Alcohol and Weight Loss: Understanding the Influence

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 04/13/2024

If you’re on a weight loss journey, you’ve probably already thought about your food choices, how much movement you’re doing and perhaps even your sleep. But what about alcohol and weight loss?

Research shows that higher alcohol intake is linked to a higher body mass index (BMI) and an increased risk of obesity.

But unfortunately, the research on alcohol and weight is mixed, so there’s still a lot we don’t know.

Does alcohol make you gain weight? Does alcohol make you lose weight? Does alcohol slow metabolism? We’ll dive into all of this below and offer tips on how to lose weight while drinking alcohol.

In short, yes. Drinking alcohol can affect weight loss.

Higher alcohol consumption is linked with:

  • Higher BMI

  • Higher odds of obesity

  • Higher odds of high blood pressure

  • Higher odds of high cholesterol

Before you throw out every drop of alcohol in your home, we have good news — you may not have to give alcohol up altogether.

Research shows that frequent light-to-moderate alcohol intake isn’t associated with obesity. But heavy drinking and binge drinking are linked to having excess weight.

Studies on alcohol and weight loss are mixed, however.

One 2020 analysis of more than 280,000 people found that those who drank wine had lower BMIs than those who didn’t drink wine. Not exactly what comes to mind when you think about wine and weight loss, right? Cue exploding-head emoji.

It’s not entirely clear why or how alcohol affects body weight, but here are the probable causes of alcohol-related weight gain.

1. Drinking Alcohol Could Mean You’re Consuming Too Many Calories

Alcohol can contain lots of calories. And if you’re drinking a mixer — like a sugary soft drink — with your liquor, it can bump up the calories even more.

These calories aren’t nutritious, so they’re often called “empty calories.”

When you drink, you might consume more calories than your body needs, which can contribute to weight gain.

2. You Might Eat More When You Drink

Alcohol might increase your appetite and influence hormones linked to satiety — the feeling of fullness — like leptin and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1).

If you drink before or during a meal, you may end up eating more food and overeating, increasing your overall calorie intake for the day.

3. You Might Eat Unhealthier Foods When Drinking

We’ve all been there. You get home from a night out with friends or finish up a glass of wine in front of the TV, and suddenly, all you want is a midnight snack — and a piece of fruit won’t satisfy these cravings.

Alcohol could change your eating habits. You might eat unhealthier foods, especially when intoxicated or hungover. And if you’re trying to lose weight, you may not stick to a healthy eating plan.

Research shows that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol can lead to a 24 percent increased intake of high-fat savory foods — think cheeseburgers, french fries and fettuccine alfredo.

4. Alcohol May Stop Your Body from Burning Fat

How does alcohol affect metabolism? It seems to impact fat-burning metabolism in particular.

Alcohol inhibits fat oxidation, when your body breaks down fats for fuel. This could lead to fat sparing, which is when your body uses carbs and protein for fuel instead of fat.

All this could lead to more body fat over time, and fat may be stored around the abdominal area.

5. Alcohol Disrupts Your Sleep

Yes, it can feel like a nightcap helps you drift off. But alcohol can disrupt your sleep quite a bit.

It can trigger insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, short sleep duration, changes in sleep stages and abnormalities in your circadian rhythm (body clock).

What’s this got to do with weight loss? Well, it’s harder to lose weight when you’re sleep-deprived, and sleep loss can even lead to weight gain.

Check out our guide to sleep and weight loss to learn more.

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Weight loss treatment that puts you first

Alcohol may contribute to weight gain or make losing weight trickier, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go teetotal to lose weight.

That said, it’s recommended that you either cut down on or avoid alcohol while on a weight loss journey. There are also some simple swaps you can make.

Here’s how you can stop alcohol from impacting your weight loss efforts.

1. Reduce How Much You Drink

General health guidelines state that women should stick to one alcoholic beverage a day (or less). For men, it’s two drinks a day, max. Smaller serving sizes can help you cut down without feeling like you’re missing out.

Can you lose weight if you drink alcohol every night? Maybe, as long as you’re not drinking too much. But you might want to cut down on the number of days you drink each week.

