How does alcohol affect your weight

If you’re trying to lose weight then you’re probably already aware of the different types of food you need to cut from your diet, such as chips, white bread and chocolate. Did you know that alcohol can also have an effect on your weight? There are many health benefits to giving up alcohol and by reducing the amount you drink, you will reduce your calorie intake significantly. In this article, we’ll be looking at how alcohol affects your weight and why you may wish to ditch the booze if you’re trying to shed some pounds.

How does alcohol affect weight loss

Sadly, weight loss and alcohol consumption do not go hand in hand. Alcohol contains more calories than people often realise. Did you know that a standard glass of wine has as many calories as an ice cream while a pint of beer is equivalent to one standard sized Mars bar? The NHS suggests that drinking four bottles of wine every month for a year would add up to an annual consumption of approximately 27,000kcal - that’s the equivalent of eating 48 Big Macs a year.

You’ll sometimes hear alcoholic beverages referred to as ‘empty calories’. This means that while the calorie content is high, the nutrient content is low and is therefore not adding any nutritional value to what you’re putting into your body.

It isn’t just wine and beer that are chock-full of calories. Mixers, such as soda or juice, are often crammed with sugar meaning a higher amount of total calories per serving.

So the amount of extra calories you are taking on board each time you have an alcoholic drink on top of calories obtained from your daily meals, means losing weight becomes an even greater challenge. This is something Bernie, one of the many people LiveWell Dorset has helped, was all too aware of when he contacted us a few years ago. Bernie weighed 19 stone and had multiple health problems. He was also a heavy drinker, regularly consuming eight to nine pints every Friday night, which played a significant part in his weight issues. The alcohol he drank led to him feeling hungry and subsequently eating unhealthily when out socialising. With our help, Bernie quit drinking completely and now weighs 13 stone 13lbs.

How does alcohol affect weight gain

Alcohol causes weight gain in a number of different ways. Studies have shown that on the heaviest day of drinking during the week, calories from alcoholic beverages make up 27% and 19% of the recommended daily calorie intake for men and women, respectively. We’ve looked at some of the staggering amount of calories contained in a glass of wine or beer, but let’s delve a little deeper and see exactly how alcohol and weight gain are linked.

Alcohol affects how the body turns fat into energy

When digesting food, carbohydrates are usually the body’s first port of call for energy conversion, however if alcohol is consumed at the same time, the body then focuses on eliminating that alcohol which it views as a toxin. You are in effect shutting down your metabolism, which subsequently can lead to weight gain.

Alcohol contributes to fatty liver disease

The liver is one of the most hard-working organs in the body. Its primary function is to filter toxins that enter the body, which includes alcohol. Drinking excess amounts of alcohol can lead to a condition known as alcoholic fatty liver disease which damages your liver, affecting the way your body metabolises and stores carbohydrates and fats.

Alcohol messes with your hormones

Alcohol can affect how the body releases hormones such as cortisol which is linked to weight gain. Cortisol stimulates your fat and carbohydrate metabolism which can lead to increased appetite and make you crave fatty, salty or sweet foods.

Alcohol leads to poor diet choices

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and affects our judgement when it comes to food. For those of us who drink alcohol or have done so in the past, we’ve probably all been guilty at some stage of indulging in junk food after a night out, or grabbing a couple of bags of crisps at the bar. Heavy drinking can trick our brains into thinking we’re hungry, so the temptation of those bar snacks or vol-au-vents at a party can seem a little more irresistible after a drink or two.

Alcohol affects your sleep

According to Sleep Foundation, research has shown that drinking alcohol can have a detrimental effect on your sleep. Binge-drinking more than six units in an evening may make you fall asleep quicker, but impacts the important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep which is vital for a good night’s rest. Poor quality sleep affects the body’s hormone production which can lead to increased appetite. There is also evidence to suggest that a moderate amount of alcohol can have a negative effect on sleeping patterns so it is advisable to avoid drinking in the hour or so before you go to bed.

Does alcohol cause belly fat?

The jury is out as to whether ‘a beer belly’ is in fact caused by drinking large quantities of beer, however any kind of extra calories, be it from alcohol, sugary mixers or junk food can lead to weight gain and, as the body tends to accumulate fat in and around the abdomen, this can lead to excess belly fat, sometimes referred to as a beer belly or beer gut.

Steps you can take to reduce alcohol intake

  • If you’re on a night out, consider alternating every alcoholic drink with a glass of water. You’ll not only be drinking less but you’ll also feel fuller and less likely to reach for the snacks.
  • Switch to a low alcohol or non alcoholic beer or wine. These drinks tend to have fewer calories than regular alcoholic drinks. Use diet or sugar free mixers for your gin and tonic or rum and coke.
  • Swap your glass of wine for a low-cal wine spritzer. By adding diet soda to a small glass of wine you’ll be cutting back on both the alcohol and the calories.
  • Use the Drinkaware Unit and Calorie Counter to monitor how many calories you are taking on board every time you have a drink.

How much weight can you lose if you stop drinking alcohol

How much weight you can lose depends on a number of factors, such as how much you drink, how often you exercise and what your diet is like. To give you an idea, if you normally drink six glasses of wine a week, you can expect over the course of a month to shed around 3840 calories. You can find out about the weight that can potentially be shed in this Drinkaware article which also features a unit and calorie counter that calculates the calories you’re consuming each time you have a drink (and how much running you would have to do to burn those calories).

How can LiveWell Dorset help?

Whether you’re looking to stop drinking, lose weight or both, the team at LiveWell Dorset are committed to helping people in Dorset lead happier, healthier lives. Our fantastic team of advisors and coaches can provide you with personalised, one-to-one sessions and work with you to create a plan tailored to you and your goals. You’ll also find lots of useful resources, facts and information on our website too. Why not try our Habit Hacker tool, designed by health and psychology experts to help identify habit-breaking techniques tailored specifically to you.

We can also help you find local weight loss or alcohol support groups near you via our LiveWell Finder page.

Take our Rethink your drink quiz to see if you might be drinking too much and whether it’s time to consider changing your relationship with alcohol.

If you’re looking for healthy and nutritional recipes that are simple to make, why not check out our article Steve’s Easy Eats?

We've supported people across the whole of Dorset and we would love to help you too! Register or contact us today for more information.

Other resources

The NHS has lots of useful information on how to cut down on alcohol and can help you find support services in your area.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is free to everyone and provides support to those with alcoholism or alcohol dependence / abuse concerns.

If you have serious concerns about your weight or alcohol, you can also seek medical advice.Your GP will be able to talk through your drinking habits and weight concerns and help find the right support for you.


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