Among the other downsides of drinking alcohol is the personal Battle of the Bulge. Overindulging (a relative term) in any liquid or food is going to come with consequences.

Too much chocolate cake, too many Hubig Pies®, a boatload of baguettes, an overload of Oreos®, or a plethora of pralines will all result in certain parts of the body sticking out where we would prefer that they not. Additional weight never seems to go where we wouldn’t mind, and it always seems to settle in visible areas so our “friends” can comment about our not fitting into furniture.

Do I need to spell out for you the reason it’s called a “beer belly?” I thought not.

However (and that is a very big HOWEVER) the scientific community refutes a simple cause-and-effect relationship between alcohol and weight gain. Before you eagerly send this article on to your friends who annoy you about 1) your weight, 2) your drinking or 3) both, it may help you to know the body’s mechanism for dealing with alcohol and food in general.

You already know, probably from first-hand or observational experience, that we are all different. I’ll bet you have a friend who can eat anything and not gain a pound. And maybe you are the one who gains an average of 2.45 pounds each time you glance at a King Cake.

Adding weight, and what alcohol does to you, depends on your diet, your gender, your genetics, your weight, and your habits.  Every one of those factors, and certainly all of them combined, is different from one person to another. Plus you have the added influence of your age. Those crazy habits of your youth, when repeated now, are taking a toll. If you are older than 40, try pulling an all-nighter while “floating a keg” of beer, then taking a shower and heading to work in a refreshed state, just like you used to do. Sorry, Charlie–those days are now good memories, not good ideas. Most of you are probably go to bed now at the same hour at which you used to begin your evenings.

Back to the weight issue. Alcohol itself is not a substance that adds weight. In fact, your body breaks alcohol down into acetate, which is vinegar, and the body will burn this substance ahead of everything else. Alcohol is first to be used to power the body, even before fats or sugars. This goes a long way in explaining people’s actions late at night when they have had a lot to drink. There’s energy, yes, sometimes it’s just stupid energy. Then there’s the Big Crash. Essentially that’s because there is nothing left in the body’s tank. All is spent and it’s time for a fitful bit of sleep.

Also, you know that the inebriating effects of alcohol do wear off with time and movement. It may take a couple of hours, but you do return to your usual wonderful self after a bender. The fat that may have been left behind while the body is dealing with the alcohol does not dissipate that quickly. Nor may it ever go away.

Another thing you should know about your body is that it has a defined amount of calories it needs to function. Everyone is a bit different based on certain factors, as we noted a few moments ago. So, let’s say you have a body that really likes to motor along at about 1,900 calories a day. Let’s say you eat a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a few hot dogs, several candy bars, some fries and an oyster poor boy. Then you decide that a six-pack of beer sounds about right.

The body will use what it needs, burning the alcohol first, and then process just a bit of the other junk you have stuffed into your pie-hole. But now there are still calories left over. Lots of them. For this day, they will be stored. If you go easy on food and liquid intake over the next several days, you can use those calories. If you continue this lifestyle, taking in more calories than your body needs, and adding alcohol, then you are going to begin the journey to the Land of the Large, which is inhabited by about 65% of the adult population of America. You will be in good company, or at least in the company of others who are also eating and drinking their way all the way to the “stout sizes” end of the clothing racks in every discount store in shopping malls all over America.

If you continue to eat and drink more than your body requires with regularity, or as we call it around here, “Living the New Orleans Lifestyle,” your body will actually go deficient in the process of lipid oxidation. That evil-sounding term is another way of saying that alcohol inhibits the fat burning abilities of your body, so even fewer calories are burned, and the excess carbohydrates and fats become visible to the outside world. Your middle and your neck areas, along with thighs, will grow larger, namely because they are repositories for calories and fats you are not burning.

Conversely, or actually the same thing for your body, if you want to put on weight, get on a high-fat diet, then add massive quantities of alcohol.

Okay, now here’s the good news. You can drink moderately and actually lose weight. In a German study, two different groups were assigned a 1,500 calorie a day diet, with one group allowed a glass of grape juice and the other group was allowed a glass of wine a day. The group with the wine lost a bit more weight over the juice group. I think it also goes without saying that they were in better spirits. (I’m sorry about that last remark. Could not resist.)

All this being said, keep in mind that it is not actually the alcohol putting the weight on you in a direct fashion. It’s the effects and the body’s response to the presence of alcohol where the weight issue comes into play. In the final analysis, of course, how it happens is really not the issue, except to note that if you understand alcohol is an agent of weight gain, not the direct cause, then you are on your way to making changes.

Obviously this is just a cursory view of alcohol, calories, fats, and carbohydrates. These are a few of the building blocks of life. Well, maybe not alcohol, although life is more fun with it, when it is enjoyed properly.

Blaming one substance and not understanding its interplay with other factors, or placing great emphasis on one component, is probably not the ideal way to achieve your weight goals. Holistically, we are complicated creatures with amazing processes happening constantly and simultaneously.

Be reasonable in how you live and how you use every product and substance. No one thinks of alcohol as a health food, but it can be a part of a healthy life.