Alcohol and Weight Loss

How Does Alcohol Affect Weight Loss?

The relationship between alcohol use and weight has been a well-studied subject. 

While some investigations suggest that alcoholic drinks can contribute to weight gain, other studies have indicated that alcohol consumption can lead to weight loss or have little association with body weight. 

For example, in a 2011 systematic review of publications related to drinking alcohol and weight, investigators found that evidence concerning total alcohol intake and body weight was inconclusive. 

However, in a separate study, alcohol use was found to stimulate food intake when compared to no alcohol use. When individuals had a glass of wine or other types of alcoholic beverages, they began to lose inhibitions and control over food choices. A higher food intake, that is, increased calorie content can result in weight gain over time. 

Similarly, other studies demonstrated that men might have a higher risk of gaining weight when consuming alcohol. Investigators suggest that the increased amount and type of alcohol, e.g. regular beers instead of a glass of wine could explain why the risk is more probable in men than women.

Beer consumption and abdominal adiposity measurements (otherwise known as “beer belly”) were found to be associated with men. 

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

Equally important on the topic of alcohol and body weight is the beverage’s direct and indirect effects on sleep. In a study supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), investigators found that high and low doses of alcohol initially improve sleep in those who occasionally consume alcohol. 

However, high alcohol doses can disturb sleep during the second half of the nocturnal sleep period. Alcohol can also worsen daytime sleepiness. All of these findings are important, because changes in metabolism due to short sleep duration may have a possible link to obesity. 

Empty calories refer to any type of beverage or food that provides calories yet offers few to no nutrient values, such as minerals or vitamins. Many empty calories in alcohol can increase the calorie count and may contribute to weight gain. 

Lastly, alcohol by itself offers little nutritional value. It holds at least 100 empty calories in a standard drink size. Sugar, flavorings, or other ingredients in alcoholic beverages add extra calories. 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, converting alcohol sugars into fatty acids. Also, alcohol prevents the absorption of essential nutrients like zinc. As zinc is critical to the body’s energy metabolic processes, physical stamina, or endurance can suffer. 

Overall, because of the effects of alcohol on the body and the drink’s empty calories, Dietary Guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture do not recommend that individuals begin consuming the beverage.

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

Healthy Eating and Drinking in Moderation

Healthy eating, by definition, is selecting foods that provide the daily nutrients necessary for the body to function optimally without exceeding the daily number of calories recommended for a healthy weight. 

Drinking in moderation refers to 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. 

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

Binge drinking (5 or more drinks in one session per man and 4 or more drinks in one session per woman) and heavy drinking (15 or more drinks in 1 week per man and 8 or more drinks in 1 week per woman) can make weight loss a challenge. As alcohol holds empty calories, excessive drinking can undermine calorie balance (the balance between calories provided from foods and the calories used during metabolic processes and physical activity) and lead to a build-up of body fat. 

Standard alcoholic beverages may hold between 100 to 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 calorie count than one drink-equivalent. 

Some studies have suggested, however, that drinking wine in moderation may be associated with weight maintenance. While consuming liquor and beer may be related to weight gain, options like light beer (with fewer calories) can help with weight loss goals. 

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

Specifically, for women, eating patterns that have a daily calorie count between 1,200 and 1,500 can facilitate safe weight loss. For men, eating habits that have a daily calorie count between 1,500 and 1,800 can promote safe weight loss.

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

Low-calorie food can also contribute to weight loss. It is essential though that qualified health professionals like registered dietitians review any changes in eating patterns to ensure healthy weight loss.

Does Alcohol Stop Weight Loss?

Weight loss will occur 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. 

However, some studies have shown that while a standard 5-oz. of wine (12% alcohol content) may be associated with weight maintenance, liquor, and beer may contribute to weight gain. 

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

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 

How Does Alcoholism Affect Weight?

Alcoholism can affect bodily metabolic processes, prevent the absorption of essential nutrients, and cause damage to organs. 

All of this, in turn, may result in alcoholic fatty liver (an accumulation 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.

Resources

Caton, Samantha J, et al. “Alcohol, Appetite and Loss of Restraint.” Current Obesity Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2015, www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26627094/.

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 (11): 1988-1996. doi:10.1002/oby.21979. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/oby.21979.

Firth, Gina, and Luis G Manzo. “How Alcohol Affects Nutrition and Endurance.” Student Health Services - How Alcohol Affects Nutrition and Endurance, University of California San Diego, www.wellness.ucsd.edu/studenthealth/resources/health-topics/alcohol-drugs/Pages/alcohol-nutrition-endurance.aspx.

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, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11584549/

Traversy, G., Chaput, J. Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update. Curr Obes Rep 4, 122–130 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-014-0129-4

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

Updated on: September 8, 2020
Author
Anthony Armenta
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Medically Reviewed: September 5, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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