Everything you need to know about alcohol and weight gain.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it turns out one of the BEST things you can do is stop drinking alcohol. Sure, we know that most heavy drinkers will develop a hefty beer gut or wine tummy. But even if you don’t consume massive amounts of alcohol, you could still be subjecting yourself to serious weight gain.
1. Alcohol has A LOT of calories.
Let’s start with the obvious one. If you fancy a good beer or glass of wine, chances are you’re ingesting more liquid calories than you realize.
Drinkaware has a wonderful, reality-inducing tool that lets you calculate exactly how many calories you’re consuming when you go for drinks.
Let’s say you go out to dinner and have two glasses of wine with your meal. (These are normal glasses, not mega pours.)
Assuming you haven’t had an overly sugary brand of vino, you’ve just consumed 318 additional calories.
Or maybe you’ve had a rough day and treated yourself to half a standard bottle of Rosé.
Congratulations! You’ve just poured 674 nutritionally empty calories into your body. That’s the equivalent of 2.3 burgers.
In my heavy drinking days, it was nothing for me to drink 5 pints of hard cider at happy hour over the course of 2-3 hours. Calorie content of that haul? 1,436.
But calorie content is just the beginning of your alcohol-induced weight gain journey. If you think you can circumvent this problem by drinking “skinny” margaritas or clear liquor with soda water, think again.
2. Alcohol messes with your metabolism.
Now that alcohol is in your body, it is being converted to acetate which your body LOVE, LOVE, LOVES. Alcohol gets top priority, metabolically speaking. Your body will use its energy to burn the alcohol before anything else, including fat and sugar.
So what happens with the fat and sugar sitting around in your body?
Not much so long as you’re drinking. It stays right where it is, my friend.
Sure, SOME will get burned…eventually. But not until your body is done with the alcohol and if you’re a heavy drinker, well, your body has only so much metabolic bandwidth.
Alcohol also lowers testosterone levels which greatly slows your body’s ability to burn fat while at rest, further contributing to weight gain.
And that’s not all.
3. Alcohol makes you hungry.
But you already knew that.
It’s why the taco truck parked outside the bar is making a KILLING. And it’s why your drunk ass scarfed two McDonald’s value meals last weekend without batting an eye.
This is because alcohol activates starvation mode in the brain, which is why you may suddenly catch yourself eating an entire bag of Doritos after a long night out as if your life depended on it.
Annnnnd… because alcohol inhibits the decision-making process and your body believes it is starving, you are naturally going to want to consume the highest fat content you can find. You’re starving after all!
So to recap where we are currently, you’ve just consumed anywhere from 1,000-2,000 calories at the pub and now you’re inhaling another 1,500-2,000 of high fat, high sodium food.
You’ve doubled the recommended caloric intake of an entire day in the span of a few hours. Assuming you also ate something earlier in your day, how many calories are you lugging around that boozy body of yours at this point?
But we aren’t done yet!
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4. Alcohol spikes cortisol levels in your body.
Cortisol is the stress hormone in your body responsible for the “fight or flight” response. It is also a big culprit in the accumulation of belly fat.
Cortisol plays an important role in helping to regulate blood sugar and fight inflammation in the body. Too much cortisol, however, encourages fat storage in the body (particularly in your mid-section) and is the hormone responsible for lowering testosterone levels.
As I mentioned above, lower testosterone levels means a reduced ability to burn fat. I wish I could stop there but, as usual, there is more.
Cortisol makes you hungry. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. If cortisol triggers our fight or flight response, it is logical that it cues the body to stock up on energy which we get by eating.
That’s why when we are stressed, we get hungry. And we will continue to be hungry until the stress in our body subsides.
And that leads me to the next stop on our alcohol weight gain journey…
5. The Hangover
The day after drinking alcohol promotes weight gain for a variety of reasons. The first is a neuropeptide called galanin.
And what does galanin do? Well, it makes you want to eat all the fatty, greasy things. Guess what alcohol does.
That’s right! It increases the amount of galanin in our brains.
Then there’s the matter of cortisol spikes to deal with again. Let’s say you wake up with a terrible case of anxiety or a mind full of regrets from last night’s behavior.
You’re stressed, which means you’re likely to crave junk food to feel better again.
And of course, there’s alcohol’s impact on your metabolism. Remember that alcohol gets burned first in the body. That takes energy. After your body has depleted all its energy metabolizing the alcohol, it wants to be replenished.
Related Post: Why Nutrition is So Important in Sobriety
What is the best way to replenish energy reserves in the body? Carbohydrates and sugar. This is why you enthusiastically shove cold slices of pizza in your face the day after drinking.
You’re also dehydrated, which means your body craves salt. Cue the french fries!
You see where this is going. And there’s more!
6. Alcohol makes you more sedentary.
So you’ve had a rough night out and the only remedy is to stress eat donuts, burgers, and crisps all afternoon while lying on the couch under a blanket of shame.
That’s an additional 2,000-3,000 calories of fatty, salty, nutritionally poor food sitting in your stomach, which is still reeling from the 4,000+ nighttime calories you crammed into it less than 12 hours ago.
And minimal movement to burn any of it. How many calories does the periodic trip to the toilet burn?
That’s not the only reason alcohol makes you increasingly immobile. (Of course it’s not. Too easy.)
7. Alcohol makes you more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
Alcohol can make you more susceptible to mental health issues like depression and anxiety which further reduce your motivation to go out and be active.
It becomes a vicious cycle.
The more you drink, the more you wake up to increasingly unstable moods and stress which leads you to drink (and eat) more. Then everything repeats.
Before you know it, you’re waking up every day with crippling anxiety and self-medicating with alcohol as well as terrible food. You’re 10kg (22 lbs) heavier than you were the previous year, none of your clothes fit, and you’re wondering how things got so bad.
(I just described myself by the way, so there is no judgement here.)
The Truth About Alcohol and Weight Gain
Whether you are a heavy, moderate, or casual drinker, consuming alcohol can have a serious impact on your waistline. That’s going to create an unhealthy ripple effect in other areas of your life.
Most people intuitively know that alcohol equals unnecessary calories. What we often fail to appreciate is how much deeper it goes.
Alcohol does not cause weight gain in the same way eating a donut does. It impacts our decision-making, lowers our metabolism, produces additional stress, and traps us in an unhealthy cycle of binge eating and lounging.
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If you want a happier, more stable life, one of the BEST things you can do for yourself is quit drinking alcohol.
What do you have to lose? (Except a few inches off your waist.)