Nutrition Articles

Alcohol and Weight Loss

Can You Have Both?

Alcohol and weight loss are enemies, but an occasional drink can have a place in a healthy lifestyle. In fact, many experts note the potential health benefits of consuming a single drink per day, including a reduced risk for high blood pressure If, however, you are exceeding one drink daily, you might be sabotaging your weight loss plans.

Alcohol is metabolized differently than other foods and beverages. Under normal conditions, your body gets its energy from the calories in carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which are slowly digested and absorbed within the gastrointestinal system. However, this digestive process changes when alcohol is present. When you drink alcohol, it gets immediate attention (because it is viewed by the body as a toxin) and needs no digestion.

On an empty stomach, the alcohol molecules diffuse through the stomach wall quickly and can reach the brain and liver in minutes. This process is slower when you have food in your stomach, but as soon as that food enters the small intestine, the alcohol grabs first priority and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream.

As the alcohol reaches the liver for processing, the liver places all of its attention on the alcohol. If you drink very slowly, all the alcohol is collected by the liver and processed immediately—avoiding all other body systems. If you drink more quickly, the liver cannot keep up with the processing needs and the alcohol continues to circulate in the body until the liver is available to process it. That's why drinking large amounts of alcohol (or drinking alcohol quickly) affect the brain centers involved with speech, vision, reasoning and judgment.

When the body is focused on processing alcohol, it is not able to properly break down foods containing carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, these calories are converted into body fat and are carried away for permanent storage on your body.

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it causes water loss and dehydration. Along with this water loss you lose important minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc. These minerals are vital to the maintenance of fluid balance, chemical reactions, and muscle contraction and relaxation.

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and offers NO nutritional value. It only adds empty calories to your diet. Why not spend your calorie budget on something healthier?

Alcohol affects your body in other negative ways. Drinking may help induce sleep, but the sleep you get isn't very deep. As a result, you get less rest, which can trigger you to eat more calories the next day. Alcohol can also increase the amount of acid that your stomach produces, causing your stomach lining to become inflamed. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to serious health problems, including stomach ulcers, liver disease, and heart troubles.

Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, which is detrimental to your diet plans. Alcohol actually stimulates your appetite. While you might be full from a comparable amount of calories from food, several drinks might not fill you up. On top of that, research shows that if you drink before or during a meal, both your inhibitions and willpower are reduced. In this state, you are more likely to overeat—especially greasy or fried foods—which can add to your waistline. To avoid this, wait to order that drink until you're done with your meal.

Many foods that accompany drinking (peanuts, pretzels, chips) are salty, which can make you thirsty, encouraging you to drink even more. To avoid overdrinking, sip on a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage.
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About The Author

Liz Noelcke Liz Noelcke
Liz is a journalist who often writes about health and fitness topics.

Member Comments

    Speaking just for myself, I've chosen to abstain completely from alcohol. Before losing 80 lbs., I had very high triglycerides, and losing weight normalized them. Alcohol can raise triglyceride levels, so for that reason alone, I'd never drink it. My second reason is the added risk of breast cancer.

    Resveratrol? I'll get my polyphenols courtesy plain ol' grapes 'n' wild blueberries instead... - 9/15/2014 2:08:25 PM
  • "Moderation in all things" would seem to apply here. I know that what the article says about alcohol lowering inhibitions and increasing cravings for fatty, salty food is true in my case. But, I also believe that having a glass of wine with dinner or in a social setting can greatly increase the pleasure of that experience. Like everything in life, there are risks and benefits associated with the choice to consume or not consume alcohol. My choice is to limit consumption during the week but to allow myself moderate amounts on the weekends. It "works" for me but everyone is different and must choose according to the specifics of their lives and personalities. - 5/28/2014 12:02:45 PM
  • So if a diabetic needs to count carbs and there are no carbs in certain liquors, vodka for instance, does that mean a diabetic does not have to worry about drinking, assuming he is not counting calories or eating munchies while drinking? - 3/15/2014 8:47:17 AM
  • A shot of 90 proof liquor (35ml) has only 72 calories, which is about 2 calories per gram, not 7. 200 proof alcohol, which nobody drinks, has 7 calories per gram. Drinking straight liquor is the lowest calorie value per serving of any of the drinks listed.

