How Alcohol Affects 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. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, the general consensus is to be mindful if you choose to partake. There are dozens of good reasons to reduce your booze intake. Doing so can improve your health, your relationships, and your level of productivity. And yes, you reducing alcohol can help you lose weight.

For many people, reducing or eliminating their alcohol consumption can support weight loss because of how it affects the body.

Quitting Alcohol Can Cut 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. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), moderate drinking is defined as one drink or less per night for women and two drinks or less per night for men.

Depending on what you drink, those drinks 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 red or white wine, for example, is only five ounces. Many restaurants serve 6-ounce (or even 8-ounce) glasses of wine per order. And the wine glass you have at home could hold 15 ounces or more. As such, you may want to consider measuring your at-home wine pour next time. Plus, mixers (especially those high in sugar like soda and fruit juice) add more calories to your alcoholic beverage.

If your drinking habits go beyond moderate practices, you are consuming 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 like food does. So if you’re drinking your calories, you could easily still end up hungry. You'll also be subject to other challenges to weight-loss like the following.

Unhealthy Choices

According to one study of alcohol use and obesity, when our alcohol consumption goes up, our 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. And if you skip a workout to head to happy hour, you're going to burn fewer calories that day.

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.

Messed-Up Metabolism

Drinking may also derail your metabolism. Your body uses the alcohol you consume for energy—before pulling that energy from carbs or fat in the foods you've eaten, meaning they end up stored as body fat.

Poor Sleep

You may even be more sluggish and less active on days following drinking, especially since alcohol has also been shown to affect sleep quality. And in turn, it's harder to lose weight if you're not sleeping well.

How to Quit Drinking 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 to help get you through the bumps along the way.

Enjoy Booze-Free "Mocktails"

Before you go to a social event, have a plan in place regarding your drink choices. In fact, you may even want to choose a venue that offers appealing beverages that are alcohol-free. For example, the Wayfarer in New York City is one of many upscale restaurants that offer high-quality, hand-crafted drinks without the added alcohol.

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 may seem more sophisticated than a Shirley Temple and provide a more flavorful experience 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.

Keep in mind, however, that not all non-alcoholic drinks are low in calories. Even "healthier" drink substitutions can still have a lot of sugar or calories to consider.

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.

Get Social Support

Stark also connects with 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 blogs 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.

Maintain Healthy Eating Habits

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.   

A Word From Verywell

Choosing to give up alcohol or reduce your intake may provide an opportunity for you to feel better and to 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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