Do alcohol and weight loss mix?

Ever wonder if your excessive alcohol intake is hindering your results when it comes to weight loss? The answer is most likely yes.

Heavy drinking or binge drinking can result in extra calorie consumption which may lead to weight gain or prevent you from losing weight. Alcohol can also have many other negative impacts on your overall health. Here are some commonly asked questions about alcohol and the evidence based answers you have been looking for:

What is the recommended daily allowance for alcohol?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend having up to 1 drink of alcohol a day for women and up to 2 drinks a day for men. These guidelines also do not recommend that any individual whom does not drink alcohol start for any reason.

What is excessive alcohol intake?

Excessive alcohol intake is consuming more than the recommended daily allowance as described previously. Most commonly, excessive alcohol intake is described as heavy drinking or binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and the Center for Disease Control describes heavy drinking as consuming 15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 or more drinks per week for women. Binge drinking is noted to be consumption of alcohol in a manner that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to a level of 0.08% or more. This usually is in relation to 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women per one occasion, usually within a 2-hour time frame.

Is the serving size for all types of alcohol the same?

The answer to this question is no! The serving size of alcohol varies depending on type. A standard serving size of an alcoholic drink is equal to 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. This serving size typically correlates to 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, 3 oz of fortified wine and 1.5 oz of liquor such as rum, rye or vodka. So beware, depending on the size of your glass, you may be unintentionally consuming more than one serving of alcohol!


How does the calorie content of alcohol compare to food?

Alcohol can supply almost twice as many calories per gram when compared to protein and carbohydrates. Protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram where as alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Alcohol is just behind fat, which contains 9 calories per gram. In reference back to the serving sizes previously discussed, alcoholic beverages can be quite concentrated in calories in comparison to other beverages, which can accidentally be leading you to having greater than one serving of alcohol in a single drink. Alcoholic drinks may also contain calories from other sources, such as sugary mixers, juices, or energy drinks in cocktails, which then also increases the overall caloric consumption of the beverage.

Is it safe to replace food for alcohol in my diet to prevent excessive calorie intake?

No. Replacing food calories for alcohol calories will not aid you in weight loss or benefit your overall health. In fact, alcohol does not have the vitamin and mineral content of food so replacing food in your diet for alcohol can lead to malnutrition and many vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

Can eating healthy help reduce my alcohol intake or limit my cravings for alcohol?

Yes! According the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating a well balanced diet can help reduce cravings for alcohol. Planning regular meals and healthy snacks can aid in keeping your mood and blood glucose stable resulting in less temptation for excessive alcohol intake and feelings of dependence towards alcohol.

What other long-term health risks associated with excessive alcohol intake?

Over an extended period time, consumption of alcohol in excess can lead to many chronic conditions or serious health problems including (but not limited to) these examples listed below:

* High blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease and/or digestive problems
* Diabetes
* Cancer (commonly breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon)
* Learning and memory problems
* Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety
* Social problems such as loss of productivity or unemployment
* Alcoholism or dependence to alcohol




The F.I.T.T Principle and the Fitness Rut

We have all been there! You start a new exercise routine, and one day you realize you’ve been doing the same exact thing for months or even years. While there are health benefits that are associated with moving our bodies in general, the biggest bang for your buck comes from continuously challenging and overloading our bodies. The F.I.T.T principle is a great guide on how to adjust your workout.

F – Frequency (how often?)

I – Intensity (how hard?)

T – Time (how long?)

T – Type (what activity am I doing?)

Aerobic exercise, such as walking, biking or swimming overloads the heart and lungs, causing them to work harder than at rest. Your heart pumps blood to your muscles bringing oxygen with it.

Oxygen + food =energy.

Using more muscle groups with exercise requires more energy, placing a larger demand on your heart and lungs. Therefore running, which uses both your upper and lower body, feels harder than riding a stationary bike, which uses mostly your legs.

As you do the same activity over and over, your body becomes more efficient at making energy, and the demand on your heart and lungs decreases. It’s like our bodies go from being SUVs to hybrid cars; less gas gets us further. To continuously create overload, it is important to change the activity. Below is an example of the using the F.I.T.T principle for aerobic exercise.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you are walking for 10 minutes at 3.0 miles per hour. You have been doing this for 1 month, and notice that by the end of the walk, you are no longer tired and are not breathing as hard.

F – Frequency – Add in a 4th day of walking

I – Intensity – Try walking for 2 minutes at 3.0 miles per hour and for 1 minute at 3.5 miles per hour, then repeat for a total of 10 minutes

T – Time – Add 5 extra minutes to your total walk time

T – Type –Try walking 2 days a week and use the rowing machine 1 day per week

The F.I.T.T principle can also be used for resistance training. Resistance training improves muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance. To benefit from resistance training, you must overload the muscles you are working by placing enough external force on them to break them down.

