You’re meeting some friends for drinks (😂 remember when we could do that?) and you’re about to order when, seemingly overnight, your crew ditched their signature drinks for a new set of booze rules.
“I’m only drinking clear liquor.” “My usual mixer has too many calories—whiskey on the rocks, please!” “IPAs have so many carbs. What are your lighter choices?”
When it comes to weight management plans, reducing or eliminating your booze habit is almost always high on the to-do list. Let’s find out why.
FYI: Healthy weight loss
An adult needs between 1,600 and 3,000 calories per day, depending on your age, sex, activity level, and overall health. According to the CDC, 1 to 2 pounds per week is a healthy and sustainable rate of weight loss.
1. “Empty” calories equals zero sustenance
Empty calories are “empty” because they provide your body with very little nutrients (if any) and don’t satisfy hunger.
Alcohol packs about 7 calories per gram, making it the second most calorie-dense nutrient out there (second only to fat).
Considering an afternoon snack is typically 150 to 200 calories, here’s what’s likely hiding in your happy hour go-to:
|12-ounce beer||155 calories|
|6-ounce glass of red wine||153 calories|
|6-ounce glass of champagne||230 calories|
|1.5 ounces of spirits (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, or tequila)||97 calories|
|3.5-ounce margarita||122 calories|
|4-ounce Manhattan||266 calories|
Um, who has a 3.5-ounce marg?! But seriously, when you start adding sugary sodas and juices to the mix, it’s easy to see how a few cocktails can have as many calories (or more) than a small meal.
2. Your body burns it first
What is this, 1993? Weight management isn’t all about calories in, calories out. Unfortunately, booze is more than just a calorie feast.
When you drink alcohol, your body prioritizes it and uses it as fuel to burn first, leaving the glucose from carbs and lipids from fats you already consumed throughout the day waiting in the wings.
Those leftover lipids and glucose reserves? They turn into fat. Bummer.
3. It can put a strain on your liver
Feels like the liver doesn’t get enough credit around here. One of its main jobs is to be your body’s filter for anything foreign that enters your body — like alcohol. It also plays a role in metabolizing nutrients.
Going too hard for too long can lead to fatty liver (aka hepatic steatosis) — a condition that changes the way you metabolize and store fats and carbs.
A change in how your beautiful bod stores (and burns) energy from food can make weight management much harder. So sip smart, and be kind to your liver.
4. It’s a breeding ground for belly fat
Alcohol contains more calories than carbs and is often paired with high carb mix-ins, a double whammy. I see you soda (hi, Jack and Coke), candy, juice, and simple syrup.
Those extra sugar cals get stored as fat and they can accumulate quick. Even drinks without mixers like beer increase lipogenesis, or the formation of new fat cells. The term “beer belly” could more be more appropriately named “alcohol belly,” though it just doesn’t have the same ring.
While it seems like Kim K. can control where the fat on her body goes, us peons cannot. So, the belly tends to get the bulk of it.
Excess belly fat isn’t just a weight management issue, it’s a health issue. Too much visceral fat around abdominal organs has been linked to serious health conditions, including certain cancers.
5. Because buzzed cravings are real
In super obvious news, alcohol can lead to questionable decision-making. Among those decisions: What should we *eat* right now?!
Why? Your inhibitions are down, and you’re a lot quicker to say yes to Grubhub when you’re feeling fancy and free.
What about that false hunger after some sips? In an animal study, mice that were fed ethanol (alcohol) over 3 days significantly upped their food intake on their own. It shows alcohol might actually trigger hunger signals, which could explain why you not just wanted, but needed that pizza.
6. It can mess with your hormones
Healthy hormone levels are key for weight management. Testosterone specifically plays a big role in your body’s ability to burn and lose fat.
While some research shows a small amount of alcohol may temporarily raise testosterone levels in the brain, studies show regular or excessive boozing can mess with your testosterone levels over time.
Why care about your T levels? Low testosterone may be linked to more fat (especially in the belly), reduced lean mass, out-of-whack energy, reduced insulin sensitivity, and impaired glucose control. Basically, it lowers your metabolic rate and that makes losing fat a heck of a lot harder.
7. It’s definitely not a sleep aid
A glass of wine might make you feelsleepy, but it won’t help you sleep. Research shows high levels of alcohol can mess with your Zzz’s by delaying your first REM cycle (rude!) while causing disruption to the second half of your sleep cycle.
Less REM sleep is less restful sleep, which would explain why you can’t seem to get enough coffee at brunch.
When it comes to weight management, interrupted, impaired, or any kind of sleep deprivation can affect hormones that keep tabs on your hunger, energy storage, and feeling satisfied after eating.
8. It f*cks with your digestion
At the end of the day, alcohol is a toxin, and it stresses your whole digestive system out. Drinking in large amounts leads to inflammation and permeability in your intestines, totally messing with the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut.
Alcohol is also a buzzkill for your stomach acid and slows important secretions that help move food through your digestive tract. These two superstars break down your food into the nutrients your body absorbs and puts to use.
When digestion is impaired, so is nutrient absorption. If the organs and functions that regulate weight management are underfed, your weight loss efforts are likely to come up short.
Don’t pour out your bar cart yet — try swapping any overly sweet or calorie-heavy drink orders for these 100-calorie options.
1.5 ounces of distilled 80-proof vodka = 100 calories
Mix with club soda, flavored seltzer, or fresh lemon or lime juice.
1.5 ounces of tequila = 100 calories
Take the classic tequila shot — a lick of salt, tequila, a bite of lime.
1.5 ounces of 90-proof gin = 110 calories
Keep it simple with a martini. Add a few extra olives, if you like — they’re a source of antioxidants.
1.5 ounces of 86-proof whiskey = 105 calories
Enjoy on the rocks. Ditching the cola saves you calories and a ton of sugar.
- Set a limit. The government considers moderate drinking one drink a day for women and two for men.
- Have dry days each week. This is an easy way to keep weekly alcohol calories in check.
- Chase every drink with a glass of water. Sneakily fill yourself up while preventing a hangover.
- Choose a smaller glass. Portion control at its finest.
- Pop the bubbly. Can’t stand liquor on the rocks? Champagne is a low-cal option that feels special.
- Avoid an empty stomach. You’ll maintain your ability to make healthier choices about food and, uh, everything else.
Alcohol use disorder and weight loss
It’s important to know the signs of alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, classic signs include compulsive alcohol consumption and an emotional downturn when not drinking. Connect with your doctor if you notice these signs.
While the link between AUD and weight is inconsistent, balancing drinking alcohol and healthy lifestyle choices is key to achieving your weight management goals.
“Good” and “bad” foods for weight loss are so last century. If healthy weight loss or management is your goal, though, alcohol could be sabotaging your best efforts.
Alcohol offers little nutrition and it’s high in sugar. It can also wreak havoc on your body, including sleep, hormonal health, and digestive health, not to mention how the liver burns and stores fat — all crucial for weight management.
Wine, champagne, and low-alcohol beers have fewer and more consistent calories than mixed drinks.
When it comes to cocktails, you can swap sweet mixers and complicated concoctions for simple liquor with calorie-free mixers. Better yet, enjoy them on the rocks.