The answer: it depends. Learn more about the relationship between alcohol and weight loss, plus how to sip and still meet your goals.
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Weight Loss
Yes, you can drink alcohol and still lose weight—as long as you’re smart about it. When looking at whether you’ll be able to lose weight and still drink your favorite booze, there are two things you need to consider: calories in alcohol and alcohol content.
Calories in Alcohol
As a general rule, the higher the alcohol content of a beverage (a.k.a. alcohol by volume or ABV), the more calories, Keith Wallace, founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, previously told Shape. That means a shot of hard liquor like gin, whiskey, or vodka (80-100 proof) will have about 68-85 calories per ounce. An ounce of beer or wine, on the other hand, will have about 12 and 24 calories per ounce, respectively.
But forget about the calories in your go-to spirit for a second, because for most people, the calories in the mixers of their favorite cocktails pose a far greater barrier to weight loss than the actual alcohol. Just 4 oz of some daiquiri or margarita mixes can contain upwards of 35g of sugar—that’s 7 teaspoons of sugar! (Just one reason you should DIY these homemade grown-up daiquiris instead.)
Plus, these drink mixes have more than double the amount of calories than the shot of rum or tequila included in the drink (that is, if you’re only served half a cup of the mixer). What’s more, the calories from mixers are the worst kinds of calories: simple and refined sugars. When they’re combined with how alcohol affects metabolism, it gets even worse.
How Your Body Handles Alcohol
A few commonly-asked questions: Does vodka make you gain weight? What about beer? Does wine make you fat? But it’s time to call it quits with the “alcohol-makes-you-fat” worries. That’s because it’s actually a myth (!!) that alcohol will make you “fat.” The truth: It’s the combination of alcohol and sugars found in mixers (or the bar food often consumed with alcohol) that inhibits weight loss and potentially causes weight gain.
Alcohol does contain calories, which, yes, can cause weight gain. But that’s not the only potential factor to blame. It is also the metabolic priority that your body places on alcohol (over carbohydrates and fats) that causes the damage. Your body wants to process the alcohol before anything else, which has been shown to create a metabolic environment that is almost the opposite of the one your body creates following exercise—one of high circulating levels of fat and inhibited fat burning.
How to Drink Alcohol Without Gaining Weight
While this may sound all doom and gloom, there are benefits of alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink per day for women) increases your HDL (good) cholesterol, and studies show that people who have a couple of drinks each week live longer. So, here’s how drinking alcohol and weight loss can, in fact, work together:
Pay attention to serving size. When you drink, know your alcohol-serving size. A glass of wine is not a glass filled to the brim, but 5 oz (red wine glasses can hold 12-14 oz when filled).
Nix the mix(er). Minimize the calories from mixers. Make margaritas with real lime juice, use diet tonic water, or even naturally calorie-free club soda instead of regular tonic water and other high-calorie carbonated drinks. (These low-sugar margaritas will satisfy your craving while minimizing your sugar consumption.
Think ahead. If you’re aggressively pursuing a weight loss goal, consider your schedule before popping open a post-work bottle of wine. Although it’s essential to treat yo-self, you might want to save that glass for, say, your BFF’s birthday dinner on Saturday night. This can help reduce drinks’ impact on your overall fat burning.
Get to know calorie counts. This does not (!!) mean you need to start calorie-counting (in fact, calorie counting isn’t necessarily the key to weight loss and can lead to very restricted dieting and eating.) But having an idea of the lowest calorie alcohol options can help you make smart choices before you sip and, in turn, keep to your weight-loss goal. Here, a few types of alcohol with the least calories per serving, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, tequila: 97 calories per 1.5 oz
- Brandy, cognac: 98 calories per 1.5 oz
- Champagne: 84 calories per 4 oz
- Red wine: 125 calories per 5 oz
Dr. Mike Roussell, Ph.D., is a nutritional consultant known for his evidence-based approach that transforms complex nutritional concepts into practical nutritional habits and strategies for his clientele, which includes professional athletes, executives, food companies, and top fitness facilities. Dr. Mike’s work can often be found on newsstands, leading fitness websites, and at your local bookstore. He is the author of Dr. Mike’s 7 Step Weight Loss Plan and the upcoming 6 Pillars of Nutrition.
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