Saturday, March 6, 2010

Debunking the Myth of the Beer Gut

Numbers are a funny thing. 3? What's it deal? 72. Yeah right, buddy! 684? Don't even get me started. Outside of being funny qua numbers, they can also be used to make funny points. Like did you know that beers are, on average, around 180 calories? Did you know that if I drink 1000 beers, I will have consumed 180,000 extra calories? Did you know that consuming 3500 calories more calories than you burn will cause you gain one pound? I think we all see where this is going. By the end of my 1000 beers, I will have gained 51.5 pounds. Math has proved it! Welcome to Fatsville, population me!

This, obviously, is a little disconcerting to me. Let's look at some other numbers to cheer me up. I'm pretty good at getting 8 hours of sleep a night, during which I burn about 550 calories. So that's pretty good. When I wake up, I read the paper and check my e-mail and kill time online for about an hour, which burns about 80 calories. Then I walk my self down to the train station, which burns about 40 calories.

(Some things about these pics I'm putting up here. 1: I originally had the maps all laid out, but then I realized, these maps would then show where I lived and where I went to school and all that other good stuff I'm trying to keep off this blog. 2: Yeah, my weight's in there. Whatevs. We'll get back to that later.)

I then get off the subway and walk to my school, which burns another 40 calories.

Well, at school, I'm sitting class or reading or sitting around and shooting the breeze with friends for about 5 hours a day, which burns about 390 calories. Sometime during the day I go walk to grab lunch, which burns about 60 calories.

(that number shows walking one way to the second closest lunch spot I go to, which seemed like a fair place to choose)

So after class is done, I go to the gym most days, but let's not even worry about that now. Instead here, I'll just act like I walked to the gym from my campus and then immediately walked back, to account for all the miscellaneous walking around I do in a given day (such as walking around the subway station, school, my apartment, any shopping I may do, etc.), which burns about another 100 calories.

(again, this just shows one way to the gym)

After doing that, I walk back to the subway, take the subway back home, and then walk back to my apartment, which burns another 80 calories. I should probably also account for the eighty minutes I spend standing on the subway during my daily commute as well, which burns about 120 calories.

So then I'm back at home. Let's say I spend about 20 minutes cooking dinner. That's another 60 calories there. And you know, since I'm super lazy, I spend the next four hours just sitting on my couch, watching TV, which is another 300 calories. Also, I forgot to mention that all that walking to and from places and standing on trains is done with a 25 pound book bag strapped to my back, which burns around another 100 calories. Finally, I should add that I live on the 3rd floor of a walk-up, my classes are on the 3rd and 4th floors of my law school and I seldom take the elevator, and I climb approximately 8000 flights of stairs going to various subways everyday. So in total, let's say I climb about 8 flights of stairs a day, and that really is a conservative estimate (I actually counted one day and I climbed 14 flights of stairs), so that's another 120 calories right there. And also, so far I've only accounted for about 21 hours of a 24 hour day. So let's assume that I spend those remaining three hours just sitting on couch, staring at a wall. That's another 200 calories. Have you been writing this all down? Because I have! Let's add that up:

2120 calories! And all I've done is sleep, go to school, and lay on my couch! And lest you think I'm fudging these numbers, I rounded down, like way down, in most cases.

"Ok, ok," I hear you saying, "2120 calories burned from doing nothing is fine and all, but that number doesn't exist in a vacuum. Calories burned is only important when you take into account calories consumed. And already you're taking in about 500 calories a day just from beer. You really limit yourself to 1620 food calories a day?" Well, skeptical reader, more or less I do. I don't want to go through a boring number crunch of what I eat on a given day, but on the whole I'd like to think I'm a healthy enough eater. And the thing is, because I'm doing this 1000 beer nonsense, I've deliberately cut out most, if not all, of my random snacking/unhealthy eating habits. You know how all blind people have superhuman-esque powers of smell? (Don't worry, no blind people are reading this. Ok, both of those jokes were pretty insensitive. So was that super subtle third one I just made). Well, that's like me with my eating. Because I know I have these 500 calories I have to consume every day, the rest of my eating is superhuman-esque, in that I really pay careful attention to what I'm consuming.

I mean I'm not saying that I'm perfect in this regard. Somedays I will eat half a large cheese pizza for dinner or grab a bag of chips with lunch or something like that. But that's where this whole "going to the gym" thing comes into play. My other, secret, year long goal is to be able to run a half-marathon by the end of the year and I've actually been pretty good at making steps toward that goal. I run, on average about 18 miles a week, which, I think, should adequately account for whatever extra calories I consume in the week, above and beyond my 1620 daily allotment.

