Is alcohol bad for weight loss?

In excess (meaning more than 1 drink a night for the ladies and more than 2 for the gents), yes. If you live in the NYC area, you’ve probably noticed the subway ads that show fat being poured out of sugary drinks like sports drinks and soda. While somewhat grotesque, they do get the point across that drinking things other than water can pile on the pounds. Alcohol is no exception. Say yes to a couple of glasses of red wine or beer before and with dinner and you‘re likely to eat up 200 extra calories and that’s on top of the 250 or more calories in your drinks. That’s nothing compared to the drinks that end in “a” and have sugar in the mix like Sangria that have 450 more calories per drink than just wine or beer or vodka (a drink that ends with an “a” that is okay). So limit yourself to a drink or two (if you’re a gentleman).

Avoiding alcohol while trying to lose weight something you really want to consider.  Not only is alcohol full of empty calories, but it inhibits your fat burning and fat storing hormones.  It will also lower your inhibitions and changes your decision-making processes which can cause you to make poor food choices.

Molly Morgan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

If you are of age and stay within moderation guidelines (1 drink per day for women and 2 per day for men) alcohol can be part of a weight loss routine. Although, as with most things in life, if some is good... more is not better! Plus if you are going to have a drink, consider the calories in the drink! For example: some martinis can weigh in at 400 calories or more! Instead opt for lighter options like a small glass of wine, light beer, or mixed drink with club soda (instead of tonic).

Alcohol is not bad for weight loss but the fact that most people have too much alcohol at one time that causes the problem. Remember you have to burn more calories than you take in. Alcohol can range in calories from 85-230 calories depending on the type of drink you are having. Now add in the fact that people just don't have one drink when they go out. A lot of people can easily comsume enough calories in one sitting of alcohol to replace their daily intake of food for the day. It is all about moderation and knowing what you are putting into your body.

It depends on how much you drink. Weight loss depends primarily on how many calories you burn compared to how many calories you consume. If you burn more, then your weight will decrease regardless of where the calories come from. Keep in mind that certain calories are better than others in terms of nutritional value and support for your daily activity. If you consume 2,000 calories per day and 700 of them come from alcohol, it is likely that your ability to perform, sustain lean body mass, and reduce cravings will be affected. It is important to carefully track your caloric intake from alcohol and be aware of how it affects your overall program. If an excessive amount of your calories consumed come from alcohol, it is recommended that you seek help from a qualified professional in order promote a healthy lifestyle.

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Alcohol can slow weight loss due to the added calories. Alcohol also can inhibit your ability to stick to the commitments you make regarding weight loss. Once you start drinking you lower your ability to say no to temptation. One drink can have approximately 120 calories. When alcohol is metabolized, the fat gets stored and the acetate gets burned often leading to weight gain around the abdomen. When you are trying to lose weight you have to adjust your alcohol calories and in many cases avoid it when on a weight loss regime.

When we start breaking down calories per grams almost all people know that protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. What does this mean? Well fat is more than twice as dense in calories than protein and carbs. So, if we are preaching nutrient density versus calorie density then it will make sense to have a greater emphasis on protein and carbs and eat lower fat foods to keep the caloric density as low as possible.

However, you need a certain amount of fat and healthy fats are good for you and should be included in your diet. That is why logging your food is so important. You have to be aware of your caloric intake but some fat in your diet is good but you just have to be aware that the caloric density of fat is more than twice than protein and carbs.

Why do I mention this? Because alcohol is 7 calories per gram and therefore it is in the range of fat. I have not found that alcohol in moderation causes any sort of problems and many studies show that it can be beneficial. So, if we follow the moderation rule of thumb we will know that alcohol contains calories, if we account for our calories and we take in sufficient levels of protein, carbs and fat, drink alcohol and stay within our caloric goals then everything probably is going to be fine.

Moderation and balance is the key. Awareness is also key, be aware of the caloric density of alcohol an think of that when you are reaching for that 3rd or 4th drink.

Alcohol and weight loss is about more then just calories - alcohol impacts hormonal systems, impairs judgment (the devil in your head says you DESERVE that cheese-covered, potato skin), and generally jacks you up (a very fitness technical term). Personal experience has taught me it's not worth it. It's not aligned with your goal, skip it.

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Fitness Specialist

Ultimately, weight loss comes down to consistently consuming fewer calories through your diet than you burn through activity. With that said, while the occasional alcoholic beverage won’t spell the end to your weight-loss results, regularly consuming alcohol may sabotage your success.

Unlike protein, carbohydrates, and fat, alcohol – a toxin – cannot be stored by the body. Some studies have shown that when you drink it – especially while eating – your body may divert all of its energy to burning the alcohol rather than the calories you took in from your meal, which instead are stored as fat for later. Also, current research suggests that ingesting alcohol might put the brakes on the body’s ability to burn fat, raises cortisol – a hormone that leads to muscle breakdown and fat storage – and decreases testosterone – a key hormone that helps us gain or preserve our muscle tissue – for up to 24 hours. If you don’t gain or preserve your muscle tissue while on a weight loss program, your metabolism will likely slow down – resulting in fewer calories burned throughout the day – further compounding the difficulty to lose weight. Lastly, research indicates that drinking before a meal causes us to eat more food than we would have otherwise, which if done regularly will certainly impede progress when trying to lose those excess pounds.

The bottom line is that you have to evaluate and determine if the temporary feelings that enjoying an alcoholic beverage bring you outweigh the feelings and sense of accomplishment that come with achieving your weight loss goal and having the body you’ve worked so hard for.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.