Health / Weight Loss

Does Alcohol Make You Gain Weight?

Is Alcohol Ruining Your Weight Loss? Science Says No, Sort Of

If you’ve ever attempted to lose weight you’ve likely been told to (1) have an exercise plan (2) eat healthy and (3) give up alcohol. Apparently, if you want defined muscles, a drop in your BFP, or to whittle your waist, spirits and bubbles are off the table. It’s crushing.

We’ve all been told to “slow down on the booze” and “lay off the cocktails” (and only ignored it half the time!). It’s unquestionably one of the unspoken Ten Commandments of Weight Loss. But, surprise! This tactic isn’t actually a surefire thing.

Unlike with food, it’s unclear where to draw the line with drinking in regards to weight loss and getting fit. With food, it’s simple: Calories are to be cut where needed, sugar is a tricky demon, and you need to be on a never-ending quest to get more protein. There is no shortage of eating advice out there.

Where does that leave alcohol? How much is too much? Are all drinks equal on the bad-for-you scale? With rosé all day in full force these next few months, we need to set the record straight.

Eager to do so, we asked a professional for a little advice from Brenda Ruckstuhl, MS, RDN, CDE. Brenda is a Registered Dietitian running her own private practice on the west coast.

There, she specializes in weight management, nutrition counseling, and diabetes, and has for over 15 (!!) years. Like us at Aaptiv, she has a heart for running 5-10Ks, lifting weights, and hiking (which, wouldn’t we all if we lived near LA?). Oh, and she’s not into tricks or fad diets.

How Drinking Directly and Indirectly Affects Weight Loss

“The short answer is, it’s a calorie issue,” Ruckstuhl stated straightaway. To my hesitant relief, this aligned with the most basic rules of weight loss—burn more calories than you consume. “To lose weight most people do not need to give up alcohol altogether, but usually need to reduce intake.”

But how do you know if you’re one of those people who need to cut down? “Most of the clients I counsel for weight loss come to the conclusion on their own that limiting alcohol helps them to lose weight for several reasons,” Ruckstuhl continued, “but [it] comes down to calories, whether through alcohol or the food that is consumed when drinking.”

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Calories Are Calories Are Calories (Even in Drinks)

Remember how I just said burning a surplus of calories was weight loss at its bleakest? Here’s another blunt statement along those lines: Liquid calories count— and they add up quickly.

Ruckstuhl cited the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines Appendix 9, titled Alcohol. It says, “[It’s recommended] that all foods and beverages consumed be accounted for within healthy eating patterns… Thus, if alcohol is consumed, the calories from alcohol should be accounted for so that the limits on calories for other uses and total calories are not exceeded.”

Long story short, you must account for your drinks if you’re counting calories.

And just how many calories are in you drink of choice? Ruckstuhl broke it down. One hundred calories of some of our favorite alcoholic bevs look like this.
4 ounces of wine
1.5 ounces of spirits (gin, vodka, rum, etc.)
1 light beer

Feeling a tad frantic? Us, too. Is 4 ounces of wine really anyone’s typical glass? And do we need stop there? Apparently, yes, if shedding pounds is the goal. And really, moderate drinking (1 drink a day for women, 2 for men) is recommended across the dietary board.

That may be why your friend who always nursing a glass of wine or cocktail throughout dinner never gains a noticeable ounce. More on how much is “1 drink” in the Guideline’s Drink-Equivalents chart.

Food Choices While Drinking

How much you drink isn’t all you need to watch out for. Drinking in excess can impact your decisions— and not just whether to text your ex. “Calories consumed when drinking can add up as well.” Have you ever given into a tempting dessert or late-night junk food run after two (five) too many drinks? That’s what we’re talking about. Even the hangover the next morning can have you making a fast-food choice (Denny’s, anyone?).

It’s not only your lack of judgement that’s to blame, though. “Alcohol can stimulate the appetite, leading to overeating or choosing high-calorie food whether at home or at restaurants.” Increased hunger and a decreased will to make good choices? No kidding. Perhaps it’s for the greater good that you don’t order that third round after all. Or text your ex.

Takeaway

To take it all the way back and answer our initial question: No, alcohol won’t put a halt on your weight loss journey… if you keep track of how much you’re drinking, stay near the moderate amount, are aware of the calories you’re taking in, and stay mindful of what you’re eating. It may seem like a heady task, but overall there’s no need to completely eliminate booze and brews here. I’ll cheers to that.

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