For many of us, eating the healthiest of foods, jogging every day and avoiding fried foods can still not trigger the kind of weight loss we would love to see. It rarely occurs to us that alcohol may be the culprit of this weight loss plateau we have hit.
In fact, it is one of the common questions on weight loss communities that if you stop drinking, will you lose weight?
Apparently, medical research is inconclusive. While one very small study concluded that two glasses of red wine every day for six weeks didn’t influence weight gain, another group of scientists came up with the result that even half a shot of alcohol could lead to cravings of foods high in fats.
Alcohol and weight loss have been linked with each other in a lot of public health literature. Most of us believe that alcohol causes weight gain. But is it complete truth? We will see that alcohol is not essentially the only cause of your beer belly.
Alcohol and health
Apart from making you fat, alcohol directly or indirectly contributes to many diseases. Some of these diseases are severe and develop over the years after excessive alcohol consumption.
According to a 2009 study, 3.8 percent of all global deaths are caused by alcohol related reasons. (1)
Average consumption of alcohol has been associated with diseases like liver disease, hypertension, stroke, epilepsy and cancer. (2)
Why alcohol is bad for weight loss
But there are many reasons why alcohol is bad for weight loss. Below are top 11 reasons why alcohol and weight loss cant exist together.
Excessive calories. Alcohol is a calorie dense drink and to top it all these calories are empty because they are devoid of any nutritional value. Liquid calories always stack up quickly. By the time you have completed two drinks, you would have already drank a few hundred calories. So, your weight loss efforts would be in jeopardy.
Your body considers alcohol a toxic substance. Therefore, its calories are used by the body but not stored. Therefore, the other calories from fats, carbs and protein take a back seat when there is alcohol in your blood stream.
And since these can be stored, body stores these as fat. So to balance your alcohol calories, you have to either eat less or exercise more to lose weight or even to maintain weight loss.
Here are some common alcohol types and calories in alcohol.
12 ounce regular beer = 153 calories
5 ounce champagne = 90 calories
5 ounce of white wine = 100-120 calories
5 ounce (ca. 189 g) of red wine = 105-125 calories
1.5 ounce of brandy = 100 calories
1.5 ounce of tequila = 100 calories
1.5 ounce (ca. 57 gram) of gin = 115 calories
1.5 ounce of whiskey = 100 calories
1.5 ounce (ca. 57 gram) of vodka = 100 calories
Therefore, when you are drinking alcohol, you would be drinking a very high calorie drink. And more calories mean more weight.
Mindless eating. Alcohol causes you to lose control of your mind and inhibitions which would encourage you to eat less attentively. Difficult thing about alcohol and weight loss is that you would then be more likely to overeat or make bad eating choices.
Loss of physical activity. With the hangover next morning, you are more likely to skip physical activity which means missed opportunities of burning calories for weight loss.
Less fat loss. Alcohol calories become part of the blood stream quickly. So, your body will prefer to use these calories over fats and other carbohydrates. Because of this preference for alcohol, your body may store the other available calories as fats.
Lower hormones. Since alcohol can lower testosterone levels, your chances of weight loss are reduced because this hormone is associated with weight loss and building muscles.
Increased appetite. Alcohol and weight loss are also linked in another way because of its high glycemic index. Alcohol causes quick blood sugar spikes and then later you will quickly feel hunger as the blood sugar levels drop quickly. Therefore, alcohol is known to increase hunger and appetite.
Alcohol and weight loss metabolism. Since alcohol causes a liver condition called fatty liver, it can affect your body’s ability to use carbohydrates and fats as energy because liver has a role in metabolism.
Bad food judgement. Because of being under influence, there are increased chances that you will make poor food choices like fast food and energy drinks etc.
Affects sleep. It has been shown that sleep patterns are disturbed. As a result of sleep deprivation you will eat more and feel more hungry because of disturbed hunger hormones. In fact, scientists observed that drinking alcohol not only reduced quality and duration of sleep but it also influenced subjects to eat more fats by shifting away from eating carbs.
Disturbed digestion. Because of the stress placed on the digestive system, alcohol can slow down digestive process. It can also cause a decrease in digestive secretions. Alcohol may also affect absorption of nutrients in the body.
More food. Mostly when you are having alcohol, the environment also provides for other food too. So, alcohol leads to eating more food and calories just keep stacking up.
How to lose weight without giving up alcohol
If you drink moderately, there is possibility that alcohol and weight loss may work together. For example, one study found that one drink of wine for five days a week did not result in any weight gain caused by alcohol. (3)
Another similar study came up with the result that even two glasses of red wine daily for six days a week did not result in weight gain over a period of six weeks. (4)
So, do you need to completely give up alcohol to lose weight? Actually, NO. It is possible to lose weight even with moderate drinking.
Which alcohol is best for weight loss
The key here is to know the calorie content in your alcohol. Seemingly similar alcoholic beverages might have significantly different number of calories. Though, there will not be any material different in the number of calories in red and white wine but calories in beer can differ a lot. 12 ounces (0.45 kg) of beer can have calories in range of 55 to 320 calories.
So choose your drinks with the least calories.
How to reduce alcohol for weight loss
Though, ideally alcohol and weight loss should be separated from each other. But if you can’t totally avoid alcohol then you can try these tips to reduce effect of alcohol on your diet.
- Keep aware of the number of calories in your drinks. This is the single most determining factor to lose weight without giving up alcohol.
- Mix water between your drinks. So drink a glass of water after every drink.
- Spot and look for low calorie alcoholic beverages.
- Set a limit of maximum of two drinks. You will not only keep your calorie intake in check but you will also not eat mindlessly because of impaired judgement under influence.
- Team up with a friend who should hold you accountable for your alcohol consumption.
- Opt for low calorie snacks to go with alcoholic drinks.
- Try to build your social life away from alcohol. When you center your social life around alcohol, you will definitely drink a lot.
If drinking is something you enjoy and it is part of your social life, then it might not be possible to totally avoid it. But you can take a start by cutting back for losing weight.
If you are struggling to lose weight even after following a good diet and being physically active, then it is a good chance that alcohol may be hindering your weight loss goals.
After all alcohol is packed with calories. We are talking about a pint of beer having 150 caloires and a pint of cider laoded with 215 calories which are almost equal to a small meal. Even a drink or two every day would likely be influence your weight loss negatively.
There is a definite pattern of alcohol and weight loss. The more you drink the more you gain and less you drink the less you lose.