    That said, the article's implication that alcohol leads to unhealthy snacking is true, in my experience, for most people I observe. Alcohol does lower willpower and alter judgment. That said, I've never had a problem getting up and going to the gym the next day.

    Somebody else here mentioned thin Europeans who drink alcohol as evidence that alcohol is not bad for weight gain. Europeans also eat *much* smaller portions and exercise more regularly than Americans, often from the necessity of walking/biking everywhere. These are likely large factors in why the daily serving or two of wine/beer they drink with dinner doesn't make them fat. There are plenty of fat Europeans, too. Look up "bears in [city in europe]" and you'll find plenty! :)

    As far as the hangover affecting your workout: maybe you should not get so drunk as to have a hangover. One other feature common to European alcohol consumption: not drinking to get drunk. - 3/14/2014 10:34:15 AM
  • Charts like these would be much more useful if they had carbohydrate content as well as calorie. For those of us who do drink and who are on high protein, low carb diets, such articles are really useless. While I acknowledge that Spark celebrates the calorie counter, you also have many Atkins, with all its variations, dieters as your fans. And I am sure there is a difference between a drink of Baileys, a port and a whisky.. - 3/14/2014 9:58:42 AM
  • I think this was an EXCELLENT article. I could not have said it better myself. THANK YOU for accurate information and making it very clear. Again - TERRIFIC article. - 3/14/2014 12:20:49 AM
    As informative as this article is, the tone is bothersome. Present throughout the article, this emerges most strongly with the following example.

    "Why not spend your calorie budget on something healthier?"
    My answer:
    Because it's my calorie budget and I'll spend it as I please.

    Taken to extremes, this example sentence can also incite unhealthy dieting practices. ("I can trade my cookies for cucumber slices," can become "I can just cut the cookies out altogether," leading to "I can skip a meal everyday, too..." You get the idea.) Additionally, it can render people feeling as though they ought to drop the "binge" items from a well-functioning budget despite that the item fits within the guidelines.

    On a different note, it was kind of the author to include the table of calories per type of drink.

    In conclusion, informative but the reading would be more pleasant if the article was not drenched in disgust.

    ~ Mythina - 2/26/2014 8:36:02 PM
  • Americans are hilarious. In my travels the thinnest people I ever saw were in Paris. They drink. In London, they drink. In every European city...they drink. Drinking has been found to increase your life expectancy (see the recent findings by University of Texas at Austin). It helps your heart. It is absolutely part of a healthy lifestyle.

    The fattest people I have ever known have been Americans who have sworn off of "booze" for religious reasons, and who then stuff their faces at church potlucks.

    Seriously, drinking won't hurt you. Stop worrying about it so much. - 1/19/2014 1:18:15 PM
  • Thanks to everyone for sharing. - 12/23/2013 5:56:13 AM
  • It is fantastic that we all come from the same mindset. I used to social drink a lot with my office staff. Until one night in a limo I almost messed in my pants. That is when I promised myself no more drinking for me. - 10/1/2013 5:38:12 AM
  • Alcohol mixed with diet soda enters the bloodstream faster than alcohol mixed with regular soda. - 8/16/2013 10:32:37 AM
  • There are lots of big downsides to unemployment, but one positive thing for me is that I no longer drink alcoholic beverages. There was immense peer pressure for the Friday bar trip at my work, and I feel so much better now without having to deal with alcohol. Our job was high-pressure, so people looked forward to Fridays as a chance to wind down, relax, and drown their sorrows. - 8/9/2013 7:45:02 AM
  • This article forgets one important thing. You may be too hungover the next day to exercise. Even if you do make it to the gym, your workout will be sluggish, thus burning less calories. - 7/23/2013 6:18:16 PM
    Before I started to lose weight, I would drink wine pretty much every day, at least one glass with dinner. When I started to lose weight in April of 2012, I decided to elimate drinking during the week and I only allow myself to drink on the weekends. I now drink on Friday nights, Saturday nights, and most Sunday nights. It can be anywhere from just one glass to more than one bottle of wine (depending on how I feel and if I go out to dinner with my best friend, etc). So, I still drink plenty on weekends and I have lost over 60 pounds so far. I will never, ever give up drinking and I have proven, at least to myself, that I do not have to. As long as I watch my calories and I workout 5 days a week, I can have alcohol. - 7/18/2013 3:41:04 PM
  • Thanks for sharing. I do not drink so now I won't begin. - 7/18/2013 7:15:55 AM

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