April 4, 2012 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Question about the compulsion to drink beer disappearing when I exercise.

I more or less have a compulsion to drink at least one beer every weekday that I've considered relatively harmless but something that needs to be nipped in the bud. The effect is good enough after a stressful day's work that it's hard to resist. I've noticed that days that I go to the gym and do cardio, the compulsion to drink disappears for the rest of the night. I find this kind of fascinating. Is there some kind of neurochemical substitution/connection between these two activities? Are certain chemicals getting released through doing cardio that make it so that drinking is no longer an important impulse in my brain? Or is this purely psychological (and if it is, maybe you can explain that as well.) Thanks.
posted by naju to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think we really know the answer, but there is some research that suggests that the positive feelings associated with exercise are caused by narcotic-like substances released in the body. See for example the, um, endocannabinoid hypothesis.

We can connect the dots and suppose that if you like to drink a beer partly for chemical stress-relief, you may be less inclined to drink a beer when you are getting your chemical stress-relief elsewhere.
posted by grobstein at 10:08 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're getting off on the endorphins released from exercising, so you're sated in that department for the rest of the night. Likely, you've built a pathway between drinking and pleasure, and a new route is being carved associating exercise w/ pleasure.
posted by MangyCarface at 10:25 AM on April 4, 2012

(Actually, it seems like the endorphin hypothesis is coming under fire these days -- see my link above. I'm not a biologist, but apparently we are learning that although endorphins are released into the blood by exercise, they may not be available to the brain, which suggests that they don't explain runner's high, etc. My takeaway is that the exact biochemistry of this is still very much up in the air, have a look at the wikipedia section on Runner's High and you'll see a mash of partly contradictory statements, all with research citations.

That doesn't really affect the main point though.

Anyway, science suggests that "self-medicating" through the use of intoxicants is a real thing. If you are already "medicated" as a result of exercise, you may experience a diminished need to self-medicate.)
posted by grobstein at 10:36 AM on April 4, 2012

In an effort to drop a few pounds last year, I stopped drinking beer at home. I noticed that my desire for fats and sugars increased, and I wrote it off to endorphin-chasing.
posted by phearlez at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2012

The fact that this is "a beer" is kind of a red herring when it's one beer a night, focusing on this as an alcohol question rather than a pleasurable activity question is the wrong direction IMO. Substitute the word "shower" or "icecream" in there and you see that it's a pleasurable thing that transitions you from work to rest.

It's really hard to give up something that you like and I think you're substituting one thing you enjoy as the transition for another.

Since that's beer and exercise, well, you just hit the health jackpot. Personally, I have to end my workday w/ a nice hot shower and probably a beer too.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2012

Also, there is the possibility that it disrupts your schedule and you skip the part of the evening where you think about having a drink. If I go out and do stuff an hour or two past work, I often skip the shower because I forget about it. Humans are incredibly habitual.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2012

I find on days when I exercise vigorously, my appetite is suppressed in general for many hours afterwards, and junk food has no appeal at all. Maybe your beer thing is similar, but I don't know what the mechanism is.
posted by lollusc at 4:48 PM on April 4, 2012

Im no expert but exercise is definitely a stress reliever. Im sure your craving for beer goes away after the work out. With all the releases of chemicals during workout, your brain and cravings dies off. This works for me all the time during the week.
posted by ates at 10:17 PM on April 4, 2012

I've been reading Carl Duhigg's The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, and I think his take on it would be that your craving for a beer is a habit due to some sort of regular cue (coming home from work? sitting down and relaxing? dinner?) and the exercise is interrupting that cue.

Also, he says that exercise is a keystone habit, which is a habit that somehow carries over into other areas of life, and tends to make us unconsciously change other patterns of behavior for the better. Maybe this is what's going on. Maybe it isn't.
posted by telophase at 1:13 PM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

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