Most people have bad habits. Two of the most common dietary bad habits are excessive consumption of caffeine
and alcohol. Most diet books give you little leeway in dealing with these habits. The authors dismissively declare
that you should stop drinking alcohol and coffee on the first day of the diet and leave it at that. If only it were that
simple. These habits can be deeply ingrained and if the diet insists that you give them up, the diet is more likely to
end up in the trash, rather than your habit.
I will not ask you to give up your bad habits on the first day of the Simply Fit Diet. However, I will ask you to reduce
them. The standard of how much caffeine or alcohol is too much is a very personal one. One or two glasses of
either is likely no problem. Four or more glasses of alcohol or eight or more cups of coffee likely is a problem. The
approach I suggest is that at the start of the Simply Fit Diet you reduce your consumption of alcohol and
caffeine by one third. For example, if you drink three mugs of coffee a day, reduce the quantity to two. If you
drink three alcoholic beverages at night, cut back to two.
Additionally, consider altering your pattern of consumption. Try to stop drinking coffee by noon every day. This
has two benefits. First, you give your body time to process the chemicals in your system, allowing as many as 20
hours without caffeine. Second, by giving your body extra time to process the caffeine before bed, it is likely that
you will sleep better, with all the health benefits that brings. Further, if you sleep better, you are less likely to want
an extra cup of coffee in the morning.
With alcohol, consider drinking earlier in the evening and stopping well before bedtime. If you usually have a drink
with dinner, and one or two afterwards, consider switching to a before-dinner drink, and wrap up the drinking with
your meal. If one of your goals is to become a little tipsy, drinking before your meal can probably get you tipsy on
less. More important, you will let the alcohol wear off a bit more before bedtime, allowing you to sleep more
deeply. The reduction in drinking will also cut calories, leading to a more steady weight loss.
Are bad habits good?
In Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper, a health food store owner from 1973 is frozen and brought back to life in 2173. In
the comedy, science in the future world has demonstrated that many of his healthy techniques were wrong, and
many of the things he thought were bad have been proven healthy. A look at current research can make you feel
like Woody Allen’s character in Sleeper. Sunshine, once thought to be a cancer causing factor to be avoided at
all costs, is now considered essential to health. Sunscreen, which we were told to slather on in great quantities,
may not reduce the incidence of skin cancer. Alcohol, once thought to be bad in any quantity, may be a health
tonic, and coffee, almost always seen as a bad habit, may be a useful antioxidant and dietary aide.
Let me say first, that I have seen alcohol destroy the lives of friends and relatives. I like to drink and I have had
some of the best times of my life while drinking. However, if I could wave a magic wand that would wipe away all of
the alcohol in the world, I would. Unbridled consumption of alcohol has caused incredible pain and damage. If you
do not drink, I would never recommend that you start. However, if you do drink, there is growing evidence that
moderate alcohol consumption can be good for your health.
Researchers report a “U” shaped relationship between alcohol consumption and health. That is, it is healthful up
to a certain limit, and then becomes harmful. Alcohol consumption, be it beer, wine or hard liquor, has been found
in limited quantities to improve your health and longevity, including reducing the chances of arthritis, cancer,
dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), diabetes, enlarged prostate, and stroke. Some researchers say that
moderate alcohol consumption provides a 40-60% reduction in coronary heart disease, and the benefit of
moderate drinking exceeds the benefit of exercise on heart health. A meta-analysis shows a 30% reduction in the
risk of diabetes associated with moderate alcohol consumption.
Specifically how much alcohol is good for you is unclear. The American government says one drink a day for
women and two drinks a day for men is healthful. Other countries specify different limits, for example Canada
allows up to two drinks a day for women and three drinks a day for men, the United Kingdom allows up to three
drinks a day for women and four drinks a day for men
|What’s a “drink” of alcohol?
