How Does Alcohol Affect Weight Loss?

Friends toasting with glasses of beer
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Making changes to your diet for weight loss can be a challenge. While lots of attention is paid to the food you eat, it's equally important to consider what you drink. Weight loss plans nearly always include changes to diet, and cutting back on fruity juices, sugary sodas, and alcoholic beverages can also help with losing weight.

There are dozens of good reasons to reduce your booze intake, from improving your overall health to your level of productivity. And yes, reducing or quitting alcohol can be helpful for managing weight.

How Alcohol Affects Weight Loss

Cutting back on or eliminating alcohol can affect body weight in a number of ways. The relationship between alcohol and weight loss is direct, and alcohol can be a contributing factor to your weight and overall health.

Causes Unhealthy Choices

According to one study of alcohol use and obesity, when alcohol consumption goes up, the likelihood of making balanced, healthy lifestyle choices goes down. In other words, we are likely to eat less nutritious food when drinking and instead consume more calories from a combination of alcoholic beverages and foods high in unhealthy fats and added sugars.

Another study found that research subjects ate about 11% more after an alcoholic drink compared to people who did not consume alcohol. They also ate nearly 25% more high-fat, savory foods. While a healthy diet doesn't have to eliminate higher-fat or higher-calorie foods, the goal is moderation, which can be difficult to maintain when under the influence.

Another study, published in 2018, examined the eating choices of college students and the impact of "drunchies" (drunk munchies). This study found that students were more likely to consume empty-calorie foods on days when they consumed alcohol.

Slows Metabolism

When we consume food, our body begins to metabolize it, breaking it down by nutrient and storing it or using it as energy. However, because the human body cannot store alcohol, when we consume alcoholic drinks, our body immediately begins to process the alcohol and stores other nutrients such as fats, carbohydrates, and proteins aside. That set-aside energy is then stored as body fat.

When this break in the metabolic process happens, the metabolism slows. Over time, with repeated alcohol intake, the metabolism slows more and can lead to weight gain.

Disrupts Sleep

Whether it's a single glass of wine with dinner or several cocktails before bed, alcohol has a direct impact on the quality of sleep. A 2018 study monitored 4,098 adults and measured the impact of alcohol on the autonomic nervous system during sleep.

A low intake of alcohol (defined as 0.25 grams of alcohol per 1 kilogram of study participant's weight) resulted in a 9% drop in sleep quality. A high alcohol intake worsened sleep quality by nearly 39%.

Poor sleep, in turn, has a direct effect on weight loss. Inadequate sleep can also lead to an unhealthy food intake, and lower quality sleep can also block your body's metabolic process, further setting back your weight loss goals. Put simply, it becomes even harder to lose weight if you're not sleeping well.

Quitting Alcohol Cuts Calories

Even if you are a moderate drinker, the calories you consume from alcohol can impact your weight and hinder your attempts at weight loss. Moderate drinking is defined as one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men. Depending on what you drink, moderate drinking can add up to 1,000 calories or more per week.

We also often drink more than a single serving of alcohol at once without even knowing it. 

  • A single serving of wine is only 5 ounces and contains approximately 120 to 130 calories. Many restaurant servings are 6 or even 8 ounces. And the wine glass you have at home could hold 15 ounces or more.
  • Beer, depending on the alcohol percentage and brew, can have anywhere from 90 to 300 calories (or more).
  • Mixers (especially those high in sugar, like soda and fruit juice) can add more calories to your alcoholic beverage. A single 12-ounce can of soda, for example, can have anywhere from 150 to 180 calories.

If your drinking habits go beyond moderate practices, you are consuming even more calories (as well as increasing the risk of other health issues). Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more for women in a short period of time. If a single serving of beer contains 150 calories, then a single binge-drinking episode could tally 600 to 750 calories or more in just one night.

Quitting Alcohol Can Curb Cravings

It’s not just the calorie cost of booze that can affect weight loss goals. Calories are easy to over-consume when they are liquid since drinks don’t fill us up the way food does. So if you’re drinking your calories, you could easily still end up hungry.

How to Reduce Alcohol for Weight Loss

If you’ve decided to quit drinking to support your weight loss goals, here are a few helpful strategies you can use.

Try Mocktails

Before you go to a social event, have a plan in place regarding your drink choices. You may even want to choose a venue that offers appealing, non-alcoholic beverages, often known as "mocktails."

You might enjoy a peach and cucumber fizz, which is a blend of cucumber, peach, jalapeño, and ginger beer. Other drinks, such as the berry fusion or kiwi sour, offer a non-alcoholic drinking experience that's more sophisticated than a Shirley Temple and more flavorful than sparkling water.

You can also make your own mocktails at home by adding flavored bitters to sparkling water. Or enjoy pre-blended mocktails by brands like SodaStream. There are also brands, such as Seedlip, that make non-alcoholic spirits and some that sell booze-free cocktails, such as Curious Elixirs.

Prepare a "No Thanks" Response

You may encounter social pressure to drink. In her book, "High Sobriety: My Year Without Booze," author Jill Stark explains that it was helpful for her to have a response ready when her friends or co-workers pressured her to drink during her year of abstinence. You may also want to be prepared to explain why you’re not drinking before you go to parties or events to gracefully navigate similar social pressure.

Use any of these phrases when turning down a drink:

  • "I don't drink."
  • "I have an early day tomorrow."
  • "I'm driving."

While you can use any of the above statements to politely refuse a drink, remember that you don't owe anyone an explanation for why you're choosing to abstain. A simple "no, thank you" is plenty.

Get Social Support

Stark also recommends an online community called Hello Sunday Morning. The website connects people who have chosen to quit drinking in order to create meaningful change in their lives. Each participant writes about their experiences and shares their reasons for quitting. Many people include weight loss as a goal. The site helps you set a reasonable goal and track your progress.

How to Lose Alcohol Weight

If your ultimate goal is to lose weight, it's important to ensure that your decision to reduce alcohol intake doesn't result in substituting one unhealthy habit with another. What you choose to eat and drink during your weight loss journey should be full of mindful choices that help you feel satisfied and balanced, not just a process of elimination or restriction.  

There are many strategies to choose from when it comes to building your own weight loss journey, and remember that one size does not fit all. Choose from a variety of healthy habits to build your own routine:

  • Eat more fiber. A diet high in fiber can keep your digestive tract regular and can keep you full on nutritious lower-calorie food.
  • Move more. Weight loss occurs when your body burns more calories than it takes in. This means changing your fitness regimen, even with small moments of movement, can help in losing weight.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep gives our body time to rest, regenerate, and process foods. Get your recommended hours of sleep to keep your body moving and refreshed.
  • Use portion control. Understanding serving sizes and portion sizes can help in building your plate. Build your protein, vegetable, and carbohydrate portions according to what best suits you and your goals.
  • Track your calorie intake. Use a calorie calculator to find out how many calories you should eat in a day. Consider using a calorie counter app to track your daily caloric intake and to measure how many calories and nutrients you're taking in with each meal.

A Word From Verywell

Choosing to give up alcohol or reduce your intake may provide an opportunity for you to feel better and create meaningful change in your body and overall health. If you’re smart about the process and create habits you can maintain, you may also lose weight and keep it off. While it's not a must in order to succeed, having support from family and friends can also help make the journey a positive experience.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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