Once broken down, the muscles can rebuild bigger and stronger. External force does not have to come from handheld weights. Using your own body weight, such as when doing a squat or a pushup, is a great way to begin a training program. Just like with aerobic exercise, our bodies adapt and we need to change the activity to overload the muscle.

After completing 10-15 repetitions of an exercise, you should feel like you might be able to do one or two more repetitions at most. If instead, you feel like you can complete another 15, it is probably time to make a change. Remember, our muscles are all different sizes and naturally have different amounts of strength. Your triceps, the tiny muscles in the back of your arms, are much smaller and weaker than your chest muscles. So, it would make sense that you would be able to lift more weight with your chest than with your triceps. Below is an example of using the F.I.T.T principle for resistance training.

You have been doing 1 day a week of resistance training, exercising every major muscle group. You noticed that a lot of the exercises are beginning to feel too easy. Squats, however, are still very challenging.

F – Frequency – Add one more day a week to resistance training, but only do squats 1 day per week

I – Intensity – Try adding extra weight to the exercises that feel easy. if you are using 3 lbs. for bicep curls, try 4 lbs.

T – Time – Add an extra round of weights or extra repetitions (if you are doing 10 repetitions, try 12).

T – Type – Try a harder exercise, if you are doing wall pushups, try them on a counter or bench

When adjusting any type of exercise, focus on changing one part of the F.I.T.T principle at a time. If you are adding another day (frequency) don’t increase the intensity until you feel you are ready. Most importantly, always listen to your body!

Teriyaki Turkey Bowl

Bowl-dishes are a great way to get all the important “stuff” (vegetables, protein, starch, and fats) into one dish. This version uses a store-bought teriyaki sauce and turkey chops, but you could use any marinade, any meat, and any vegetables to mix things up a bit.




4 turkey chops (roughly 1 – 1.25 lbs)
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 bunch broccoli rabe
1/2 head of red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced carrots
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped



1. Marinate turkey chops in teriyaki sauce (at least 30 minutes). Cook rice from scratch per box instructions, or use pre-cooked brown rice packets.

2. Coat broccoli rabe with olive oil. Cook turkey chops and broccoli rabe on a grill, panini press, or in the oven – 4- 6  minutes per side on the grill for the turkey or 16-20 minutes in the oven. While items are cooking, prep the cabbage, carrots, and cilantro.

3. Once cooked, slice the turkey chops and roughly chop the broccoli rabe. Place 1/2 cup rice into a bowl. Top with 1 sliced turkey chop and plenty of broccoli, red cabbage, carrot, and cilantro. Add fresh teriyaki sauce or salt and pepper if desired.

Nutrition facts (per serving): 410 calories, 35 g protein, 6 g fiber

The body: What does it know that we don’t?

By: Raquel Willerman, PhD, MSW, LGSW

What can our bodies tell us about the way we experience ourselves, others and our environment?  This is the subject of a burgeoning area of scientific research on the psychology of the body.  It seems we are just beginning to understand the myriad ways our bodies “know” things that our minds might not recognize.  In other words, our bodies can react to things in the environment outside of our conscious awareness.  In addition, our bodies can “tell a story” even if we would wish to tell a different story.

A simple experiment by Dimberg et al. (2000) illustrates this idea.  They exposed subjects to subliminal images of either a happy or an angry face.  The duration of the images was so brief (only 30/1000 of a second), that subjects were not consciously aware of seeing anything other than a neutral face.  However, the activity of their facial muscles “mirrored” the emotion of the happy or angry face to which they were exposed.  In other words, subjects in this experiment reacted bodily to something they were not aware of seeing.

Results from another study strongly suggest that our bodies register unconscious communication from others, even though our minds may be completely unaware of any such communication.  Heller and Haynal (1996) used microanalysis of filmed interviews to study the non-verbal behaviors of a psychiatrist and the depressed and suicidal patients she was treating.  They found that the psychiatrist was unable to verbally (consciously) predict which patients would re-attempt suicide within the year.  Her success rate in predicting was only 29%, which is not better than chance.  However, a frame-by-frame analysis of the interviews revealed that the psychiatrist’s body made over 200 non-verbal gestures (such as shrugs, grimaces, frowns, gaze, voice quality, etc.) in reaction to those patients who did re-attempt suicide within the year.  These physiological reactions were mostly absent from the interviews with patients who did not re-attempt suicide.  Thus, the psychiatrist’s body correctly predicted most re-attempters even though she was unable to say or “know” that her body was doing this.

What does this mean to us — at the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research —  that our bodies can react to unconscious communications or stimuli without our minds even realizing it?  For me, a psychotherapist, it means that there is great value in being curious about what we are sensing in our bodies.  Just by focusing our attention on the connection between our physiological sensations and symptoms and our inner mental life we make ourselves open to new understandings of our histories, narratives and present situations.  We can listen to our bodies for themes or feelings that may have been kept out of our awareness, yet show up in our lives through bothersome symptoms such as weight gain, bingeing, depression, anxiety or difficulty with relationships.


