How Alcohol Affects Weight Loss

PLN expert coaches explain the effect that alcohol has on your weight loss goals.

Published June 12, 2023

5 minute read

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How Alcohol Affects Weight Loss

This month, we're talking about a wide range of health topics. To start, we'll talk about how alcohol affects weight loss. When you're trying to lose weight, the old saying "eat fewer calories than you burn" is still mostly true, but not all calories have the same effect on your body. For instance, eating 300 calories of veggies will affect your blood sugar and metabolism in a different way than eating 300 calories of cake. But what about alcohol's 300 calories?
Whether you drink beer, wine, or a cocktail, alcohol has a unique effect on your body's processes. Some of these effects may make it harder to lose weight, keep weight off, and stay active.

If everything else about your diet and exercise is fine but you're still having trouble losing weight, it might be time to look at what and how much you drink.


Alcohol isn't good for your body, no matter how good a cocktail or craft beer tastes or how good it is at relieving stress or being a social go-to. Even the idea that red wine is good for your heart is now mostly debunked.

Dr. Joshua Scott, a general care sports medicine doctor at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, says that alcohol hurts many different parts of the body. In the short term, it can hurt muscle performance because alcohol makes it harder for muscle cells to receive calcium, which can cause cramps.

No matter what kind of drink you have, alcohol is a vasodilator, which means that it briefly opens up the blood vessels more. This is why most people feel warmer when they drink. Dr. Scott says it's strange that your core body temperature goes down even if you feel warm. Also, because it makes you pee more, alcohol can make you more dehydrated, which affects all of your organs and processes, including digestion.

Dr. Scott says that the most important effect of alcohol on your weight is how it affects your liver's ability to handle sugar and how it blocks the absorption of nutrients in general.

Alcohol has 7 calories per gram and can make you gain weight if you drink too much. Small amounts of booze don't seem to make people gain a lot of weight, if any at all.


In addition to the direct effects that alcohol has on the body, it can also have other effects. Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Tennessee, says that drinking lowers your inhibitions, which can change how you usually control your eating. Anyone who has gone through a fast-food drive-thru after the bar closes knows this already.

Alcohol can also change the way you sleep, especially how much deep, restful sleep you get. Dr. Gillespie says that this can be especially clear if you drink a few hours before bed.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that as many as 20% of Americans have a drinking drink to help them fall asleep. But the organization says that while the booze-and-snooze effect can make you feel sleepy, it tends to hurt the quality of your sleep overall. That's because it can mess up your body's natural clock, keep you from getting restful REM sleep, and make breathing problems worse.

Dr. Gillespie says that if you don't get good sleep, it could affect how well you do in sports or even whether you work out at all. People who feel tired, even if they aren't sick, may choose to skip exercise and go to bed instead to get some rest. But if the evening brings more drinking, bad food, and bad sleep, you could be stuck in a loop that keeps you from reaching your goals.


Even though drinking can be bad for you, neither Dr. Scott nor Dr. Gillespie, nor most health experts, say you need to stop drinking to lose weight. The key is still moderation, which means one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for guys. Less is even better. Even though 1-2 drinks a day is considered moderate, there is more and more proof that drinking less than once a day is better for your health.

But they say that if your weight loss is stuck or if you have other health problems that could be caused by drinking, like low energy or trouble sleeping, you might want to try a "dry week" or even a "dry month" to see how you feel when you don't drink any alcohol. For some, it could help them start losing weight again and get into better eating and exercise habits.

Dr. Gillespie says, "You don't have to give it up for life if you don't want to." "But taking a break is often more helpful than just moving to something with less sugar or calories or eating less. And if you decide to start again, pay attention to how it makes you feel.


One important thing to remember is that if you've been trying to cut back on drinking but haven't been able to, you may have a bigger problem than just trying to lose weight. In that case, you might want to look into tools that can help you figure out how you feel about alcohol.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence are good places to start.
Even if you don't think booze is a problem, being more aware of how much you drink can help you stay healthy and may also help you lose or keep off weight.


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