Nutrition Articles

Alcohol and Weight Loss

Can You Have Both?


Skipping a meal to save your calories for drinks later is a bad idea. Many drinkers know they'll be having some alcohol later, whether going to a bar, party, or just kicking back at home. Knowing that drinking entails extra calories, it may be tempting to "bank" some calories by skipping a meal or two. This is a bad move. If you come to the bar hungry, you are even more likely to munch on the snacks, and drinking on an empty stomach enhances the negative effects of alcohol. If you're planning on drinking later, eat a healthy meal first. You'll feel fuller, which will stop you from overdrinking. If you are worried about a looming night out with friends, include an extra 30 minutes of exercise to balance your calories—instead of skipping a meal.

What are more important, calories or carbs? You might think that drinking liquor is more diet-friendly because it has no carbohydrates, while both wine and beer do contain carbs. But dieters need to watch calories, and liquor only has a few calories less than beer or wine. Plus, it is often mixed with other drinks, adding even more empty calories. Hard liquor contains around 100 calories per shot, so adding a mixer increases calories even more. If you are going to mix liquor with anything, opt for a diet or club soda, instead of fruit juice or regular soda. Sweeter drinks, whether liquor or wine, tend to have more sugar, and therefore more calories. In that respect, dry wines usually have fewer calories than sweet wines.

The list below breaks down the number of calories in typical alcoholic drinks. Compare some of your favorites to make a good choice next time you decide to indulge in a serving of alcohol.

Drink Serving Size Calories
Red wine 5 oz. 100
White wine 5 oz. 100
Champagne 5 oz. 130
Light beer 12 oz. 105
Regular beer 12 oz. 140
Dark beer 12 oz. 170
Cosmopolitan 3 oz. 165
Martini 3 oz. 205
Long Island iced tea 8 oz. 400
Gin & Tonic 8 oz. 175
Rum & Soda 8 oz. 180
Margarita 8 oz. 200
Whiskey Sour 4 oz. 200

Alcohol can easily be the enemy when it comes to weight loss. It adds extra calories to your diet, encourages you to eat more food, and alters the normal digestive process. Not only are the extra calories a hindrance, but the changes in food breakdown sends turns those extra calories into unwanted body fat. Alcohol does have a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss, and rightfully so, so be smart about your alcohol choices if you're watching your weight. This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople's nutrition expert Becky Hand, MS, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.
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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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