Top 3 Ways Alcohol Affects Weight Loss: Insights & Tips
By Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff
December 26, 2023
If you’re starting the New Year off with a refreshed commitment to yourself (good for you!!), you may want to consider how drinking alcohol impacts weight loss goals – and health – in ways you may not think. Ever wonder if alcohol consumption is sabotaging your weight loss goal? The answer is yes, it might be.
For instance, one of my recent nutritional counseling clients reduced her alcohol intake and her sleep dramatically improved with no more insomnia or middle-of-the-night anxiety. Lack of sleep is just one issue, among many, that may be contributing to stalled weight loss. Her motto is “Less Fiesta, More Siesta!” in case that catchy saying helps you make changes yourself.
As a dietitian, I often hear "Well, what about alcohol and weight loss?" when discussing what habits support weight loss. Does alcohol make you gain weight? Beyond disrupting sleep, here are the top three reasons that alcohol could cause weight gain or prevent weight loss:
Reason #1: Alcohol Is a Toxin
Your liver converts alcohol (ethanol) into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde. Your liver also breaks down fat. When you drink, your liver is too busy metabolizing the alcohol and dealing with the toxin to also break down fat. This will not only put a halt to fat loss, but it will also increase fat storage. Depending on how much you drink, fat burning can stop for 12-36 hours.
It’s important to note that alcohol does affect women differently. Women aren’t able to metabolize alcohol as well as men, so the effect on fat burning may be more extreme for women.
Reason #2: Alcohol Leads to Eating More
Let's face it— most of us get the munchies by the second or third drink, and you're probably not going to chow down on healthy snacks, like veggies and guacamole. Typically you’re hungry for nachos instead or pizza might sound pretty tasty.
Not only does alcohol make you want to eat, especially carbohydrates, it also leads you to overeat once the food is in front of you. This hunger and craving for carbohydrates can carry over into the next day for some people.
Reason #3: Alcohol Is Full of Sugar & Empty Calories
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. As we know it is not all about calories, but if you are consuming an excess of empty calories that will lead to weight gain. While many spirits don't contain carbohydrates, beer and sweet wine definitely do. The carbohydrates from beer and wine, especially the sweet varieties, will spike your blood sugar, which leads to fat storage.
If you are having spirits such as vodka or gin, consider what you are mixing it with. For example, many people order a gin and tonic thinking it's a healthier choice; however, a standard gin and tonic contains about 28 grams of carbs (7 tsp sugar).
Whoa! Alcohol really has the potential to send your blood sugar skyrocketing, especially when mixed drinks are made with overly sugary juices.
Moral of the story? Alcohol is probably sabotaging your weight loss goals and may even lead to weight gain. Plus, I didn’t even dive deep on how alcohol consumption negatively impacts your sleep as mentioned above, and lost sleep is a big detriment to weight loss goals.
Implement a Dry January?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the idea of a Dry January, where you take a break from alcohol all month long to reset after the holidays. I love this idea and think it’s valuable whenever it’s done throughout the year. If you decide to pause your alcohol intake, take special note of how your body feels. What happens with your weight, sleep, mood, metabolism, etc when you stop drinking alcoholic beverages? I’m guessing you’ll be noticing improvements across the board.
Happy Hour Healthier:
Another important point to take note of is just because you are abstaining from alcoholic beverages, doesn’t mean you are abstaining from gathering and socializing!
If you’re looking for ways to create fancy and fun beverages of the non-alcoholic variety, like to do a New Year’s Eve toast, check out this article full of Mocktail Recipes. There's ways to make something you can clink glasses without alcohol and the extra carbohydrates.
Can You Drink Alcohol And Lose Weight?
I understand that some individuals don’t want to eliminate alcohol completely, but just know it's going to make it harder to lose weight and keep your body burning fat.
