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Battle of the Beer Belly | Craft Beer Vs. Fitness

Beer Belly
Dan Bortz
Avg. Reading Time: 5 min

On January 9, I stepped onto a scale for the first time in three months. The number that blinked back at me was a shock: 309.7lbs. I knew it was going to be bad. My size 36 jeans were too small to squeeze into, and I had been feeling pretty run down. For my sake and my family’s, this beer belly has to go.

The path to this sorry state was pretty obvious. As someone who has struggled with my weight for my entire adult life, I knew the signs. It all starts with an event (or series of events), which causes me to lose focus on my diet. This time, the catalyst was the loss of two extended family members in close succession. Once my dietary discipline is compromised, it is usually only a matter of time until workouts fall by the wayside. It all snowballs from there.

Where my Beer Belly Came From

Q: in what universe is this a "Small" Stromboli? A: mine.

A post shared by Dan Bortz (@dcbortz) on

I am a man of few vices. It’s two vices, actually. Since this piece is appearing on PorchDrinking.com, it’s is probably safe to assume that my first vice is obvious (It’s beer!). My other proclivity is toward good food. When enjoyed to excess, either one of those things by itself would be enough to cause weight gain. Together they are a recipe for obesity.

“The meal isn’t over when you’re full. It’s over when you hate yourself.” – Louis C.K.

While growing up, food was often treated as an event. There was very little discussion around our dinner table. You sat down, stuffed your gaping maw full of food, and went on your merry way. Holiday meals were a challenge to my endurance, and buffets came with a strict code of conduct:

  • Salads and breads are a waste of stomach space.
  • Start with the most expensive items and work your way to the cheapest (seafood first, vegetables last).
  • When you’re in physical distress, it’s time for dessert.

My early relationship with alcohol was the same. Binge drinking at parties and overindulging in bars were the norm. My love of craft beer didn’t help matters. I may not binge drink anymore, but Imperial IPAs, Tripels, Stouts, and Barleywines pack a much bigger caloric punch than Miller Lite ever did. Since beer is full of empty calories, my beer belly was an inevitability.

How I Eat My Beer Belly Away

This is a battle that I can never truly win. I can only hope to battle my gut to a stalemate. The key to finding this equilibrium is a solid strategy. Your nutrition plan may not look exactly like mine, but here are a few pointers that may help.

  • Use an app, spreadsheet, or journal to track and quantify what you eat and drink.
  • Don’t starve yourself. This is unhealthy and can slow your metabolism.
  • Don’t attempt to eat all “Fat Free” foods. Your body needs some fat to function. Try to get healthy fats from fish, olive oil, almonds, or avocados.
  • Don’t fall for fad diets or cleanses. Eat reasonable portions of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and vegetables.
  • Drink water. An occasional soda or juice can help appease a craving, but it shouldn’t be your go-to. Try infusing it with lemon or cucumber for some added flavor.

The final maneuver in the nutrition battle is controlling my beer intake. As boring as it may seem, I limit myself to one beer per day (six days per week). On the seventh day, I drink as much as I like. Having that one day to let loose makes it easier for me to maintain control the rest of the week.

Working My Beer Belly Off

Ever since high school, I’ve loved lifting heavy weights. Eating for muscle mass gain (coupled with a lack of knowledge) certainly didn’t help to curb my early weight gain. I also had a hatred for cardio. My younger self had the endurance to go for a run, but I thought it was insufferably boring. I built muscle in those days, but fat came with it.

“It is remarkable how one’s wits are sharpened by physical exercise.” – Pliny the Younger

Nowadays, I have scaled my traditional weightlifting workouts back to 30 minutes per day (five days/week). This is still plenty of time to have fun with heavy weights and built some lean muscle mass, which helps to burn fat over time. I use the remainder of my gym time on more efficient fat-burners like High Intensity Interval Training and Steady State Cardio.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is an exercise scheme, in which you perform short bursts of high intensity work followed by a very brief period of rest (or lower intensity work). The “work” can include weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, or cardiovascular exercises such as sprinting or rowing. The most well-known brand of HIIT is CrossFit. Exercising this way can burn a lot of calories in a short time, and also keep your metabolism cranking all day. There are literally thousands of HIIT workouts available online (CrossFit.com or WODdrive.com), but a group fitness or class setting is usually best for beginners. The intensity of the workouts can lead to overuse injuries if you’re not careful, so an experienced coach or friend is important until you get your bearings.

Steady State Cardio is exactly what it sounds like: walking, cycling, rowing, or running at a steady pace for a sustained period. This method of exercise will allow you to burn some calories, but at a more moderate intensity than HIIT. Steady State Cardio won’t give you the same metabolic boost as more intense workouts, but it will help your sore and weary muscles recover.

The Bottom Line

If you can manage to not develop a beer belly in the first place, good for you. If you already have one, just know that you aren’t alone. A few simple lifestyle changes and some exercise will go a long way towards boosting your energy, increasing your confidence, and losing some of those extra pounds. Be sure to allow yourself to indulge from time to time. You’re only human, and having a few extra beers on Saturday will make your diet easier to adhere to in the long run.

It’s been a little over two weeks since I first stepped on that scale, and I’m down to 299 pounds. When you set small achievable goals, work hard and don’t make excuses, you will make progress. Don’t be disappointed if things go slowly. All results are good, no matter how small.

Now go crack open a beer and drink to your health (in moderation of course)!

Disclaimer: These are the facts as I understand them, but I am not a doctor, personal trainer or nutritionist. The methods listed above have always worked for me, but may not be the right choice for everyone. There is a good chance that a lot of this is “Bro Science.” It is wise to consult a professional prior to starting a new diet or fitness regime. 


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Comments

  1. Hey Dan, I love all the work you have been putting in not only in the gym but in the kitchen as well!! Keep up the hard work, it’ll pay off. If you’re looking for a fun way to get your workout in and enjoy some amazing beer, come check out Brewery Boot Camp. We put workouts on right in the brewery and all participants enjoy discounted beer afterwards. One of our participants has lost 12%body fat just through clean eating, exercise and still enjoying her craft beer! I’d love to have you come join!! Check out http://www.brewerybootcamp.com for dates times and locations or email me at info@brewerybootcamp.com

    • Dan Bortz

      Looks like a lot of fun, but it appears you’re in CO. I live in PA. Really great idea, though! Thanks for reading!

  2. Good stuff mostly from someone with similar life experience here. I agree that HIIT training is the best use of time for most regular folks looking to incorporate a workout. But “Starving” yourself strategically can have benefits though. Intermittent fasting can in paraphrased language here reset your metabolism into a state where it burns fat instead of the steady stream of calories you are feeding yourself with three squares. An additional way to achieve this is through a modified Atkins, or atkins light diet. Mostly good proteins and fats with slow or low glycemic carbs that have high nutritive value. A complete HIIT workout also helps by depleting your body of short term energy stores making it easier to go into this metabolic mode (ketosis). But make sure you consult your physician especially if you have medical conditions.

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