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Alcohol and Weight Loss

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How Does Alcohol Affect Weight Loss?

The relationship between alcohol use and weight is a frequently studied subject. 

Some studies suggest that alcoholic drinks can contribute to weight gain. However, others indicate that alcohol use can lead to weight loss or have little association with body weight. 

In a 2011 systematic review of publications related to drinking alcohol and weight, researchers found the evidence concerning total alcohol intake and body weight was inconclusive.6 

However, in a separate study, alcohol use was found to stimulate food intake when compared to no alcohol use.4

When participants had a glass of wine or another type of alcoholic beverage, they began to lose inhibitions and control over food choices.

A higher food intake leads to increased calorie content. This can result in weight gain over time. 

Other studies showed that men might have a higher risk of gaining weight when consuming alcohol. Investigators suggest that the increased amount and type of alcohol could explain why the risk is more likely in men than women. For example, drinking beers instead of a glass of wine.7

Beer consumption and abdominal adiposity measurements were found to be associated with men.7 This condition is otherwise known as a 'beer belly.'

Why Do I Lose Weight When I Drink Alcohol?

Some studies suggest that drinking wine in moderation may be associated with weight loss or maintenance.7

And while consuming liquor and beer may be related to weight gain, options like light beer (with fewer calories) may help with weight loss goals. 

For those who are interested in losing weight, adopting healthy eating patterns is also essential. 

Women who follow eating patterns with a daily calorie count between 1,200 and 1,500 can promote safe weight loss. For men, eating habits with a daily calorie count between 1,500 and 1,800 can aid in safe weight loss.

Healthy eating patterns include balanced meals from recommended food groups, like fruits and veggies. They respect the recommended calorie count. 

Low-calorie food can also contribute to weight loss. However, qualified health professionals like registered dietitians should review any changes in eating patterns for healthy weight loss.

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Alcohol, Sleep, and Nutrition: Possible Risk of Weight Gain

High and low doses of alcohol initially can improve sleep in those who occasionally consume alcohol.3 

However, high alcohol doses can disturb sleep during the second half of the nocturnal sleep period.

Alcohol can also worsen daytime sleepiness. Changes in metabolism due to short sleep duration may have a possible link to obesity.8 

Empty calories refer to beverage or food that provides calories yet offers few to no nutrient values. For example, minerals or vitamins. Many empty calories in alcohol can increase the calorie count. They may contribute to weight gain. 

Alcohol by itself offers little nutritional value. It holds at least 100 empty calories in a standard drink size.

The following in alcoholic drinks add extra calories:

  • Sugar
  • Flavorings
  • Other ingredients

For those trying to gain muscle or participate in weight loss programs, this high-calorie count can undermine any efforts made in the gym.

This occurs because the body does not convert alcohol calories into glycogen (stored carbs) for energy during exercise.

Instead, the body views alcohol as fat. It converts alcohol sugars into fatty acids.

Also, alcohol prevents the absorption of essential nutrients like zinc.

As zinc is critical to the body’s energy, the following can suffer:

  • Metabolic processes
  • Physical stamina
  • Endurance

Because of the effects of alcohol on the body and the drink’s empty calories, the Dietary Guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture do not recommend people should drink it.5

However, if people are to drink alcohol, it is best to do so in moderation.  

Healthy Eating and Drinking in Moderation

Healthy eating refers to selecting foods that provide the daily nutrients necessary for the body to function best. This is without exceeding the daily number of calories recommended for a healthy weight. 

Drinking in moderation refers to one drink per day for women. For men, it should be no more than two drinks per day.

Maintaining healthy eating habits and drinking in moderation can have an impact on weight. 

Binge drinking refers to consuming five or more drinks in one session for men and four or more drinks in one session for women.

Heavy drinking involves consuming 15 or more drinks in one week for men and eight or more drinks in one week for women.

These drinking habits can make weight loss a challenge.

As alcohol holds empty calories, excessive drinking can undermine calorie balance. This refers to the ratio between calories provided from foods and the calories used during metabolic processes and physical activity. Excessive drinking leads to a build-up of body fat. 

Standard alcoholic beverages may hold between 100 and 150 calories. However, differences in alcohol content and portion size can affect the actual number of calories in the drink. For example, if the alcohol content in a standard-size beer is more than 5 percent, 12 ounces would be higher in calories than one equivalent drink. 

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Does Alcohol Stop Weight Loss?

Weight loss occurs depending on calorie intake and expended physical activity. 

Alcohol has at least 100 empty calories increasing the daily calorie count. Exceeding the recommended count can result in weight gain.  

For those who want to lose weight, it is always best to consult a registered dietitian about any doubts about alcohol use and dieting.

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How Does Alcoholism Affect Weight?

Alcoholism can:

  • Affect bodily metabolic processes
  • Prevent the absorption of essential nutrients
  • Cause damage to organs 

All of this may result in alcoholic fatty liver. This is a collection of fat in the liver due to organ dysfunction.

Weight loss may be more difficult, as the liver has trouble metabolizing and storing carbs and fats.

Which Types of Alcohol are Best for Weight Loss?

Different types of alcoholic beverages may be more suitable for weight loss, including:

  • Light beer 
  • A glass of white wine
  • Vermouth (unmixed)
  • Unsugared/unflavored straight liquor 
Updated on March 28, 2022
9 sources cited
  1. Caton, Samantha J, et al. “Alcohol, Appetite and Loss of Restraint.” Current Obesity Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2015
  2. Downer, Mary Kathryn, Monica L Bertoia, Ken J Mukamal, Eric B Rimm, and Meir J Stampfer. 2017. “Change in alcohol intake in relation to weight change in a cohort of United States men with 24 years of follow-up.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) 25 : 1988-1996. 
  3. Roehrs, Timothy, and Thomas Roth. “Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  4. Traversy, G., Chaput, J. Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update. Curr Obes Rep 4, 122–130
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. 
  6. Sayon-Orea, Carmen et al. “Alcohol consumption and body weight: a systematic review.” Nutrition reviews vol. 69,8 : 419-31
  7. Schütze, M., Schulz, M., Steffen, A. et al. Beer consumption and the ‘beer belly’: scientific basis or common belief?. Eur J Clin Nutr 63, 1143–1149
  8. Taheri, S. “The link between short sleep duration and obesity: we should recommend more sleep to prevent obesity.” Archives of disease in childhood vol. 91,11 : 881-4
  9. Flechtner-Mors, M et al. “Effects of moderate consumption of white wine on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects.” International journal of obesity and related metabolic disorders : journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity vol. 28,11 : 1420-6

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