By now most of you are probably thinking "Well, what should I do if I am going to drink alcohol? Is there a good alcohol for weight loss? How much alcohol can I drink and still lose weight?” Fret not, follow these tips to safely enjoy alcoholic beverages while keeping progress on your weight loss goals:
Tips for Drinking Alcohol and Still Meeting Your Weight Loss Goals:
- Drink in moderation. Keep it to one or two alcoholic drinks a week. A good rule of thumb is to avoid alcohol during weekdays. For people struggling with weight loss, one drink per week may be too many, so maybe one or two drinks on special occasions is a frequency that works best for you.
- What you eat prior to drinking is very important. Make sure to eat a healthy, balanced meal of real protein, carbohydrates and fat before you start drinking. You should avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
- Have some healthy food available for after you consume alcohol. This will prevent you from being tempted to order a pizza later in the evening or having your designated driver go through the drive through on the way home. You can keep up your healthy eating habits while drinking alcohol.
- Hydrate! Drink one to two glasses of water for each alcoholic beverage.
- Drink dry wine (red is best) or clear spirits. This will help you avoid the empty calories from extra carbs and sugar.
- Avoid sugary mixes. Try club soda with lime or bitters or use flavored sparkling water as a mixer instead.
- Drink slowly to avoid frequent refills and the tendency to automatically drink what’s in front of you. Many people find themselves having another drink only because other people are or because someone came around and topped off everyone’s wine glass.
- Don’t keep extra alcoholic beverages at home. Out of sight (and availability) often means out of mind.
Gluten, Alcoholic Beverages, and Weight Gain
If you've been around Nutritional Weight & Wellness for a while, you've heard us talking about gluten sensitivities and avoiding gluten containing products if your body can't tolerate it. I've worked with many clients on coming up with a gluten-free meal plan. It may or may not surprise you that there are several alcoholic drinks that contain gluten!
Some spirits in mixed drinks and beer (regular beer and light beer) can contain gluten. If you are ingesting gluten when your body can't tolerate it, that can create inflammation and the ability to absorb and digest your nutrients efficiently all of which can make it challenging to lose weight.
There are alcoholic drink options that don’t contain gluten if you want a healthier happy hour that won’t disrupt your gut. If you want to learn more about how gluten affects the ability to have healthy digestion, we have a lot of resources that go more in-depth into gluten sensitivities.
Alcohol Consumption and Other Risk Factors
Drinking alcohol can make you gain weight or make your body composition goals challenging to achieve, but there are also other risk factors to consider when it comes to alcohol consumption.
Like I mentioned earlier, sleep deprivation and sleep issues can occur. There's a higher risk factor of high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease (specifically alcoholic fatty liver), digestive problems, weakened immune system, and memory issues with heavy drinking. By keeping your alcohol intake low, you reduce the risk of many factors on your health.
Get Extra Help
It’s worth saying that if you know from experience that committing to drinking less doesn’t work for you, then I’d highly encourage you to schedule a nutrition consultation with me or one of my fellow nutritionists. Often there is a biochemical reason for cravings, which includes cravings for alcoholic drinks. Together we can take a personal look at your health history and help find ways to accomplish your healthy lifestyle goals with a realistic eating plan for you.
If you aren’t losing weight after quitting alcohol, or need support losing weight you’ll find our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss Foundations to be life changing and just what you’ve been searching for. Learn More about Foundations and get the weight loss support you need.
Alcohol Intake And Losing Weight
To recap, drinking alcohol can make it hard for you to lose weight because alcohol stops fat burning for a period of time. The ritual around alcohol consumption can inspire poor food choices and there's a tendency to consume more calories than we need when we feel hungry.
It is possible to enjoy an alcoholic drink while still working on your body weight goals though! Hydrate between alcoholic drinks, eat balanced meals and snacks as your food intake rather than drinking on an empty stomach, avoid overly sugary juices in your mixed drinks, and savor slowly the alcohol you do decide to enjoy. Schedule a nutrition consultation to help with cravings and a real food plan or take a class to be with like-minded folks on a similar healthy path.
For more information on alcohol and weight loss, check out these resources:
- Read: Fun Cocktail Alternatives
- Listen: Dangers of Drinking podcast
- Read: L-Glutamine Benefits (especially for cravings)
- Listen: Weight Loss Without Restriction