lose weight and drink alcohol

Evidence based

Can you lose weight and still drink alcohol?

Afterdrink Author Kathy Caldwell
Kathy Caldwell


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Evidence based

We live in a world where obesity is getting more and more prevalent every year, despite our best efforts to lose weight, keep it off and manage a healthy lifestyle.

There are, of course, many factors that contribute to the rise in obesity, but there’s one that we often ignore, because of the enjoyment factor: alcohol.

It forms part of many of our social occasions, celebrations and even just a quick way to relax after a long and stressful day. But how exactly does alcohol affect our health and weight loss efforts?

Alcohol and dieting have a love-hate relationship. Many will say it’s perfectly okay to have one or two alcoholic drinks even as part of a weight-loss regimen, while others will say it’s completely forbidden.

But we have to ask ourselves, can you lose weight and still drink alcohol? Is it something we should avoid completely?

In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at how alcohol makes you gain weight and tips to

Table of contents

Why does alcohol make you gain weight?

Aside from water, just about everything you eat or drink – including alcoholic beverages – has calories in it. Calories are a unit of energy that your body uses to function – you need calories to fuel all your bodily functions, from breathing, to thinking, to maintaining your whole body. You also use them for physical activity, whether that’s going for a walk or running an ultra-marathon – it all takes calories.

By keeping a balance between calories used and calories consumed, you can lose fat and maintain a healthy weight. However, when you consume more calories than your body uses for these functions and for physical activity, you store these excess calories as fat, causing you to gain weight. Often, it’s the hidden calories that catch us by surprise, such as the calories in alcohol.

Many people will meticulously weigh their food and count their calories for the food they are eating, as well as the calories they are burning during exercise, but they forget to take account of the many calories in alcoholic drinks.

That’s why even as little as one or two alcoholic beverages can cause your weight loss efforts to stall, or even cause you to gain weight. Let’s look at the calories in some of the most popular drinks:

  • One serving of whiskey or brandy (35ml): 80 calories
  • One serving of wine (150ml) contains: 125 calories
  • One serving of beer (350ml): 155 calories
  • One serving of gin and tonic (35ml, plus tonic water): 200 calories
  • One serving of alcopop (330ml): 220 calories

To put that into perspective, a single can (330ml) of the most popular soft drink in the world, Coca Cola, contains 139 calories – less than just one beer, a glass of gin and tonic, or a single alcopop – and the last thing you would drink when trying to lose weight is a can of Coke! Or, to look at it another way, a slice of standard bread, white or wholewheat, contains between 90 and 100 calories.

On top of the fact that alcohol is high in calories, especially when you consider the volume, those calories have almost zero nutritional value. While a bunch of grapes may contain similar calories to a glass of wine, they also contain a multitude of vitamins and fiber, all of which are considerably better for you. That’s why alcohol is what’s known as “empty” calories.

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Losing weight while still drinking alcohol – top tips

When you are trying to lose weight, socializing can be very difficult. Often, friends and family want to go to a pub or restaurant, or host dinner parties or barbecues at their home.

There are all kinds of high-calorie foods and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available at these gatherings, and it can be difficult to resist eating or drinking them.

Plus, drinking alcohol is well known for reducing your inhibitions, and that includes your willpower to resist the foods you know you should avoid, and choose healthier, lower-calorie options instead.

So, the more you drink, the more likely you are to binge on high-calorie, fatty and sugary foods, causing double the damage.

Of course, nobody wants to spend their lives stuck at home, never having any fun, and joining family and friends on these occasions can be good for reducing stress and improved mental wellbeing.

So how do you maintain your weight loss efforts, while at the same time enjoying an active social life and being exposed to high-calorie alcoholic drinks and foods? There are a few tips you can follow to help you along the way.

1 – Plan your socializing
Of course, impromptu gatherings can be wonderful, and avoiding all of them won’t be possible, try to plan your socializing as much as possible. For example, if you know what restaurant or pub you are going to, you can investigate their menu beforehand and plan what meal you will have – that way you can incorporate it into your day’s meal plan and avoid overeating. Careful planning could also allow you to include one or two lower calorie alcoholic drinks if you really want.

2 – Keep the alcohol to a minimum
While it’s obviously best to avoid drinking alcohol at all, both for the calorie factor and the reduced willpower, if you really want to have a couple of drinks, try to keep it to a minimum, and make sure to incorporate the calories in your planning. Try alternating your alcoholic drinks with zero-calorie options, like sugar-free soft drinks or water.

3 – Keep hydrated
Alcohol is notorious for having a diuretic and dehydrating effect on the body. Interestingly, the brain often can’t distinguish between dehydration and hunger, so you might want to eat more when you are somewhat dehydrated. Counteract this by making sure to drink plenty of plain or carbonated water between alcoholic drinks. This will also help flush the alcohol from your system, avoiding the dreaded hangover and desire for a fry-up full of fatty calories the next morning.

4 – Bring your own
If you are attending a social gathering at someone’s home, don’t be shy to bring along your own zero-calorie drink option, whether it’s soft drinks or water. Often, hosts neglect to provide these kinds of options when planning a party, and you don’t want to have no choice but to drink alcohol.

With a little careful forethought, you can avoid the damaging effects of alcohol on your weight loss efforts, while still enjoying the company of friends and family.

Will I gain weight if I stop drinking alcohol?

You’ll often hear that people gain weight after stopping smoking because the cravings from nicotine withdrawal are substituted with eating food.

However, this is certainly not the case with stopping alcohol. When you stop drinking, you’ll have an immediate drop in your calorie count and which helps the weight loss process.

It’s all about the number of calories you’re eating. If you do stop drinking alcohol but then substitute this with more calories from other sources, then it’s unlikely you’ll lose any weight.

Conclusion – Final words

Losing weight isn’t easy and required will power and a significant amount of planning. However, maintaining a healthy social life while continuing to lose weight is certainly possible.

The most important factor in your weight loss efforts is the number of calories you’re consuming. If you’ve factored in your alcoholic drink to your daily total calorie plan, you’re likely to continue losing weight.

That being said, the best way to lose weight is to cut out alcohol altogether.

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