Alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine and distilled spirits have been consumed since the beginning of recorded history. In fact some historians believe that cereal grains were first used to make alcoholic drinks before they became food. The effects of alcohol on weight loss can be quite drastic. After all, it is well known that drinking too much alcohol can cause weight gain due to calorie intake from the beverage itself and from subsequent overeating caused by intoxication effects in the brain. But when you consume a minimal amount of alcohol (one drink per day) effects on weight loss may be substantial as well.
One of the effects of alcohol on weight loss is hypothesized to be through its ability to induce thermogenesis (heat production). People who have higher amounts of thermogenesis tend to have higher metabolic rates and lose weight at a faster rate. One study looked at effects of alcohol on weight loss through fat oxidation, fasting fatty acid levels, and diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) in 12 males and 10 females who were heavy drinkers. Results showed that ethanol ingestion increased DIT by 3% in men and 6% in women.
The effects of alcohol on weight loss are not entirely understood but it does seem that if you want to burn some fat while drinking, then learn these things first!
Effects of Alcohol on Weight Loss: Is a Shot Too Much?
While most people wouldn’t think twice about grabbing a drink with friends, many people may be surprised by effects of alcohol on weight loss. Alcoholic beverages have effects on metabolism, effects that aren’t beneficial for weight loss because they often lead to increased calorie intake. The effects of alcohol on weight loss are not well understood but some studies seem to indicate that effects of alcohol on weight loss in individuals may depend largely upon the types and amounts of alcoholic beverages consumed.
A common belief about effects of alcohol on weight loss is that drinking too much will cause you to gain a significant amount of weight due to the effects. People who drink heavily are known to take in more calories from their drinks than people who don’t drink at all or those who drink moderately, so it makes sense that this would result in a higher body fat percentage as well.
Effects of Alcohol on Weight Loss Through Hormones
Some effects of alcohol on weight loss may be due to effects it has directly in the body’s endocrine system (which regulates hormone levels). The main effects that drinking too much can have are effects on cortisol and insulin, which both play a part in how the body processes carbohydrates and fats. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause a decrease in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), resulting in increased secretion from the pancreas. This increase causes an increase in insulin release but also lowers blood glucose levels which causes effects on cortisol and effects of alcohol on weight loss.
Cortisol increases appetite while also increasing the body’s use of carbohydrates over fats as fuel for weight loss. It also inhibits weight loss through effects that increase fat storage while decreasing lean muscle mass in the user.
Alcohol’s Effects on Binge Eating Disorder
Some effects of alcohol on weight loss are seen in people who have binge eating disorder, which is characterized by periods during which a person eats large amounts of food (sometimes an entire day’s worth) without stopping to eat or drink. People who have this disorder often experience shame about their behavior and effects similar to those associated with alcoholism such as guilt, depression, self-hatred, ill effects of alcohol on weight loss and the skin.
One study looked at effects of alcohol on weight loss in individuals with binge eating disorder. Results showed that those who drank more calories had a higher BMI than those who drank fewer, meaning it may be due to effects it has while inducing binge eating behavior.
These effects may be due to stimulation in the brain in an area known as the nucleus accumbens which causes people to feel good while they are drinking (also associated with addiction). The nucleus accumbens is also where dopamine release becomes abnormal during binge eating behavior. As a result, stimulants like alcohol can cause effects similar to binge eating disorder and should therefore be avoided.
Effects of Alcohol on Weight Loss Through Calorie Intake and Calories Burned Off
The amount of calories burned off by drinking also influence effects of alcohol on weight loss through effects on energy expenditure. In general, an alcoholic drink, especially beer or wine, has very few calories and will therefore have a negligible effect on weight loss even when large amounts are consumed.
However, it is the subsequent consumption (often eating since one isn’t feeling well) that causes the increases in calorie intake with each additional drink that can cause problems for those trying to lose weight. These effects can be minimized by not becoming intoxicated so you don’t eat as much while your stomach and head is spinning from the alcohol.