The U.S. Government says a standard drink has 14 grams of alcohol. So how much wine is that? If a bottle of
wine has 25 ounces, or 5 drinks, a glass has 5 ounces. If that liquid is 12% alcohol, a glass of wine would have 14
grams of alcohol and equal one drink. However, if you only get four glasses out of your bottle of wine, your glass
of the same wine would have 6.25 ounces and 17.5 grams of alcohol. Looking through my wine rack, most wines
have an alcohol content of 13.5% and the highest is 14%. That 14% wine in a 6.25 ounce glass would have 20.4
grams of alcohol, or slightly less than one and a half standard drinks.
With beer, 12 ounces at 5% alcohol constitutes a standard 14 grams of alcohol drink. But at the local pub, beers
are typically served in 16 ounce pints, resulting in 18.7 grams of alcohol in a pint. Make that draft a popular IPA at
7.5% alcohol and your pint has 28 grams of alcohol, exactly twice the alcohol in a standard issue government
drink. The percentage of alcohol in your glass and the size of that glass has a real impact on calculating the risk
or benefit of that drink.
Another consideration relating to alcohol consumption is that alcohol has about seven calories per gram–almost
double that of carbohydrates (four calories per gram) and almost as much as fat (nine calories per gram). You
should carefully consider if you want to spend your calories on alcohol instead of a hearty salad or a piece of fruit.
Further, the body schedules alcohol for priority processing. That is why, if you go to bed soon after consuming a
few drinks, you will likely wake up a few hours later feeling hot and sweaty. The body burns off the alcohol calories
first, leaving it to store the remaining food calories you have eaten. This can lead to weight gain, particularly if you
supplement your alcohol with unhealthy food.
Also, the alcoholic beverages you may consume are basically fermented fruit juices, and the Simply Fit Diet
categorizes fruit juices as junk. Further, there is the very real possibility that the body does not count beverages
as food. That is, a glass of wine with your meal does not make you feel more full and you will eat the same
amount as if you had consumed water. If that is true, the alcohol you consume is simply added calories, and the
calories are mostly from sugar and alcohol.
Whether you drink or not is a complex adult decision. The best course is to eliminate alcoholic beverages
completely while you are reducing to your weight goal, and then consider adding them back when you
reach your weight goal. At that point, you can control your diet carefully and see if you experience any weight
gain from consuming the beverages.
|Drinking to remember.
My Mother died of Alzheimer’s. It was a terrible disease that started when she was about my age. It slowly robbed
her of her memory and eventually control of her body functions until she regressed to an infantile state before
dying. Having observed this, I am highly motivated to avoid Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Some scientists
say that alcohol consumption reduces the risk of dementia. A British meta-analysis concluded that moderate
alcohol consumption is correlated to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 32% and dementia by 38%. Other
studies find a risk reduction of up to 80%. Of course, correlation and causation are not the same thing. Umbrella
use is correlated with rain, but it does not cause rain. However, even the conservative USDA Dietary Guidelines
conclude, “[m]oderate evidence suggests that compared to non-drinkers, individuals who drink moderately have a
slower cognitive decline with age.” The hope that moderate alcohol consumption lessens the risk of dementia led
me to add a glass of wine to my dinner, despite the added calories. However, that dietary change led to steady
weight gain for me and I have eliminated wine from my diet.
The alcohol/caffeine connection.
Bad habits sometimes come in pairs. Anyone with some life experience has had a friend or loved one who drank a
bit too much at night and compensated with an extra large dose of caffeine to get to work in the morning. The
same person might go to bed at night, be unable to sleep from all the caffeine, and have an extra alcoholic
beverage as a “nightcap,” to help knock him or her out to get ready for another day of work. The up and down
cycling of alcohol and caffeine is a common crutch and can throw off the body’s delicate balance. It is good to
watch for it in your life and the life of people you care about. Bad habits are easy to repeat, but when they are
replaced with healthy habits, they too can become routine. Health is a habit that should be encouraged.
Caffeine is another substance about which the science has changed, and if you have not been keeping up with
the changes, the latest information may make you feel like Woody Allen in Sleeper, being told that what you
thought was bad for you is now good for you. The government has not gone as far as saying that drinking coffee
is good for you, but it says that moderate coffee consumption is not harmful.
A few years back, it was widely assumed that caffeine consumption was a negative, or at best a neutral habit.