2. Make Healthy Swaps

If you drink mixed drinks, consider mixing liquor with plain soda water over soft drinks. Beer and cocktails tend to have a higher calorie content than wine and spirits, so think about switching up your go-to order, reaching for light beer or making simple cocktails at home.

Here’s how many calories some favorite drinks have:

  • 1.5 ounces of spirit (think: gin, rum, vodka, whiskey and tequila) = 97 calories

  • 12 ounces of light beer = 103 calories

  • 5 ounces of white wine = 121 calories

  • 5 ounces of red wine = 125 calories

  • 6 ounces of mojito = 143 calories

  • 12 ounces of regular beer = 153 calories

  • 4 ounces of margarita = 168 calories

  • 9 ounces of piña colada = 490 calories

When deciding what type of alcohol to drink, consider going for lower-calorie options.

You can also tag-team alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic options, like sparkling water, non-alcoholic beer or mocktails — just watch out for mocktails that are high in sugar.

3. Stock Up on Healthy Food Options

Pair alcohol with a balanced meal and have healthy snacks on hand, like yogurt, popcorn and dried fruit. Make sure to eat before you drink — when you drink on an empty stomach, you might find yourself tipsy sooner than usual.

4. Focus on Healthy Weight Loss Habits

Eat nutritious foods, incorporate more steps and movement into your day, drink plenty of water and get enough sleep.

You can also talk to a healthcare provider about weight loss medication like metformin and Ozempic®.

You can drink while on these medications — but check with your provider to make sure it’s safe to do so. If you do drink, you’ll want to keep your intake low, as alcohol can increase your risk of side effects.

Binge drinking is significantly associated with a higher risk of obesity — alongside a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Binge drinking isn’t the same as having an alcohol use disorder (AUD) — but binge drinking and drinking a lot in general can increase your risk of developing AUD.

And if you do have an alcohol use disorder — which includes conditions like alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction — weight loss is certainly going to be harder.

You’ll not only have the effects of alcohol to contend with, but sticking to a healthy eating plan, exercising and getting a good night’s sleep can be harder too.

If you notice any symptoms of AUD — like withdrawal symptoms when you’re not drinking or having obsessive thoughts about alcohol — reach out to a healthcare professional.

Support groups, therapy and medication can help.

You might associate a glass of red wine with a good meal or a can of beer with game day, but are drinking and weight loss mortal enemies? Not really, though they’re not exactly the best of friends, either.

Here’s a recap:

  • Alcohol may make weight loss harder. It can make you consume too many calories from alcohol itself or from eating more food or unhealthy food. Drinking can also disrupt fat metabolism and sleep, which can contribute to weight gain.

  • You don’t need to give up alcohol. Can you lose weight and drink alcohol? You sure can. You just need to be smart about it. Consider cutting down how much you drink and swapping drinks like beer and sugary cocktails for spirits and wine.

  • Reach out for support if you’re drinking a lot. Binge drinking and alcohol use disorder will seriously impact your weight loss journey. Support is available to help you build a better relationship with alcohol or stop drinking altogether.

If you’re looking into weight loss, alcohol isn’t the only factor to consider. For the best results, you’ll want to eat nutritious whole foods, incorporate more walking and general movement into your day, drink enough water and get plenty of shut-eye.

If suitable, weight loss medication like metformin can help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Learn more about weight loss treatments from Hers.

9 Sources

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  5. Chao, A. M., Wadden, T. A., Tronieri, J. S., & Berkowitz, R. I. (2019). Alcohol Intake and Weight Loss During Intensive Lifestyle Intervention for Adults with Overweight or Obesity and Diabetes. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 27(1), 30–40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6309276/
  6. He, S., Hasler, B. P., & Chakravorty, S. (2019). Alcohol and sleep-related problems. Current opinion in psychology, 30, 117–122. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6801009/
  7. Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm
  8. Alcohol calorie calculator. (n.d.). https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/tools/calculators/calorie-calculator.aspx
  9. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. (2020). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
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