Alcohol and Weight Loss: Finding the Balance for Success

February 7, 2024
People drinking alcoholic beverages

Weight loss and then managing your weight is a journey. It can be quite a challenge, especially around the holidays. Social events, parties, and date nights can make it really hard to stay on track to reach your weight-loss goals. Alcohol and weight loss don’t work well together.

When planning a reduced-calorie diet, many people focus on what they eat but may forget that drinks can bust a calorie budget as well. Sugary sodas, fruit juices, and alcoholic beverages are frequently high in calories and sugar.

If you otherwise keep tabs on your calorie intake and consume a reasonably nutritious diet, will an occasional alcoholic beverage derail your weight-loss goals? To answer this question, we need to consider the calories in alcoholic drinks, how alcohol is metabolized, and how consuming alcoholic beverages may influence your food choices.

Calories in Alcohol

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, moderate drinking is defined as one drink or fewer per day for women and two drinks or fewer for men. Heavy alcohol use for men is consuming five or more drinks on any day or 15 or more in a week. Heavy alcohol use for women is consuming four or more drinks on any day or eight or more alcoholic beverages per week.

Many people underestimate the calorie content of alcoholic beverages, which can significantly impact their daily caloric intake. Even drinking at a moderate level can add 1,000 calories or more per week.

Examples of calories in alcoholic beverages:

  • Wine: the serving size is 5 ounces, which contains approximately 120 to 130 calories. In many cases, wine is served in much larger glasses, with restaurant servings weighing in at 6 to 8 ounces. Next time you have a glass of wine at home, measure out 5 ounces to get a good idea of the serving size.
  • Beer: Calories depend on the alcohol content and brew, but a 12-ounce serving of beer typically contains between 150 and 200 calories. Light beers have fewer calories, and craft beers typically have more calories.
  • Liquor: Vodka, whiskey, and rum are calorie-dense. They contain around seven calories per gram. A standard 1.5-ounce shot contains an average of 96 calories.1
  • Mixed drinks: The calorie count for mixed drinks depends on the type of alcohol and the mixers and additives used. Some drinks, such as a Pina Colada, can contain 400 calories or more.

These calorie estimates vary depending on how a drink is made. It is important to check the labels and measure your serving sizes to track your calories accurately.

A woman stepping on a scale to check the impact of alcohol and weight loss.

Alcohol and Weight Loss

Alcohol contains calories and can impact your weight-loss efforts. The calories consumed in alcoholic beverages are typically added to food-based calories. They do not replace calories from other dietary sources.

In general, research suggests that light-to-moderate alcohol intake is not associated with increased body fat. In contrast, heavy drinking is consistently associated with weight gain.

Because it is unclear whether alcohol impacts body weight in more ways than just calorie intake, understanding the relationship between alcohol and weight gain can help you choose wisely.1

Alcohol Consumption Can Impact Food Choices

When it comes to alcohol and weight loss, choosing which alcoholic beverage you consume is important. But alcohol can also impact your dietary choices.

In one study, alcohol consumption before a meal did not affect how many calories were consumed in that meal, and in some cases, drinking alcohol before a meal increased calorie consumption from other sources. Alcohol consumption increases energy consumption in a meal and may even stimulate appetite.2

In another study, researchers found that participants who consumed alcohol ate 11% more than participants who abstained. Alcohol consumption also affected their food choices. They ate 25% more high-fat savory foods than people who did not consume alcohol before the meal.3

Other studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption does not significantly impact appetite or weight gain.1 The relationship between alcohol and weight loss may be more complicated than it was thought to be.

Alcohol Metabolism

Your metabolism plays a significant role in the relationship between alcohol and weight loss. When you consume alcohol, your body prioritizes metabolizing it, potentially slowing down the metabolism of other nutrients, including fats. This can make it more challenging to shed those extra pounds, as extra energy from fats may be stored as body fat.4

A sleep-deprived woman in bed

Alcohol and Sleep

The relationship between alcohol and sleep is intricate and can have a substantial impact on your weight-loss journey. While alcohol may initially make you feel drowsy and aid in falling asleep, it can disrupt the quality of your sleep. People who consume alcohol are more likely to wake up in the middle of the night or early in the morning.5

In one study, a low level of alcohol consumption resulted in a 9% drop in sleep quality. High alcohol intake was associated with a 39% drop in sleep quality.6

Poor sleep patterns can affect your metabolism and hunger-regulating hormones, potentially leading to overeating and weight gain.7

Alcohol and Weight Loss: Conclusions

The research is unclear on a relationship between alcohol consumption and weight gain, other than the obvious fact that alcohol contains calories. Overall, the major concerns about how alcohol consumption can affect weight loss stem from increased calorie consumption, poor dietary choices after consuming alcohol, alcohol’s impact on sleep, and its effect on fat metabolism.

As part of your weight management plan, develop a calorie and macronutrient budget. Determine how many calories you want to consume per day. Next, determine your macronutrient goals. Consider your exercise goals and your daily schedule when choosing your macronutrient breakdown. It is essential that your weight management plan is balanced and leaves you feeling satiated and energetic.

Macronutrient Calories:

  • Protein: 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram

Alcohol calories: no macronutrient value

  • Alcohol: 7 calories per gram

After developing your weight management plan, track your food intake for a couple of weeks to see whether you have excess calories to spend. If so, alcoholic beverages can fit into your calorie budget.

Weight loss is complicated. Whether you lose weight is determined in large part by the calories you consume and the energy you burn. However, other factors contribute to whether you can lose weight efficiently and keep it off, including hormone levels, stress, lifestyle habits, and genetic predisposition.

Overeating and alcohol consumption are not the only factors that contribute to obesity. The newest classes of weight-loss medications have been shown to be safe and effective. They can supplement the lifestyle changes you make to lose weight. Losing weight requires a holistic approach. Talk to a treatment specialist at Invigor Medical to learn more about your weight-loss treatment options.

Get started today on one of our Weight Loss Treatment Plans.

Author: Leann Poston, M.D.
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  • Traversy G, Chaput JP. Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update. Curr Obes Rep. 2015 Mar;4(1):122-30. doi: 10.1007/s13679-014-0129-4. PMID: 25741455; PMCID: PMC4338356.
  • Yeomans MR. Alcohol, appetite and energy balance: is alcohol intake a risk factor for obesity? Physiol Behav. 2010;100:82–9. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.01.012.
  • Schrieks IC, Stafleu A, Griffioen-Roose S, et al. Moderate alcohol consumption stimulates food intake and food reward of savoury foods. Appetite. 2015;89:77-83. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.01.021
  • Wilson DF, Matschinsky FM. Ethanol metabolism: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Medical Hypotheses. 2020;140:109638. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2020.109638
  • Park SY, Oh MK, Lee BS, Kim HG, Lee WJ, Lee JH, Lim JT, Kim JY. The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. Korean J Fam Med. 2015 Nov;36(6):294-9. doi: 10.4082/kjfm.2015.36.6.294. Epub 2015 Nov 20. PMID: 26634095; PMCID: PMC4666864.
  • Pietilä J, Helander E, Korhonen I, Myllymäki T, Kujala UM, Lindholm H. Acute effect of alcohol intake on cardiovascular autonomic regulation during the first hours of sleep in a large real-world sample of Finnish employees: Observational study. JMIR Mental Health. 2018;5(1):e9519. doi:10.2196/mental.9519
  • Beccuti G, Pannain S. Sleep and obesity. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Jul;14(4):402-12. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e3283479109. PMID: 21659802; PMCID: PMC3632337.
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