It’s not a beer belly

Fred Byerlein

Photo by Larry Dalton

Booze hounds and lushes, take heart. No longer do you have to suffer wracking hangovers and a flabby midsection just because you like to knock back a beer—or 10—after work. Local nutritionist Fred Byerlein, who serves as nutrition services manager for Sutter Health hospitals, met us at the Monkey Bar one recent evening and outlined his strategy for happy, healthy, heavy drinking. It’s all in his book Drink as Much as You Want and Live Longer.

Why did you write this book?

One of the things I saw was that when a heavy drinker came into the hospital, all [the hospital] really did was just Band-Aid them up. Then, a doctor or a social worker would tell them, “Hey, you’ve got to stop drinking.” They really thought the person was going to give up drinking, and that was it. Of course, the person would continue to drink and then come back to the hospital with other problems. So, I looked at it from a nutritional standpoint and thought, “Why are we focused on abstinence? Why do we worry whether they drink or not? We don’t worry about people who lay out in the sun. We say, ‘Use sunscreen. Protect yourself. Minimize your risk.’ “ I thought, “How can we look at drinking and minimize the risk?” There is scientific literature out there supporting the use of certain vitamins and herbs to protect your liver, ward off a hangover and actually live longer and more productively.

You set out with your book to explode some myths about drinking …

One myth is that you shouldn’t mix your alcohol. Total nonsense. Whether I drink beer or rum, all my body knows is that it’s alcohol. You should enjoy the variety of life. Then there’s the myth of the beer belly. It’s just a way for society to point its finger at the drinker and tell them, “You have to stop drinking.” The real goal of society is to prevent people from drinking. We videotaped people in bars during happy hour. We’ve calculated how much peanuts and bar food they eat versus how much alcohol they are drinking. And the amount of fat calories they get from Doritos and chips and nuts far exceeds what they are drinking. And too much food and alcohol at the same time is going to give you misery. You increase your odds of a hangover and increase your odds of vomiting.

So, don’t eat?

I recommend that if you are going to be drinking, stop eating three hours before you start drinking. Alcohol and food are not meant to be processed at the same time. The body processes alcohol first, and the food has to stay there until all the booze is cleared up. When you drink on an empty stomach, your body processes it at a much faster rate. So, you actually don’t get as drunk as quickly.

What about that 2 a.m. burrito?

Well, that’s an error in judgment. Look, the whole reason a lot of guys go out drinking is to find a woman, right? Well, if you fail in that primary goal, then the next thing you’re going to do is go to Denny’s or Burger King or something and eat all this food. That’s where the beer belly comes in. It’s really a Burger King belly. But, if you had the discipline to go home and have another shot and go to bed, you would wake up a lot leaner.

You also recommend a number of supplements …

Right. In order to get the full benefit of my program, you need to make drinking a planning process. It’s critical that you plan ahead. There are supplements you can take—milk thistle, dandelion, artichoke—that you can get in capsules, that all have been shown to help repair the liver, to actually help it regenerate. Some people don’t know this, but the liver is the only organ that can actually grow back. It’s like a lobster claw. Now, what’s one of your primary activities during a night of drinking? Taking a leak, right? You’re losing all those vitamins and minerals that are necessary for your liver to stay healthy. If you’re going to have, say, six to nine drinks, I tell people to take a couple of B-complex pills before [going] out. Then, in the course of the evening, nonchalantly pop a couple more pills. Now you’ve replaced a lot of the vitamins you already pissed out. Then, when you get home, take another one before you go to bed. And you want to stay fully hydrated, too.

How much water should you drink?

Take your weight and divide it by two. That’s how many ounces of water you need to drink during the day. I weigh 160 pounds. So, on Friday morning, I know I have to drink 80 ounces of water between when I get up and 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Then, when I’m out drinking I know I need to drink about three ounces of water for every drink that I have. All these things are pretty easy to do, and the reward is that I’m going to feel perfect when I wake up. But the hangover is the least of it. The main benefit is that this is going to protect your liver.

But it’s really not good to drink too much, is it?

People are going to drink. We know that. I make it clear in the book that I’m providing you with a nutritional approach to drinking. I wanted to preserve the health of people who, for whatever reason, have decided they want to drink. If you are going to beat your spouse, or drink and drive, those are behavioral issues. If you’re going to beat your wife, you’re going to beat your wife whether you take vitamins or not. I’m not saying I can solve that, but I can help you protect your liver. The Medicare system is filled with people who have chronic drinking problems. Four or five decades of drinking now are taking their toll. Hundreds of millions of dollars, taxpayer dollars, are being spent to take care of their problems. People who start following my program today will not end up like the 60-year-olds we’re treating in the hospitals now. That’s a fact.