Can Drinking Alcohol Sabotage Your Weight Loss?
The first thing you learn when you start losing weight is to "eat fewer calories than you burn."
While this still applies with alcohol, not all calories are equal when you look at how they affect your body.
A good example would be what 300 calories of broccoli would do to your blood sugar and metabolism versus 300 calories of cake.
Related - Is Beer Healthy?
But what about those 300 calories coming from a cocktail, beer, or wine?
Alcohol has a unique effect on our systems that could make it harder to lose weight, maintain weight, and stay active.
So if you've been doing well with your eating but you still aren't making much progress, it could be time to take a look at how much you are enjoying.
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Body?
I'm all for enjoying a nice craft beer or mojito. They are a great stress relief and they make social outings more tolerable.
Alcohol doesn't do your body any favors, though — red win's supposed heart-healthy benefits are not being debunked.
“Alcohol has multiple deleterious effects on different systems of the body,” says Dr. Joshua Scott, primary care sports medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. Basically, it can affect your muscle performance due to alcohol inhibiting calcium from being absorbed into muscle cells.
This can lead to cramping.
It doesn't really matter what you drink, alcohol itself is a vasodilator — meaning it will temporarily open up your blood vessels more.
This is why most people feel warmer when they drink. Dr. Scott says, "your core body temperature lowers, even if you’re feeling toasty. Also, alcohol’s diuretic effects can increase dehydration, a situation that impacts all of your organs and systems, including digestion."
None of this necessarily has to do with your weight, but your alcohol's effect on your liver's ability to process sugar does. Alcohol blocks your body's ability to absorb nutrients overall, and it can lower your ability to burn calories efficiently.
“The equation of ‘calories in, calories out’ doesn’t apply with alcohol because it has more calorie density than a lot of other energy sources,” he says. “And the way it blocks calorie burning can also be a concern.”
There Is a Potential Ripple Effect
While there are specific physical mechanisms that alcohol effects, there is a possible ripple effect, too.
If you've ever gone through a fast food line after the bar closes, you know this already. Since drinking lowers your inhibitions, it can change how you would normally control your eating.
Alcohol can change your sleeping patterns — in particular, the amount of deep sleep you get. If you drink just a few hours before bed, you'll notice this in a pronounced way.
The National Sleep Foundation estimates that as many as 20% of Americans have an alcoholic drink to help them fall asleep. The booze-and-snooze technique sabotages your overall sleep quality because it interrupts your circadian rhythm, blocks restorative REM sleep, and it can aggravate breathing problems.
You Need Balance
Despite all of the negative effects drinking can have on your body, no expert suggests you have to go sober to lose weight.
Moderation is key.
But what is moderation? That's defined as one drink per day for women and two for men. No that doesn't mean fill up that 44-ounce cup.
But if your weight loss has stalled or you have other issues that could be stemming from drinking alcohol like low energy or poor sleep... you may want to cut out the booze for a week or even a month to see how it affects you.
For many, it could jump-start your weight loss and help you set healthier habits around your food intake and exercise.
“You don’t have to cut it out for life if you don’t want to,” Dr. Gillespie says. “But taking a break is often more helpful than simply switching to a low-sugar or low-calorie option, or cutting back. And when you do decide to start back up again, pay attention to how it affects you.”
Take a Look at Your Habits
I'm sitting here dreaming of Fireball while I write this, so this isn't an article shaming you because you drink.
If you can start reducing your alcohol consumption, you may see some improvements in your weight-loss journey. If you're having a hard time managing your consumption, you may consider reaching out to a resource that can help you with your relationship with alcohol.
Two places I would start would be the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as well as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Wrapping It Up
Staying healthy and maintaining balance in life is key. If you're confident that your drinking isn't the problem, take some time to be aware of how much you actually drink.
It can be helpful to understand where your calories are going — you could be underestimating your calorie consumption.