You have probably seen articles that explain the benefits of drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. But when wanting to lose weight you might want to consider your alcohol intake. Drinking alcoholic beverages can have a negative impact on your body’s ability to lose weight. In this article, we’ll look at several ways that alcohol can contribute to weight gain.
How alcohol is processed in the body
When considering how food is processed we usually look at the 3 main macronutrients - carbohydrates, fats and proteins. But alcohol deserves a category of its own because it is processed differently and quicker than any of these nutrients.
Alcohol is absorbed straight into the bloodstream and can reach the liver and brain within minutes. Seeing as the body cannot store alcohol the liver must focus all its attention on breaking it down, if you drink too fast the liver cannot keep up with processing the alcohol so it builds up in the bloodstream and affects other organs and body parts causing more inflammation throughout the body.
Next, we’ll take a look at the effects when it comes to weight loss. I’ve broken these down so you can get a good idea of the problems but these effects are intertwined and build on each other.
Alcohol has a high amount of calories. While carbohydrates and protein yield approximately 4 calories/ gram, alcohol contributes 7 calories per gram. Alcoholic beverages are essentially empty calories since they have very few nutritional benefits.
Effects on behaviour
Alcohol lowers your inhibitions. This is especially true when it comes to food. While you might have good intentions and avoid the buffet table early in the night, after a few beverages you might decide it's a good idea to try everything.
It’s not just the social aspect, alcohol may actually trigger hunger signals and cravings for starch, sugar, fat and salt. So you have lower inhibitions and triggered hunger signals.
What’s to stop you?
Alcohol may also increase levels of depression and anxiety which can lead to weight gain if you turn to food or increased alcohol consumption for relief.
Alcohol can interfere with the nighttime release of growth hormone (which assists fat loss and muscle growth) that occurs soon after you fall asleep and, as you know, most people drink late at night.
Testosterone levels may be lowered by alcohol consumption. Low testosterone levels are associated with less ability to burn fat and build muscle, both having implications in weight control.
Alcohol consumption can also stimulate estrogen production which can lead to fat gain and water retention. It also increased PMS and can cause uncomfortable or heavy periods.
Alcohol in large doses can also increase cortisol (stress hormone) release. High cortisol levels are associated with difficulty in losing weight, especially around the belly. Other effects of high cortisol levels include difficulty sleeping, lower testosterone and higher estrogen levels in men, and anxiety and depression.
Blood sugar balance
Blood sugar level (BSL) balance is key to metabolism – alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to make glucose which leads to irregular BSL (2). This leads to increased fat storage, cravings and irregular appetite (2). Couple this with the behavioural effects and you have a recipe for disaster.
Whilst alcohol might make it easier to fall asleep, it prevents you from reaching the deep refreshing stage of sleep and dysregulates appetite hormones.
This leads to increased food consumption the next day. And it makes it less likely you’ll want to exercise the day after alcohol consumption.
Drinking alcohol is habit forming
Alcohol is an addictive drug. Even small amounts of daily alcohol can become habit-forming. Your tolerance to alcohol increases and these small amounts can easily increase.
The yeast in wine and beer can cause an allergic reaction which can make it difficult to stop at one.
The effects of drinking alcohol on your health and your ability to lose weight are extensive.
Do you need to give up alcohol completely if you are trying to lose weight? 2-3 drinks per week shouldn’t have a huge effect on your weight loss efforts for most people, but for metabolically compromised individuals drinks should only be occasional. I can help you to incorporate strategies that ensure optimal fat loss is maintained. Book a free nutrition assessment here.