Dimberg, U., Thunberg, M., and Elmehed, K. (2000). Unconscious facial reactions to emotional facial expressions. Psychological Science, 11 (1), pp. 86-89.

Heller, M. and Haynal, V. (1996). The Doctor’s Face: A Mirror of His Patients Suicidal Projects. In Guimon, J. (ed): The Body in Psychotherapy.  Int. Congress, Geneva, 1996, pp. 46-51.

Exercise and Mood

By: Rachel Trope, MS CEP

Each year, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S experiences anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness.

Adults diagnosed with a mental illness are at an increased risk for chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes. Certain forms of mental illness are associated with a 10-fold increased risk of mortality from preventable chronic disease.

What is it that makes this group so vulnerable to chronic disease? Psychotherapy and medications are often the first line of prescribed treatment for mental illness.

Exercise, which is widely used to treat and prevent chronic disease, may not be incorporated into the treatment plan. When exercise is recommended, it can prove challenging. Beyond the normal difficulty of starting an exercise program, mental illness symptoms act as additional barrier that must be overcome.

The benefits of incorporating exercise into a treatment plan for mental illness are expansive. On top of the cardiovascular benefits, regular exercise has been shown to decrease tension, improve, and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and increase self-esteem.

Just 5 minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, biking, dancing, swimming) can begin to stimulate the part of the brain that manages anxiety and stress. In fact, moderate intensity exercise can provide hours of relief for people with anxiety disorder.

Exercise also has a protective effect on the cardiovascular system which can be adversely effected by depression and stress. The best part, these benefits, and the ones outlined below, occur regardless of weight loss.

Benefits of Exercise

* Improves mental health by decreasing anxiety, depression, and negative mood

* Improves self-esteem and cognitive function

* Helps to alleviate symptoms of mental illness (low self-esteem, social withdrawal)

* Improves sleep

* Decreases stress

* Increases energy and stamina

* Decreases fatigue

* Increases mental alertness

Knowing exercise is good for you, however, is only half the battle. The biggest challenge we face is going from doing nothing, to doing something.

It is important to start small. If you’re doing no activity or exercise, set a goal of walking around your house for 1-5 minutes a few times a week.

Notice the change in energy level and mood. Keep a journal of what you did for exercise, and how you felt doing it. This can serve as a positive reminder when energy and motivation are running low.

Remember, some activity is always better than none!

1 Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, from – See more at:

Why Winter is so Hard for Maintaining Weight

By: Dr. Domenica Rubino


Why is winter so hard for maintaining weight (even after the holiday parties are over)? Food, mood and activity are all affected by the change in season.

On the average a person may gain 1-3 pounds, not the 5-7 often heard on the radio or seen in magazines. The problem is this new weight is typically maintained and every year this can add up.

Who is prone to weight gain? Research suggests that those who are biologically pre-disposed to weight gain and who may already be overweight may be more likely to gain weight. Men also seem to be at slightly greater risk compared to women.

The change in environment, cold, and darkness affects all of the key influences on weight—I mean who wants to go out for a walk when it is 30 degrees and dark? And for that matter, who wants a salad?  So understanding that food, mood and activity are all vulnerable to the cold of winter can help you manage.

First step is recognizing that we are going to be seeking warm, savory, comforting foods. Time to drag out the crock pot-explore making soups and chili –a good way to add vegetables, flavor and volume.

Like a thicker soup? Try adding a beaten egg, yogurt or milk to make your soup creamier, or take a portion of soup out and use a blender or processor to thicken it up by adding some cooked beans and add back to the soup.

For added texture, add beans or grains to the soup that have protein and a lower glycemic index, such as farro or quinoa. In the winter, take the time to make roasted vegetables, especially ones with a thicker texture like the squashes or sweet potato. Experiment with different herbs and spices. Consider a cooking class.

Recognize any mood changes during this time of year. Some individuals are very sensitive to the lack of sunlight and can feel down or depressed during this time period. If you have a history of seasonal affective disorder, consider light therapy. Some individuals with depression may need their medication altered during the winter. Check your vitamin D levels and make sure that they are normal.

Since many of us are less active during the winter, this can be a trigger for worsening mood. Research supports the effectiveness of being active in promoting better stress management and mood. Be aware of feeling lonely. Get together with friends and maintain a social group. Consider volunteering or following up on an interest of hobby through classes where you can meet others with similar interests.

The change in season often disrupts our activity routine. Consider having a winter plan—come up with something different just for the winter (check out our tips below). Try out different activities, consider taking a class where it is warm and there are people around.   Walking is still the easiest for most to do just about anywhere. Try bundling up and taking a 10-15 minute walk every day.  If it is icy out, be safe and walk at the mall or escape to the museum (free in DC!); try a video at home or take a class at the rec center.

So remember, winter does present unique challenges, but by being more in tune with these factors it can help support weight loss or weight maintenance goals.