How Alcohol Impacts Weight Loss
By Britni Vincent, RD, LD
January 12, 2021
If you’re starting the New Year off with a refreshed commitment to you (good for you!!), you may want to consider how alcohol impacts weight loss goals – and health – in ways you may not think. 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.
Beyond sleep, here are the top three reasons that alcohol could be causing you to gain weight.
It's 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.
It 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 veggies and guacamole, instead nachos or pizza sound pretty tasty. Not only does alcohol make you want to eat, it also causes you to overeat once the food is in front of you.
It's Full of Sugar & Empty Calories
Alcohol contains seven calories per gram. It’s 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 stuff, 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 think a gin and tonic is 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.
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 negatively impacts your sleep as mentioned above, and lost sleep is a big detriment to weight loss goals. 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 ... or after months of over-indulging during quarantine. I love this idea and think it’s valuable whenever it’s done throughout the year. If you have done, or try this, take special note of how your body feels, what happens with your weight, sleep, mood etc. I’m guessing you’ll be noticing improvements across the board. Whatever you find, I'm not saying you need to give up alcohol completely, but just know it's going to make it harder to hit your goals. Fret not, follow these tips to safely enjoy alcohol while keeping progress on your weight loss goals.
If you are going to drink follow these tips:
- Drink in moderation. Keep it to one drink 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.
- 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. Also, have some healthy food available for after you start drinking. This will prevent you from being tempted to order a pizza later in the evening.
- 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 extra carbs and sugar.
- Avoid sugary mixes; try club soda with a lime 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. If that’s the case, is it really worth it?
- Don’t keep extra alcohol at home, out of sight (and availability) often means out of mind.
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 Zoom meeting or phone call nutrition consultation with me or one of my fellow nutritionists. Often there is a biochemical reason for cravings. Together we can take a personal look at your health history and help find ways to accomplish your goals with a realistic eating plan for you.