Alcohol And Weight Loss: What You Need To Know

Successful weight loss can often mean cutting out or limiting certain types of food and drink, but what about alcohol? You may be wondering how to lose weight and still drink alcohol.

Here's the lowdown on alcohol consumption, how it influences weight loss and the best alcohol to drink when trying to lose weight. 

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How does alcohol influence your weight?

Alcohol can influence weight gain in several ways and have potent effects on your overall health. 

Alcohol consumption provides excess calories

Consuming excess calories can cause weight gain, especially if your energy output remains the same. There are approximately seven calories per gram of alcohol.¹

In the US, a standard drink contains about 14 grams of alcohol (a can of beer or a glass of wine), so if you consume 10 standard drinks of alcohol weekly, that's an additional 1,000 calories you don't need. This number can also increase if you choose heavier and higher-calorie alcohol options.

Most alcoholic drinks are high in calories but with little nutritional value, known as "empty calories." Alcohol consumption has also been shown to increase hunger and appetite by switching the brain into starvation mode.

Researchers found that alcohol activated the brain signals in mice that increase hunger and tell the body to eat more food. Mice were given generous amounts of alcohol, and researchers observed that the alcohol caused an increase in the activity of agouti-related protein (AGRP) neurons. These neurons are fired when the body experiences starvation. The mice also ate more food than their regular consumption throughout the study.²

Alcohol can cause sleep disturbances

Research has also shown that poor quality sleep caused by binge drinking can influence weight and cause weight gain. Just by reducing sleep duration in participants from 8.5 to 4.5 hours, an increase in hunger and appetite was observed.

After 4.5 hours of sleep, participants were also more likely to choose higher-calorie snacks than those who slept more.³ This indicated that less sleep or poor quality sleep could increase cravings for junk food the next day, which in turn increases your risk of weight gain.

Drinking high amounts of alcohol before bed can also impact your sleep cycle. Alcohol has been shown to negatively influence the critical stages of your sleep, including rapid eye movement (REM) and deep sleep.⁴

While drinking a glass of wine might allow you to fall asleep quicker initially, you'll be more likely to wake up throughout the night and have a poorer quality of sleep. Due to experiencing less REM sleep, you'll also more likely wake up exhausted, leading you to reach for that cookie jar. 

The effect of alcohol on your health

What about the effects of alcohol on your overall health? In the US, a standard drink contains approximately 14 grams of alcohol. While drinking in moderation or a few times a week is fine, health problems can arise with excessive consumption or alcohol abuse.

Some short term health risks of alcohol consumption⁵ include:

  • Lack of judgment

  • Poor coordination skills

  • Dizziness

  • Memory loss

  • Lack of concentration

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Hangovers and headaches

  • Injury (to yourself or others)

  • Poor motor skills

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can significantly increase your risk of illness or developing health conditions. The effects of alcohol are also long-term and can accumulate over time. Here are some potential long-term effects of alcohol consumption:

Liver

Just drinking 3–4 standard drinks daily can increase your risk of developing liver cancer in your lifetime. Long-term drinking also increases your risk of liver cirrhosis and scarring.⁶

Brain

Drinking excessively can affect your memory, mood, and concentration levels.⁷

Heart

Drinking excessively can increase your risk of heart attacks and heart damage by increasing your blood pressure.⁸

Stomach

Just drinking 1–2 standard drinks daily increases your risk of developing stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal cancer.⁹

The best and worst types of alcohol for weight loss

While you don't need to completely eliminate alcohol to lead a healthy lifestyle and achieve your weight loss goals, it might be good to change the types of alcohol you drink.

Drinking excessive amounts of alcoholic drinks can also lead to binge drinking and using alcohol as an emotional crutch after a stressful day rather than enjoying it in moderation.

By being aware of the amount of alcohol you're consuming, you'll be able to reduce your risk of developing binge drinking and the amount of total calories you consume during the day. You can also make some simple alcohol swaps that allow you to enjoy alcohol without unnecessary calories.

Here are some lower-calorie alcohol options:

  • Gin and diet tonic

  • Rum and diet coke

  • Vodka with plain club soda

  • Light beer

  • Tequila and freshly squeezed lime

If you want to lower your risk of weight gain, avoid these types of alcoholic beverages:

  • Pina colada

  • Long island iced tea

  • Mojito

  • Craft beers

  • Chocolate liqueurs

You can also set yourself a challenge by reducing your alcohol intake during the week and limiting your alcohol consumption to 1–2 drinks at any time. Opt to drink alcohol over a meal with friends or during social events rather than drinking by yourself during the evenings. You can also choose lower sugar or “diet” options for mixers in cocktails or alternate between club soda and alcohol drinks while drinking.

The lowdown

You don't need to eliminate alcohol entirely for effective weight loss. However, it is crucial to be mindful of our alcohol intake and try to reduce binge drinking.

Drinking high amounts of alcohol can cause us to consume a high amount of unnecessary calories. Opt for lower-calorie alcohol options in moderation.

Have you considered clinical trials for Weight management?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Weight management, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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