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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 compared to no alcohol use.4 Participants began to lose inhibitions and control over food choices when they had a glass of wine or another alcoholic beverage.

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

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6 Ways Alcohol Affects Body Weight

Alcohol affects weight in the following ways: 

1. Alcohol can disturb sleep

High and low doses of alcohol can initially 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.  These short sleep schedules can negatively impact metabolism. It may also have a possible link to obesity.8 

2. Alcohol contains many empty calories

Empty calories offer few to no nutrient values. Alcohol contains many empty calories that increase the drink’s calorie count. Consuming too many empty calories contributes to weight gain. 

The following in alcoholic drinks add extra calories:

  • Sugar
  • Flavorings
  • Other ingredients

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

3. Alcohol prevents nutrient absorption

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

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 alcohol’s effects on the body and the empty calories, the Dietary Guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture recommend not drinking it.5

However, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation to help prevent adverse effects and health issues.  

4. Alcohol can increase abdominal adiposity measurements

Some studies show 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 associated with men.7 This condition is known as a 'beer belly.'

5. Alcohol affects food choices

Drinking alcohol can impair your judgment. It can also trigger hunger signals in the brain. As a result, you might eat more food than usual. 

Constantly eating more food will lead to consuming higher calories. You’ll be in a caloric surplus and gain weight.

In addition, drinking alcohol can lead you to drink more alcohol. Drinking more alcohol can cause you to consume more calories. This can lead to weight gain, especially if you drink high-calorie alcohol.

6. Alcohol can mess with hormones

Alcohol can negatively affect your hormone levels. This can lead to changes in appetite and metabolism. You need to have balanced hormone levels to maintain healthy body weight.

Some studies show drinking alcohol increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism.

High cortisol levels can increase your appetite, slow your metabolism, and cause you to store more fat.

Will Alcohol Help Me Lose Weight? 

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

However, most experts believe alcohol should be avoided if you are trying to lose weight. The first step to weight loss is adopting healthy eating patterns and reducing unhealthy patterns like drinking alcohol.

Healthy eating patterns include balanced meals from recommended food groups like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat. They also include eating within your daily caloric needs. 

Low-calorie foods can also contribute to weight loss. And if you do drink alcohol, it’s recommended to choose low-calorie options like light beer.

Qualified health professionals like registered dietitians should review any changes in eating patterns for healthy weight loss.

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Does Alcohol Stop Weight Loss?

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

The average woman burns around 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day. On the other hand, the average man uses around 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

Your recommended calorie intake to maintain weight should be how many calories you burn daily. You'll gain weight if you constantly consume more calories than you burn. 

Alcohol won’t stop weight loss. However, constantly drinking too much alcohol can result in weight gain.

It’s also best to avoid drinking alcohol if you’re trying to lose weight. 

Those who want to lose weight should consult a registered dietitian about any doubts about drinking alcohol and dieting.

How to Maintain Your Weight While Drinking

If you want to lose weight while still drinking alcohol, here are some tips:

  • Eat before drinking: Drinking on an empty stomach will make you drunk more quickly. Being drunk can lead you to drink more alcohol or eat more food. 
  • Limit your alcohol intake: Drinking less alcohol means consuming fewer calories. It’s best to limit your alcohol intake to avoid weight gain.
  • Alternate non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks: This will reduce your alcohol intake. There are several non-alcoholic low-calorie drinks available. It’s also recommended to drink water since it can help flush out alcohol. 
  • Drink low-calorie alcohol: Ditch the sugary drinks and cocktails.

Low-Calorie Alcoholic Beverages

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

  • Light beer (around 104 calories per serving)
  • A glass of white wine (around 120 calories per serving)
  • Vermouth, unmixed (around 105 calories per serving)
  • Unsugared/unflavored straight liquor (around 100 to 110 calories per serving)

Choosing low-calorie alcoholic beverages can help you control your calorie intake. As such, it will be easier to manage your weight. 

High-Calorie Alcoholic Beverages

If you’re trying to lose weight, you should avoid high-calorie alcoholic beverages. Some of the worst alcohol for weight loss include:

  • Craft beers (around 170 to 350 calories per serving)
  • Sugary cocktails (around 500 calories per serving)
  • Crème de menthe (around 186 calories per serving)
  • Coffee liqueur (around 160 calories per serving)

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Summary

Too much alcohol consumption can cause you to gain weight. However, you don’t have to give up alcohol to achieve your weight loss goals. There are different ways to manage your drinking so that it doesn’t interfere with your efforts to shed pounds.

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Updated on September 29, 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, 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.), 2017.  
  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,  2011.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2015. 
  6. Sayon-Orea, Carmen, et al. “Alcohol consumption and body weight: a systematic review.” Nutrition reviews, 2011. 
  7. Schütze, M., Schulz, M., Steffen, A. et al. Beer consumption and the ‘beer belly’: scientific basis or common belief?. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2009. 
  8. Taheri, S. “The link between short sleep duration and obesity: we should recommend more sleep to prevent obesity.” Archives of disease in childhood, 2006. 
  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, 2004.

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