Caffeine does disturb sleep and elevate your heart rate and blood pressure. However, the most recent studies
claim that caffeine, like alcohol, has a U-shaped effect on health, up to a point, it may be good for you, and
beyond a certain point, it is bad for you. Caffeine has been shown to reduce the risk of gallstones, liver cancer,
dementia, diabetes and to improve alertness and attention. For diabetes, a Dutch study concluded that drinking
seven cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of diabetes by 50%, compared to those who drank two or fewer cups
a day. A meta-analysis found a reduction of the risk of diabetes of 5-10% per cup of coffee consumed a day, up
to 6-8 cups. For people with diabetes or pre-diabetes, it would likely be worthwhile to review the research on
coffee consumption with your doctor for a recommendation of whether coffee might reduce your risk of diabetes.
For some time now, dieters have realized that caffeine, particularly a cup of black coffee, not only quells hunger,
but seems to encourage weight loss. There is growing support for this. A recent study provided 12 overweight
subjects with pills containing green coffee extract. Over 22 weeks, they lost an average of over 17 pounds each,
with no significant change to their diets.
It is probably not a good idea to go out and start drinking coffee as a dietary aid, however, if you are a coffee
drinker, it may not be necessary to quit. Further, with this knowledge in hand, coffee makes a good substitute
treat. For example, if your friends go out for an afternoon slice of cheesecake, you can forgo the cake, but enjoy
the camaraderie and a nice cup of premium coffee.
|Be careful with the cup.
Coffee consumption is usually measured in “cups.” Cooks know that a “cup” is a term of art, meaning eight fluid
ounces. But a lot of people like me refer to their coffee mug as a cup. My coffee mug, however, holds 16 fluid
ounces. So even on days I have a single mug of coffee, I consume two cups. In judging the best dose of coffee for
health effects, be sure to know how many cups fit into your mug.
Further, the quantity of caffeine in a cup varies from brand to brand. Starbucks coffee has about twice the
caffeine of Folgers coffee. So a 16-ounce medium sized Starbucks “grande” coffee could have as much caffeine
as four measured cups of standard coffee.
If you are overweight, it is likely that you use food as a reward. On the Simply Fit Diet, you should strive to find
non-food rewards. There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a sunset while drinking a cold beer. However, it is
not too far a step to watch the same sunset with some sparkling water or herbal tea. Similarly, I used to enjoy
passing milestones with a dinner out. On the Simply Fit Diet, I eat out much less frequently–it is easier to get a
wide range of healthfully prepared natural foods at home. But the same money that would be spent on dinner can
be used for other treats–for example, as you lose weight, you will need new clothes. The price of a dinner
celebration can buy a new shirt, dress, or other wardrobe items to help celebrate the new you that is emerging.
|Convenience stores: the addiction stop.
Pretty much everything sold at convenience stores caters to the addictions of the customers. I used to stop by for
coffee in the morning (an addiction) and watch customers pick up a few small bottles of booze, a soda in which to
pour the liquor, and some chewing gum or cigarettes to cover the smell. The aisles are full of cases of donuts,
heat-and-eat burritos and hot dogs spinning on a grill. Alongside the beer, wine and liquor are colorful cases of
soda, sports drinks, and the newest addiction, energy drinks–potent combinations of caffeine, sugar and other
stimulants marketed to the young. At the cash register, you can buy a few dollars of lottery dreams–less likely to
pay off than getting struck by lightening. On the Simply Fit Diet, convenience stores are good places to avoid,
and if you find yourself buying a product typically featured at a convenience store, you should ask yourself if you
are feeding an addiction.
Bad habits conclusion.
As an adult, you make complex choices about your conduct, including bad habits. As a preliminary matter,
caffeine and alcohol consumption may not be as bad for you as you once presumed. However, both are addictive
and can have negative effects on your life. You should try to reduce your bad habits by one-third. Further, you
should carefully evaluate how these habits fit into your lifestyle and affect your health. Especially when you are on
a reducing diet, it is probably better to eliminate alcohol consumption until your body reaches a healthy weight.
Then, especially with any addiction broken, you can decide if it belongs in your life and to what degree.
|All original contents copyright 2018.