Can Alcohol Keep You From Losing Weight?

Can Alcohol Keep You From Losing Weight?

If you’re having trouble losing weight, alcohol might be the culprit. Despite some interesting research regarding the potential health benefits of polyphenols, such as resveratrol, found in grapes and red wine, your favorite adult beverage still doesn’t qualify as a health food. (Sorry.)

In fact, drinking can wreak havoc on your weight-loss efforts in more ways than one. But if you’re not willing to give up alcohol until the end of time — and we know that could be really hard — here’s what you need to know about how alcohol affects your weight loss goals, and how to enjoy a drink or two in moderation without totally derailing those goals.

Alcohol Weakens Your Willpower

If you’ve ever raided the fridge after a night out, you know alcohol doesn’t inspire the best nutritional choices. “Alcohol loosens inhibition and can make you more likely to indulge in guilty pleasures,” says Rachael Link, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in New York. Alcohol has also been found to lower your levels of leptin, the hormone that tells your brain when you’re full. “This can lead to overeating and excess calories, making it potentially detrimental to weight loss,” Link adds.

One study found that men ate more meat and potatoes, and fewer fruits, on drinking days than on non-drinking days. They also consumed 168 extra food calories (not counting additional calories from the alcohol itself) on drinking days. Women didn’t have the same overall calorie bump, but they did consume more fat after drinking.

If you tend to snack when you’re tipsy, keep junk food out of sight. “When you do drink, make sure you have healthier options around to snack on,” Link says.

Alcohol Adds Empty Calories

“While carbohydrates and protein pack in four calories per gram, alcohol clocks in at seven calories per gram — almost double,” Link says. Even one drink can put a ding in your diet: A bottle of regular beer has about 150 calories, a five-ounce glass of wine has about 125 calories, a diet soda with a one-ounce shot of rum has about 100 calories, and a two-ounce pour of whiskey on the rocks has about 140 calories. And those calories don’t exactly have spectacular nutritional benefits.

Alcohol Screws Up Your Sleep Cycles

Sleep is crucial for weight loss — one study found that subjects who reported better sleep quality boosted their odds of weight-loss success by 33 percent.

But alcohol sabotages your sleep quality by disrupting your sleep cycles. In a study of healthy volunteers, alcohol significantly delayed the onset of REM sleep. Regular drinking has also been linked to an increase in sleep disturbances and insomnia.

Skip the nightcap, and you’ll get a better night’s sleep — and a better chance of hitting your goals.

You Can Enjoy Alcohol…In Moderation

The bottom line is that, if you are trying to lose weight, you should try to avoid alcohol. But if your diet plan makes you miserable, you won’t stick with it, so don’t swear off drinking if it’s going to be a dealbreaker. As is the case with any indulgence, moderation is key.

One approach is to make sure you stay aware of the calories in every drink you consume, just like you would if you were eating a sandwich (or a piece of cake).

Here are the calories in a typical alcoholic drink:

Of course, a heavy pour could easily double those numbers, and if you’re mixing your liquor with a sugary juice or soda, you’d need to take those additional calories into account as well.

Who knows? Once you start seeing better results with less alcohol in your diet, maybe you’ll find yourself happily sipping seltzer at the next party. Maybe.

About

Kara Wahlgren is a freelance writer, editor, and producer specializing in health and fitness. She may or may not be eating green tea ice cream as she's writing this.