• Rachel Howard

Does alcohol affect weight loss?

Whether you’re celebrating, having a night out or unwinding after a hard day at work, some of us enjoy a drink every now and then. But if your goal is weight loss, you’re working hard in the gym and eating well, but the weight isn’t shifting, it may be the regular consumption of alcohol that’s stopping you from reaching your goals.

Have you ever stopped to think about how many calories are in that bottle of cider? Probably not...because that’s not seen as much fun. But if you are denying yourself a donut because you want to lose weight, it may be worth thinking of that cider in the same way:

With around 200 calories in a large glass of white wine or pint of beer, and 230+ calories in a pint of cider, just one or two drinks could well be impacting your weight loss more than you realise. Are you surprised to hear that drinking three bottles of ice cold cider on a sunny afternoon is the same as eating three donuts!?

And it’s not just the extra calories from the alcohol that could be affecting your weight loss…...

Testosterone is an important hormone that your body relies on for losing weight and increasing muscle tissue. Alcohol actually lowers your levels of testosterone, and it can also lower your inhibitions when it comes to the food choices you make.

Alcohol has no nutritional value and is what we call ‘empty calories’ - it doesn’t really offer anything useful for your body to use. When we drink, alcohol calories take priority as fuel in the body over other fuel sources. This is because the by-product of alcohol metabolism, acetate, is toxic. So when you drink, fat burning stops until you burn those calories off. Your body is more focused on breaking down the alcohol rather than burning fat. This means whether you’re running, weight training, doing yoga or playing football, these alcoholic calories are used to power our bodies before we ever even touch the energy stores from the carbohydrates, or fats in our food so it can take you longer to lose weight. And you may not realise it, but a lot of alcoholic drinks contain carbs. Wine and cider has them from fruit, beer from hops, wheat, and barley, and carbonated drink mixers have sugar.

Alcohol is also an inflammatory substance, meaning it tends to cause swelling in the body. This inflammation may be made much worse by the things often mixed with alcohol, such as sugary drinks (mixers), which can result in gas, discomfort, and bloating.

At seven calories per gram, alcohol supplies almost twice as many as protein and carbohydrates. In fact, alcohol has only two fewer calories than fat, which has nine per gram. The calories found in the average alcoholic drink are quite concentrated compared to many foods, and this actually causes you to inadvertently take in many more calories than would otherwise be consumed.

You may think it would be simpler to just reduce your calorie intake from food to allow for a drink, but you must remember that this will mean that you may well be denying your body of essential vitamins and minerals which could in turn, lead to much more serious side effects. And when combined with the ‘drunken munchies’, your good intentions of eating less to allow for a drink is likely to turn into you actually eating more than you normally would.

Alcohol has also been shown to affect motivation, making a healthy diet harder to stay on while it is being used. You can enjoy a healthier body, improved sleep, better digestion, and fewer of those excess “empty” calories simply by cutting back on the alcohol.

Now I’m not saying you must not drink if you want to lose weight. Having the odd one or two won’t do too much harm (although if it’s one or two every week it may be the reason those last stubborn kg’s are not going!?) If you regularly drink 3 large glasses of wine on a Friday and Saturday night, you would be consuming an additional 1320 calories over what you are eating. Add in a G&T mid week and that amount goes up to 1440 calories from the drink alone. And as I’ve already touched on, alcohol also tends to have an appetite stimulating effect as it provides little in the way of nutrition, and leaves you craving fatty and salty foods.

So the next time you want that drink (outside of a celebration, and more just ‘because’), maybe stop and ask yourself why you want it, and if it will help you reach your goals. How important to you are your weight loss goals? If you turned down that delicious looking piece of cake at the coffee shop earlier, is it really worth drinking a glass of wine now?

Food for thought…...

  • 500ml bottle of cider - around 234 calories (more for flavoured versions)

  • Large glass of wine - around 220 calories 

  • Pint of beer - around 190 calories

  • Can of 4-5% Alcohol Beer  - around 153 calories 

  • Gin and Tonic - around 120 calories

  • Small glass of wine - around 110 calories

  • Shot of Vodka - around 100 calories (plus the mixer!)

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