Alcohol & Weight Gain Explained

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How Does Alcohol Cause Weight Gain? 

Alcohol is accepted and enjoyed all over the world. Some alcoholic drinks are associated with health benefits.

For example, research shows that moderate red wine consumption lowers the risk of heart disease.1

However, alcohol can affect other aspects of human health and wellbeing, with most effects being adverse — from intoxication to hangovers, addiction, and potential alcohol poisoning. 

That said, although not extensively studied, we cannot ignore the influence of alcohol on weight management.

If you’re having difficulty losing weight or have dramatically gained some weight, it could be due to your alcohol intake. You’ll be surprised how many calories are present in your standard drink of liquor, wine, or beer. 

In addition to the calories, there are other indirect ways in which alcoholic intake can cause weight gain.

6 Reasons Why Alcohol Makes You Gain Weight

Below are reasons why your alcohol intake may be the cause of your weight gain:

1. Alcohol Is Source of “Empty” Calories

Alcoholic beverages have “empty” calories. This means that they are high in calories and low in nutrients.

On average, 12-ounce (355 ml) of regular beer contains 153 calories. On the other hand, 5 ounces (145 ml) of wine contains 128 calories.2

Mixed drinks such as Pina Coladas, Tequila sunrise, White Russian, or those mixed with juice or soda tend to have more calories due to added sugars and saturated fats.

Having too many drinks in one occasion means you’ll be ingesting a couple of hundreds of calories into your body, if not thousands. This has the potential to cause weight gain.

If you’re concerned about gaining weight due to your alcohol intake, stick to a low-calorie drink or those with low alcohol by volume (ABV).

2. Alcohol Affects Digestion and Nutrient Uptake

The stomach and intestines may be affected by alcohol. This results in a reduction in digestive secretions and food movement through the gastrointestinal system.

Digestive secretions are essential components of a healthy digestive system. They break down food into the fundamental macro-and micronutrients that the body absorbs and utilizes.

All levels of alcohol use may affect digestion and absorption of these nutrients. This can have a significant impact on organ function involved in weight control.

3. Alcohol Affects Your Sleep

Some people take a shot before bed, thinking it gives them a feeling of relaxation.

The truth is that alcohol can lead to disrupted sleep cycles.3 Those dependent on alcohol are also known to experience insomnia.4

Poor sleep quality can imbalance hormones related to hunger, satisfaction, and energy storage.

4. Alcohol Affects the Body’s Fat Burning Capability

It may be more challenging to lose weight when your body changes how it stores energy from food.

When you consume alcohol, your body prioritizes the breakdown of alcohol above everything else, including glucose from carbohydrates and lipids from fats.

When your body uses alcohol as its primary energy source, the extra glucose and lipids end up as body fat. This results in abdominal fat.

Excessive alcohol use also harms the liver, impairing its capacity to metabolize and store fats and carbs.

When fat builds up in your liver (alcoholic fatty liver disease or AFLD), it may create health problems such as liver inflammation, eventually leading to liver failure.

5. Alcohol Leads to Poor Dietary Choices

Even the most determined dieter will struggle to resist the temptation to eat when intoxicated.

In the heat of the moment, alcohol reduces inhibitions and may lead to bad decision-making, particularly regarding food choices. 

In fact, studies have shown that binge drinking is closely linked to overeating.5

The influence of alcohol on food choices was also well demonstrated in an animal study where mice given doses of ethanol over a period of time increased their food intake.6

The study showed evidence that alcohol can activate hunger signals in the brain, increasing the urge to eat.

6. Alcohol Affects Testosterone Levels

Testosterone, a male sex hormone, has a wide range of effects on your body, including fertility and bone mass regulation. 

Testosterone also affects fat distribution and the amount of muscle mass you can build and retain.

Alcohol use has long been known to alter hormone levels in the body, especially testosterone.8

Low testosterone will not only lead to weight gain, make losing weight more difficult, and increase belly fat, but it also starts a vicious cycle.

An increase in body fat due to low testosterone levels further impairs the body’s ability to produce and utilize this testosterone hormone effectively.

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How to Prevent Alcohol-Related Weight Gain 

It is not necessary to completely remove alcohol from one’s diet in order to live a healthy lifestyle and lose weight, but it is vital to watch your alcohol consumption.

Below are tips on how to prevent alcohol-related weight gain:

1. Always Stay Hydrated

Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume. 

This will prevent you from becoming dehydrated. The dilution will put less strain on your liver and kidneys, both of which are important in the alcohol elimination process.

2. Eat Before You Drink Alcohol

Controlling blood sugar levels and curbing comfort food cravings may be as simple as eating something with fiber, protein, and a small amount of healthy fat.

Oatmeal, yogurt with berries, apple slices with almond butter, hard-boiled eggs, or a protein smoothie are all good options.

These foods will remain in your stomach longer, and you will be less inclined to desire food when drinking.

3. Avoid Certain Drinks and High Calorie Foods

Avoid cocktails, and mixed drinks as these contain high levels of sugars and calorie content and can make you feel hungry.7

Drink white wine, champagne, and clear liquors such as vodka, gin, whiskey, and brandy, as these are low in calories and added sugar.

Also, avoid adding soda to your alcoholic drink. Instead, chase your drink with water and a slice of lemon or orange.

4. Avoid Drinking Excessively

The more you drink, the more pronounced the effects of alcohol on your weight will be.

Drinking alcohol in moderation will allow you to control your urges to eat and also keep you in the right state of mind to make better food choices.

Do I Need to Stop Drinking Alcohol to Lose Body Weight?

It is not essential to abstain from alcohol in order to live a healthy lifestyle.

A glass of red wine with a meal, for example, is completely acceptable.However, the problem comes when people binge drink.

If you want to cut down the weight, avoiding binge drinking is enough to get you started on your weight loss journey.

Updated on December 4, 2021
8 sources cited
  1. Moderate red wine consumption and cardiovascular disease risk: beyond the "French paradox" National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 13 April 2013
  2. Calorie count - Alcoholic beverages,” National Institute of Health (NIH)
  3. Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  4. Disturbed Sleep and Its Relationship to Alcohol Use,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 10 November 2009
  5. Binge drinking 'link to overeating',” BBC News, 24 April 2014
  6. Agrp neuron activity is required for alcohol-induced overeating,” Nature Portfolio, 19 May 2017
  7. Sugary Drinks,” Harvard Chan School
  8. Alcohol’s Effects on Male Reproduction,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

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