How Does Alcohol Affect Weight?

women enjoying drinks together

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Making changes to your diet for weight loss can be a challenge. While much 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 lose weight.

Keep reading if you are curious about how consuming alcohol may impact your weight loss goals. You will learn more about how alcohol is metabolized and how consuming it may influence your food choices.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

How Alcohol Affects Weight Loss

Cutting back on or eliminating alcohol can affect body weight in several ways. The relationship between alcohol and weight loss is direct, and alcohol can contribute to weight and overall health.

Note that weight loss is not always a healthy decision, and you don't necessarily have to lose weight to be healthier. Also, losing weight does not contribute to health if the methods you use don't support overall health, including nutrient quality of foods, how dieting can impact mental health and body image, and more. Discuss any weight concerns you have with a healthcare provider.

Affects Food 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 consume more calories from a combination of alcoholic beverages and foods high in unhealthy fats and added sugars.

Interestingly, research has found that people who frequently drink moderate amounts of alcohol may "enjoy a healthier lifestyle in general that may protect them from weight gain." But, they also state that alcohol can be an obesity risk factor for some people. More research is needed.

Another study found that research subjects ate about 11% more after an alcoholic drink than those 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 challenging to maintain when under the influence.

Another study, published in 2018, examined the eating choices of college students and the impact alcohol had on their food consumption. This study found that students were more likely to consume empty-calorie foods on days when they consumed alcohol.

Slows Metabolism

When you consume food, your body metabolizes it, breaking it down by its nutrients and storing it or using it as energy. However, because the human body cannot store alcohol, when you consume alcoholic drinks, the 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 directly impacts 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 lead to an unhealthy food intake, and lower quality sleep can 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

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. The calories you consume from alcohol can impact your overall calorie balance if you consume more calories than you burn.

We also often drink more than a single serving of alcohol without 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.

Calories in Alcohol

  • 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. 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.

Part of an effective weight loss plan is choosing foods that keep you feeling full and satisfied. Alcohol provides calories without any nutrients and does not contribute to feelings of fullness. These factors may make calorie balance more challenging.

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 going to a social event, have a plan regarding your drink choices. You may even want to choose a venue that offers appealing, non-alcoholic beverages, often called "mocktails."

You might enjoy a peach and cucumber fizz 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 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. It may be helpful to have a response ready when friends or co-workers pressure you to drink during abstinence. You may also want to be prepared to explain why you’re not drinking before going to parties or events to navigate similar social pressures gracefully.

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 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 essential 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 building your weight loss journey and remember that one size does not fit all. Choose from a variety of healthy habits to develop your routine.

Adjust Your Eating Habits

A diet high in fiber can keep your digestive tract regular and can keep you full on nutritious lower-calorie food. 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.

Consider Tracking Calories

Use a calorie calculator to determine how many calories you should eat daily. Consider using a calorie counter app to track your daily caloric intake and measure how many calories and nutrients you take in each meal.

Improve Lifestyle Choices

Getting more active can support a balanced weight. 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 you lose weight.

Getting adequate, restful sleep can also help with body composition goals. Sleep gives our bodies time to rest, regenerate, and process foods. Get your recommended hours of sleep to keep your body moving and refreshed.

A Word From Verywell

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

6 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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  2. Schrieks IC, Stafleu A, Griffioen-Roose S, et al. Moderate alcohol consumption stimulates food intake and food reward of savoury foods. Appetite. 2015;89:77-83. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.01.021

  3. Kruger J, Glassman J, Knippen KL, Glassman T, Kruger DJ. Drunchies hangover: Heavy episodic drinking and dietary choices while drinking and on the following dayCJHP. 2018;16(1):79-90. doi:10.32398/cjhp.v16i1.2127

  4. Wilson DF, Matschinsky FM. Ethanol metabolism: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Medical Hypotheses. 2020;140:109638. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2020.109638

  5. Pietilä J, Helander E, Korhonen I, Myllymäki T, Kujala UM, Lindholm H. Acute effect of alcohol intake on cardiovascular autonomic regulation during the first hours of sleep in a large real-world sample of finnish employees: Observational studyJMIR Mental Health. 2018;5(1):e9519. doi:10.2196/mental.9519

  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking levels defined.

Additional Reading

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.