Ok, so now you're jumping here saying, "Calories, in calories out, blah blah blah. I've read, on the internet no less, that alcohol calories are broken down in a different way than other calories. Your body is not processing them the same and apparently they eat away at muscle mass. So, explain yourself!" In this regard, I can't really. I'm not a scientist. I don't really know how calories are broken down in the body. But I'd imagine if alcohol breaks down differently, then other types of calorie sources are broken down differently, but no one seems to get up in arms about that. And in addition to running, I've been doing some lifting, to keep what little muscle mass I already have on me. All I know is that I've been doing this thing for two months, I'm way ahead of schedule, and I've lost two pounds since this whole shebang started.

But we've all seen beer guts, right? Given that I'm making them look easy enough to avoid, how is that people still get them? Well, I have a couple of answers (shots in the dark).

1. Not Everyone Lives In New York City
Go back to my sweet calories burned break down. Now run the numbers again, but take out all of that walking to places and replace it with driving places. Take out all that stair climbing and replace it with whatever the suburban counterpart of stair climbing is. The numbers don't look so good now. Just living in NYC helps me burn an extra 500,000 calories a year. Go ahead, check my math (Don't. I didn't do any). Living in NYC means I get everywhere by foot. You get used to walking everywhere, so just by living here, I already have a leg up on not acquiring a beer gut.

2. Not Everyone Accompanies Large Amounts of Beer Drinking With Healthy Eating Habits
This, I think, is the most obvious explanation. Most nights I'm drinking beer in the apartment, it's accompanied by a salad or a veggie burger or something along those lines for dinner. Also, when I'm drinking beer, I'm not snacking or anything like that. These behaviors, I think, aren't the norm.

3. People Are Drinking the Wrong Kinds of Beer
This is my favorite explanation. By the wrong beer, I mean beer that has a poor alcohol to calorie ratio. Let's check out a chart!

This is just a chunk of a very helpful chart available at but it makes my point quite nicely. People always seem to think they won't put on as much weight if they stick to light beer because it's lower in calories. To a certain extent that is true. As you can see, Bud Light is about 30 to 40 calories lower than other comparable beers. But check out the alcohol content. Outside of the Bud Select 55, Bud Light has the lowest alcohol content out of all the beers there. Simple math says that, in effect, you'll have to drink more of it to get drunk. Also, this is a fact, the quicker you consumer alcohol, the quicker you get drunk. Hence why pounding two shots of whiskey will get you drunk quicker than drinking two beers. It simply takes longer to drink the beers.

So where am I going with this? Let's say it takes roughly about the same time to drink a beer, regardless of what it is (I know this isn't actually the case). Well, if you're drinking a Bud Light, your body is taking in less alcohol in the same amount of time as it would drinking a regular beer. Meaning your body has less alcohol to metabolize in the same amount of time. Because there is so little alcohol to metabolize in that time it takes to drink the beer, you don't get as drunk. If you do want to get your buzz on, you have to drink more Bud Lights than you would a normal beer, and not just because of the low alcohol content, but because of the time it's taking you to drink them. Ipso facto (that's not right...), if you drink Bud Lights, you're inevitably going to be drinking more beer. So while that's great you're saving 30 calories a beer, but it doesn't do you much good when you have to drink 2 or 3 more just to get the amount of drunk you would off of drinking a normal beer. Conversely, higher alcohol content beers, like Abbey ales and the like, are more caloric, but because you're drinking more alcohol in the same amount of time, you only have to drink a few to achieve the same level of sociability as you'd get from pounding half a case of Bud Light. That's just science.

Also, you remember the old "Tastes great, less filling" ads? Well guess what? When a beer is less filling, you drink more of them! So enjoy your light beer. And the next 15. I'll take my 3 high calorie/high alcohol beers with actual taste.

So there you have it. People get beer guts from not moving around, not eating healthy, and drinking light beer. My friend Greg has a theory that they also get them because they hold their pee in too long, but I don't know his facts behind that. Maybe he can explain in the comments.

And my final point. While I don't intend on gaining weight from this, so what if I do? I'll gladly put on a few extra pounds for a task as important as this one. Will I get super fat? Probably not. But will I have my awesome six pack that I had at my wedding (it was under that tux, I swear)? Also probably not. And look, if I gain some weight this year, that's what New Years Resolutions are for.

Total Beers (I had six out last night with friends, 2 Famosas, 1 Six Point Oatmeal Stout, 1 Victory Prima Pils, 1 Speakeasy Winter Ale, 1 Captain Lawrence Gold): 198
Where I Should Be: 175.342


  1. I can't take the credit for the pee theory. That's actually Britney's theory, and it has something to do with people being drunk, holding in their pee, and then something to do with toxins. I'm not sure how credible it is and internet searches haven't been helpful.

    I agree with the drinking more/faster of light beer, plus I'd add (more like emphasize since you already mentioned it) that Bud drinkers probably eat worse foods. If you drink copious amounts of Bud, Miller etc, then you probably don't think too hard about what you're drinking or eating.

  2. I've been waiting for this post for a month! Well done, my friend.
    (Is Fatsville less depressing than Dumpsville??)