If you’ve ever woken up after a night of drinking feeling like one of Hootie’s long-lost blowfish, you aren’t imagining things. That morning after bloat is real, and chances are that last night’s glass (or three) of wine is written all over your face. The visibly puffy eyes or uncomfortably swollen belly are just the outward effects. There’s more going on inside your body, and it isn’t pretty!
Behind the Bloat
Not all liquids are hydrating. Alcohol, for example, has the exact opposite effect. The more booze you consume, the more dehydrated your body becomes. The skin and organs respond to the perceived lack of hydration by holding on to as much water as they can to compensate. The result is excess water retention that may show up as a puffy face, swollen fingers, or enlarged belly.
If that’s not enough to make you rethink your drink, alcohol is also an inflammatory substance. Every time you indulge, your stomach produces more acid, which inflames the lining and causes swelling. Factor in the additional sugary, syrupy, or carbonated mixers found in many cocktails, and you’ve got a recipe for some serious gastrointestinal tract irritation that is uncomfortable at best. At worst? It can lead to a host of health issues, including alcoholic gastritis, a condition caused when alcohol abuse erodes the stomach’s lining.
Beyond the Bloat
Sure, it’s easy to blame the bloat when your favorite jeans are snug but are you confusing bloat with weight gain? Remember, the expression, “you are what you eat,” applies to what you drink, too, so when you’re wining and dining, don’t forget that liquid calories not only count, they add up!
Beer and wine may contain as many as 150 calories per serving, not to mention the carbs and sugars they hold. If you consume a six-pack with a pizza or a bottle of wine with your dinner, you’ve just packed several hundred calories on top of your meal. Distilled spirits like vodka or gin come in a little lower, but when you mix them with soda, juice, and other cocktail combinations, you can quickly consume an entire day’s worth of calories during one happy hour.
It’s not just the calories found in the booze, either. Drinking impairs your judgment, which can lead to poor food choices like hitting the drive-through at 2 a.m. or mindlessly eating baskets of chips while enjoying Margarita Monday with the girls. And let’s not forget the hangover hamburger. The day after a night of drinking can often be worse calorie-wise as you seek to soothe your senses and your stomach with calorie-dense, carb-laden comfort foods.
“But it fits my macros” is a common cry among those who don’t want to give up their Wine Down Wednesday. The bottom line is you can make almost anything “fit” into your macro plan or calorie counting for the day. The problem is that you are probably giving up more nutrient-dense foods to make that work. Nutritionally speaking, alcohol doesn’t offer any real benefits. And, because the effects of alcohol grow stronger in women as we age, it could be derailing your efforts in more ways than one, impacting your skin, your sleep, and your overall health in general.
Beating the Bloat
Assuming that what you are experiencing is bloating and not actual weight gain, there are some things you can do to minimize it besides just putting on your elastic waist pants and waiting for it to pass (so to speak). The best defense is a good offense so first, know your booze. If it fizzes or bubbles in the glass, it’s going to fizz and bubble in your belly thanks to the release of carbon dioxide. That means that things like champagne, beer, and carbonated mixers will lead to more bloating than a vodka on the rocks. Second, make sure you are staying extra hydrated. For every alcoholic beverage you consume, drink an 8-oz (or more) glass of water. Finally, sip it slowly. Big gulps mean you are taking in extra air with each swig, and that can also cause bloating.
If, despite your best efforts, you still wake up with the telltale signs of a night on the town, try some warm water with lemon for your tummy bloat and a cold cloth on your face and eyes to reduce puffiness. Some people swear that dunking their faces in a sink full of ice water alleviates a swollen face.
Of course, none of these methods are as fool-proof as simply cutting back or eliminating alcoholic beverages from your diet. If that sounds too daunting, it might be time to revisit your relationship with alcohol and make sure that it isn’t controlling your life. There are plenty of resources available to help you manage or address your concerns, including therapy, medications, and online programs like Monument, where you can participate in counseling sessions from the privacy and comfort of your home.
If Bloat Sticks Around…
Even when consumed mindfully and in moderation, it is possible to still suffer from the occasional alcohol-related bloat. The good news is that it typically doesn’t last long and usually goes away on its own. If you experience bloating that lasts longer than a few days, consult your doctor to make sure that it isn’t related to an underlying condition like IBS, which is easily aggravated by alcohol consumption. The best advice in the battle of the bloat? Think before you drink. Remember, they don’t call it a beer belly for nothing!