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Is alcohol bad for weight loss?

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.

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.

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.

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).

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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.