Megan & Robyn are the co-founders of Sugar Snap Shift, a personal weight loss, health, and accountability coaching program.
Can You Still Drink Alcohol and Lose Weight?
Moderate consumption of alcohol by humans has been around for thousands of years, but in today's culture, it can often feel as ubiquitous as eating and breathing. In fact, drinking in America has been steadily increasing over the past twenty years, and in 2020 (no surprise), it reached a thirty-year high. Unfortunately, with this increase in consumption comes an increase in all of its deleterious long-term health effects, hospitalizations, ER visits, and even deaths. For the purpose of this article, however, we are going to focus exclusively on how alcohol can derail your weight-loss goals (and oftentimes, cause weight gain).
One of the first questions most clients ask before embarking on a health program is if they can continue to drink alcohol. The answer is almost always no. After that, moderation (no more than two drinks per week for at least four weeks) might be allowed because the truth is, alcohol does play a large role in weight loss and management.
Reasons Why Alcohol Causes Weight Gain
For anyone looking to achieve their goal as quickly and sustainably as possible, it’s best to just abstain. We aren’t saying that means never enjoying an adult beverage again, but after reading below, you may think twice before reaching for that nightly glass of wine.
1. It Impacts Metabolism
Our bodies treat calories from alcohol differently from calories from food. Because it recognizes alcohol as a toxin, it focuses on getting the alcohol out of our system as quickly as possible which means hitting “pause” on the metabolism of everything else (such as glucose from carbs and lipids from fats). This means the liver has to work overtime, and calories from your food are more likely to get stored as fat than burned for fuel.
2. It Is Calorie-Dense
Alcohol is the second most caloric macro-nutrient. One gram of alcohol contains 7 calories, just after fat which contains 9 calories per gram. Alcohol is also considered “empty” calories which means it contains calories that have zero nutritional value. To give context, there are about 125 calories in a serving (5oz) of wine, and 155 calories in a serving (12oz) of beer— imagine how this adds up after a night out with a few drinks! These calories often end up stored as fat in the body, and unfortunately, that fat tends to accumulate in the abdomen giving the dreaded "beer belly".
3. It Contributes to Disease
Binge drinking (defined as consuming more than 4 to 5 drinks in a sitting) and heavy drinking (more than four drinks per day for men and more than three per day for women) both significantly raise the risk of obesity. Even moderate drinking may be linked to weight gain and increased incidence of chronic diseases such as fatty liver, cardiovascular disease, ulcers and GI issues, and type 2 diabetes. Fatty liver disease adversely affects how your body breaks down and stores energy from food—making it difficult to lose weight. Alcohol also impairs digestion and the absorption of nutrients—two factors that play a key role in weight management.
4. It Is a Diuretic
Not only is it a diuretic, but when you are drinking alcohol you’re much less likely to be drinking water, setting the perfect stage for dehydration. Dehydration causes fatigue, which often leads to increased consumption of sugary or high-fat foods in an effort to increase energy levels. Additionally, people often mistake dehydration with hunger, hence reaching for a slice of pizza rather than a glass of water.
5. It Reduces Quality and Quantity of Sleep
Drinking alcohol has a negative effect on sleep, which significantly affects weight loss. In an effort to break down alcohol overnight, we are less able to enter a REM state—thereby leading to a poor night’s rest. Getting just one hour less sleep can increase calorie consumption the next day by up to 500 calories! Additionally, sleep deprivation can adversely impact the hormones responsible for regulating hunger, energy storage, and feelings of fullness.
6. It Negatively Impacts Mood
Alcohol not only can negatively impact your mood and mindset not only in the moment, but up to 48 hours post-consumption! Feeling depressed, anxious or lonely often causes people to turn to “comfort food” as a way to feel better. As we know, not only does this not actually work, but in fact often leaves us feeling even worse, not to mention further derailing weight loss goals.
7. It Lowers Inhibitions
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, stimulates appetite and negatively impacts decision-making. No matter how committed you are to your diet or weight-loss plan, when alcohol is involved, you’re much more likely to overeat or give in to temptations and cravings. For one, when people are drinking, they're usually not stopping to consider the effects that alcohol is having on their bodies. Not only can this lead to overconsumption, but often less-than-optimal food choices as well. Second, alcohol is an appetite-stimulant. Because it's devoid of nutritional value, it triggers cravings for nutrients (food!) while being consumed. Lastly, alcohol can have a negative effect on motivation levels, making it harder to keep your resolve and stay on plan, especially in very social situations.
8. It Causes Stomach and Liver Damage
Alcohol causes stomach and liver damage. Because alcohol is a by-product of yeast fermentation, it can irritate the stomach lining and weaken the liver— possibly leading to serious health conditions, disease, and even death. When the stomach is weakened, it decreases the rate and efficiency of digestion, metabolism, and weight loss. The liver—the organ responsible for fat metabolism and detoxification—must have healthy functioning in order to maintain a healthy weight and BMI.
Are You Sober-Curious?
If you are “sober-curious”, we highly recommend giving up alcohol for a month and see how you feel! You’ll be shocked at the positive impact it has on your health and well-being in just a short period of time—you’ll sleep better, have more energy, eat less, boost your metabolism, reduce unhealthy food cravings, improve your skin, and lower your risk of many chronic diseases.
As an important reminder, we are not medical professionals, nor should this be regarded as medical advice. We don't endorse or reject any one particular dietary theory or method either. We simply believe in the power of eating whole, real foods as nature intended. Please consult with your physician before embarking on any new diet or supplement regime. As always, wishing you good health!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.