Can you drink alcohol and still lose weight? It's a popular question for many people who find themselves wanting to lose a few pounds. Alcohol contains a lot of calories, and many people with weight loss goals try to reduce their consumption.
Culturally and socially, Americans love to drink alcohol. It's a hard habit to kick, especially if you love going to events and parties.
While there are some potential perks to drinking alcohol (like the famous red wine for heart health belief), it's not the best if you want to lose weight. However, you may not have to cut your alcohol use down to zero depending on your goals.
How Alcohol Affects Weight Loss
Alcohol doesn't really give your body any nutrients. Alcoholic beverages are known as "empty calories" because of their high calorie content and lack of benefits. For example, a 5-ounce cup of wine has about 125 calories. If you have multiple drinks during a night out, you could easily consume hundreds of empty calories.
In addition to calories, alcohol affects weight gain by acting as a fuel source in your body. The human body burns alcohol first for energy instead of the usual lipids or glucose. Those excess elements that the body does not burn turn into fat, aka adipose tissue.
Other ways that alcohol affects weight gain include:
Digestion and Nutrients
Alcohol consumption can stop proper digestive function. (1) We need digestive secretions to break down our food into micronutrients and macronutrients. Alcohol intake decreases these secretions as well as the movement of food in the digestive tract.
In turn, it causes stress on our intestines and stomach. Impaired digestion prevents us from properly absorbing nutrients, which affects metabolism and other weight management factors.
We often choose to end our night with a drink before bed. Unfortunately, studies show that alcoholic drinks may cause interruptions in sleep cycles. Lack of sleep can result in a hormone imbalance, which affects energy storage, satiety, and hunger.
Alcohol use can affect testosterone, the sex hormone involved in fat burning, muscle formation, and many other processes. One scientific study of men suggested that low levels of testosterone can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome. It may also affect sleep quality.
We know that alcoholic drinks can impair our judgment, and this expands to more than just letting us have a good time. It also applies to food choices. An intoxicated person is less likely to fight the urge to eat junk food (and a lot of it) than a sober person because their inhibitions are released.
Additionally, a study of mice demonstrated that alcohol may trigger feelings of hunger. Someone who drinks often may have higher food intake for this reason.
Beer is high in calories and simple sugars. Consuming more calories than you burn will lead to weight gain, often in the stomach area. This notion also applies to sugary mixers with your hard liquor such as soda, fruit juice, and lemonade.
If you deal with belly fat, cutting out the calories you get from alcohol could be a good place to start. But you'll also need to have a healthy balance of diet and exercise.
Alcohol is known for damaging the liver. (2) The liver's function is to filter out foreign substances as well as metabolize proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. If you damage your liver from binge drinking, you may negatively affect your metabolism. These bodily changes make it challenging to lose weight.
Tips for Drinking While Trying to Lose Weight
It's hard to stop drinking alcohol. If you're on a journey for weight loss, drinking consciously can help. Here are some tips for keeping your alcohol use as healthy as possible:
It's important not to skip meals just because you know you'll be drinking. Alcohol is empty calories, and your body still needs nutrients. Before you go out, eat a dinner of good fats and lean protein to prevent you from getting unhealthy cravings later.
When you do want to drink something, consider using a smaller glass than usual. It will help you consume less than you usually might.
Want more tips? Read our review of weight loss meal delivery services.
Best Drinks Weight Loss
Depending on your weight loss program, you may be able to have one or two drinks a week. Though you won't lose weight by drinking alcohol, you can opt for booze beverages with low sugar and low calories.
Generally, dark spirits have more calories than clear spirits. As for wines, the list of wines from most calories to least calories is red wine, white wine, then sparkling wine. Some beverages you can drink to weight loss include:
If you want cocktails, some of the ones with the fewest calories are:
Drinks to Avoid
To reach your weight loss goals, you don't want to consume 500 alcohol calories at the bar. Some popular cocktails are super high in calories, so you may want to avoid:
At the end of the day, one cocktail won't completely ruin your weight loss efforts. However, it's useful to drink in moderation and focus more on getting exercise and eating healthy foods. If you know you want to snack when you drink, keep healthy snacks at home to resist temptation.
Weight Loss and Alcohol Use Disorder
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is "a disease that causes a strong need to drink, not being able to stop drinking once you've started, and feeling anxious and irritable when you are not drinking." This is also known as alcoholism, and it may affect a person's journey to losing weight.
There is no clear consensus about the effect of AUD on men and women trying to lose weight. However, heavy drinking can lead to metabolic disorders, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems.
Excessive amounts of alcohol can:
All of these factors can lead to increased body fat and sometimes a negative relationship with food. If you have a negative history with alcohol, seek advice from a healthcare professional.
Liquid calories add to your daily intake, so you need to be mindful of what you drink when you're losing weight. You can still consume alcohol, beer, and wine on a diet, but these beverages do not provide nutrition to your body.
If you do drink, try to only drink a few times per week and opt for a calorie-free mixer such as seltzer or simply have a glass of wine. Try to stay away from multiple glasses per day, sodas, and juices.
Alcohol can be part of your wellness journey. When you drink consciously, you can still reach your goal weight.
Everyone is different. Your body mass index, fitness needs, and appetite are not like anyone else's. When you stop drinking alcohol, you may see results in a couple of weeks depending on your lifestyle.
There are many reasons to stop drinking. Without alcohol, you will intake fewer empty carbs, not be as hungry, have a lower risk of liver problems, and get better sleep. Combined with an appropriate diet and exercise, giving up alcohol can help you with obesity.
No matter what you drink or don't drink, weight loss will not come immediately. You want to make a true lifestyle change over a long period.
A beer belly is a real thing. Not everyone's body fat goes to the same places, but alcohol seems to concentrate fat in the abdominal area. High-calorie drinks such as cocktails and beers can cause your liver to burn alcohol instead of fat.
Belly fat tends to become prominent as you get older. As you age, your calorie needs decrease and it becomes easier to gain weight. Abdominal belly fat is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
When you look at a drink list, it can feel like there is no way to keep drinking for weight loss purposes. The problem with alcohol comes in overdoing it or not planning carefully. You can have a couple of drinks every week, but be mindful of your intake of calories.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women have one serving of alcohol per day and men have no more than two. If you're going out, try to eat a healthy meal before you leave the house so you don't feel tempted by greasy bar food such as pizza and fries.
Watch out for extravagant mixed drinks, and substitute them for simple drinks such as rum, whiskey, and wine. If you want to enjoy one high-calorie drink every once in a while, don't beat yourself up. As with any path to wellness, keep up physical activity and mindful eating to achieve your weight loss mission.
Bishehsari, F., Magno, E., Swanson, G., Desai, V., Voigt, R. M., Forsyth, C. B., & Keshavarzian, A. (2017). Alcohol and gut-derived inflammation. Alcohol research: current reviews, 38(2), 163.
Crabb, D. W., Im, G. Y., Szabo, G., Mellinger, J. L., & Lucey, M. R. (2020). Diagnosis and Treatment of Alcohol‐Associated Liver Diseases: 2019 Practice Guidance From the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Hepatology, 71(1), 306-333.