Drinking stronger drinks such as hard liquor instead of beer or wine can lead to more calories and therefore may be counterproductive to the effects of alcohol on weight loss if the desire is greater than effect. The issue however, does not lie in the amount of alcohol consumed but in the behavior patterns that surround drinking which results from it. This is why many programs will not allow their members to drink at all, for any reason, even when social gatherings call for a few drinks.
Effects of Alcohol Used as Weight Control (Supplements)
Another way that people control weight with alcohol is by taking supplements containing large amounts of alcohol such as diethyl ether, whose main ingredient is ethyl alcohol (other ingredients being additives used to flavor it). When taken within the proper dosage these are safe with side effects including slurred speech, dizziness, drowsiness, and lightheadedness.
The dosage is based on the weight of the user and can have very strong effects within a short period of time such as after one hour if taken at maximum dosage for alcoholic drinks (over 1.5 ounces) which should be avoided if you are taking it as a supplement in an attempt to lose weight.
Effects of Alcohol Used as Weight Control (in Weight Loss Drinks)
A more recent trend has been using alcohol with diuretics such as caffeine or other stimulants to help burn fat more quickly. They are created by mixing small amounts of alcohol with energy drinks that boost metabolism, reduce appetite, or both while increasing metabolic rate for certain periods of time following consumption. The alcohol can also help reduce body mass index and thereby cause weight loss.
Weight loss is primarily accomplished through reducing caloric intake, so if the original premise was to lower fat or lose weight then calorie reduction will be needed with these drinks as well.
The average calories in some popular drinks are:
- Beer: 150-190
- Cider: 170
- Wine Cooler (Low Calorie): 65
- Dry White Wine: 125
- Dry Red Wine: 130
- Fortified Wine (Sweet Sherry): 300
- Gin & Tonic : 189
- Rum & Coke : 265
- Vodka Soda : 178
- Whiskey Sour : 143
- Whiskey Straight Up (Scotch): 86
Alcoholic Energy Drinks can contain a lot of caffeine which can affect sleep patterns. However, their effects on weight loss has not been documented as of yet.
As discussed above, the full story behind effects of alcohol on weight loss is very complicated and does not always have a happy ending like many popular drinks seem to imply. Drinking while trying to lose weight is generally not advised because it can lead to impaired judgment that can result in binging or overeating which in turn causes an increase in calories with each additional drink.
Binge eating disorder (BED) symptoms include:
- craving for specific foods
- eating rapidly
- feeling out of control during binge episodes
- continuing to eat despite abdominal discomfort and nausea
- hiding food intake from others causing them concern and/or embarrassment
- becoming depressed after episodes due to guilt
- making repeated unsuccessful attempts to control food intake
If these characteristics fit your behavior pattern when drinking then you may need professional help if you wish to drink while losing weight.
How to Reduce Risks of the Effects of Alcohol on Weight Loss
In order to reduce the risks of the effects of alcohol on weight loss, it is recommended that you:
- Cut alcohol out of your life for a period of time and monitor changes in your eating patterns, digestion or bowel habits, general energy level (including sleep), mood swings, depression or anxiety levels.
- Keep a journal so that progress can be monitored.
- Do not allow yourself to become intoxicated artificially as this will disable all natural functions including inhibitions which makes binge eating more likely.
- Consult your doctor before consuming any supplements containing large amounts of alcohol.
- Drink a maximum of one alcoholic beverage per day with meals to avoid the negative effects.
- If you have BED (binge eating disorder), reduce or eliminate alcohol completely until better control is gained and then only drink within your comfort level.
Remember, drinking does not take care of fat, it is food that takes care of fat—not drinks! If you believe yourself to be a binge eater when drunk, see a doctor for help. Do not expect immediate results as these types of changes are difficult for most people. You will need to work hard and consult others on how to maintain control over your health while drinking if you choose to do so (see resources below). Be careful out there and remember that moderation is key.