrogen. However, more research needs to be done to look into why this causes a change in fat distribution. 

Another example is when the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones that the body needs, causing a reduction in the amount of energy burned by food and resulting in weight gain. Additionally, increased levels of the hormone cortisol when one is stressed can cause an increase in belly fat and make it more challenging to lose weight.

However, alcohol has been shown to interfere with these hormones which can contribute to fat gain. For example, insulin is key in our metabolism as it regulates our blood sugar levels. High alcohol consumption can lead to insulin resistance leading to higher blood sugar and increased fat storage.

How to deal with belly pain after drinking alcohol

The sugar and carbonation within many carbonated drinks create gasses in the gut that trigger bloating, which can cause a lot of discomfort. 

However, alcohol can also directly affect our digestive system and irritate our gut. Studies have shown that alcohol can increase the production of acid in our stomach, leading to inflammation of the stomach lining, which can cause a burning sensation and discomfort known as gastritis. If left untreated, gastritis can lead to severe consequences such as stomach ulcers and an increased risk of oesophageal and stomach cancer. 

Furthermore, regular alcohol consumption is associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus, leading to heartburn, irritation, and a gnawing pain in the stomach. Alcohol-induced bloating can last for several days or even weeks, depending on the cause of the irritation and inflammation. The duration of bloating after consuming alcohol depends on the frequency of our alcohol consumption and the severity of our bloating.

Acute gastritis, which is a sudden inflammation of the stomach lining, only causes bloating to persist for a short time, usually a few days. In most cases, acute gastritis improves within a few days.

To minimise the risk of bloating and pain when drinking alcohol, drinking lots of water in between helps to move things along. If we opt for less carbonated and “heavy drinks”, this will reduce the risk of bloating even more. If the bloating has already arisen,  again we want to be drinking plenty of water, and having small but regular meals whilst avoiding salt (as this can increase bloating). Over-the-counter medication such as antacids can help relieve gas and other digestive problems.

How to spot an alcohol belly

An alcohol belly is a term used to describe a protruding abdomen or a waist that is larger than the hips. 

This condition occurs when the body accumulates visceral fat which is stored deep within the abdomen. Studies have shown that consuming moderate to high amounts of alcohol is linked to an increase in visceral fat. As it accumulates it pushes outward on the abdominal wall and creates the tummy pooch.

It is possible to experience a temporary "alcohol belly" due to bloating caused by the fermentation process in beer and wine. The yeast in these beverages can cause the stomach to expand during digestion, leading to a more noticeable protrusion.

3 strategies for women to lose an alcohol belly

There is no magical method of losing belly fat as unfortunately we cannot decide where our body burns fat.

However, visceral fat is more metabolically active and can be broken down faster than other types of fat, which makes it more likely that we will lose fat from our mid-section when losing weight. To achieve fat loss, lifestyle changes are necessary.

Drink less alcohol

Because of the link between alcohol calories and belly fat, drinking less alcohol is a good place to start. This reduction in alcohol consumption is likely to contribute to a calorie deficit, which in turn will help our bodies lose fat. 

Eat more balanced

Additionally, it is essential to examine our overall diet and ensure that we consume a balanced intake of essential nutrients, including complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. 

Move more

Increasing our everyday movement and more physical activity will also help increase our overall energy expenditure and aid fat loss.

It is important to note that these changes should be made gradually to enable sustainable weight loss. Losing weight too quickly can lead to a loss of muscle mass, which lowers your metabolic rate and makes it easier to gain more fat.

Getting rid of an alcohol belly takes time

Like everything else, getting rid of fat around the belly takes time. Changing how your lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight but requires steady, gradual adjustments over a long period of time.

However, this doesn’t mean we have to overly restrict ourselves and miss out on things we enjoy, but rather find a healthy balance that prioritizes our health. Working with a health mentor can assist in navigating these changes that work best for you and your health. 

At Embla, we have a team of experts who can offer personalized advice to help you achieve your health goals. If you're not sure what's causing your abdominal fat, our specialists can assist you in determining whether it is due to lifestyle choices or hormonal imbalances. Based on the cause, they can then work with you to create a tailored health plan that addresses your unique needs.


References

- Abildgaard, J., Ploug, T., Al-Saoudi, E. et al. (2021) Changes in abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue phenotype following menopause is associated with increased visceral fat mass. Sci Rep 11, 14750. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-94189-2Cigolini M, Targher G, Bergamo Andreis IA, Tonoli M, Filippi F, Muggeo M, De Sandre G. (1996) Moderate alcohol consumption and its relation to visceral fat and plasma androgens in healthy women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8653140/
- Drink Aware (2023) How to get rid of a beer belly. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/general-health-effects/how-can-i-beat-my-beer-belly
- Harvard Medical School (2021) Taking aim at belly fat. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/taking-aim-at-belly-fatHealth Direct (2023) How to reduce visceral body fat (hidden fat) https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/how-to-reduce-visceral-body-fat-hidden-fatLarsen, B. A., Klinedinst, B. S., Le, S. T., Pappas, C., Wolf, T., Meier, N. F., Lim, L., & Willette, A. A. (2022). Beer, wine, and spirits differentially influence body composition in older white adults–a United Kingdom Biobank study. Obesity Science & Practice, 8(5), 641-656. https://doi.org/10.1002/osp4.598

- Nauli AM, Matin S. (2019) Why Do Men Accumulate Abdominal Visceral Fat? Front Physiol https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC69061

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Nicol Ingram
Nicol Ingram
Health coach
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