7 Frustrating Ways Alcohol Makes You Gain Weight
If you’re trying to lose weight, it turns out one of the BEST things you can do is stop drinking alcohol.
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.
- 2. Alcohol messes with your metabolism.
- 3. Alcohol makes you hungry.
- 4. Alcohol spikes cortisol levels in your body.
- 5. The Hangover
- 6. Alcohol makes you more sedentary.
- 7. Alcohol makes you more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
- Bottom Line on Alcohol and 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. Think again if you can circumvent this problem by drinking “skinny” margaritas or clear liquor with soda water.
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 will naturally 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 calories 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 your boozy body at this point?
But we aren’t done yet!
- How Alcohol Damages and Changes Your Brain
- What it’s Like to be Sober for 30 Days
- How Sobriety Changes Everything About Your Life
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 to cue the body to stock up on the energy 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 terrible anxiety or a mind full of regrets from last night’s behavior.
You’re stressed, so you’ll likely 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.
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.
As you laze about the day after drinking, you’re unlikely 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, reducing 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, leading you to drink (and eat) more. Then everything repeats.
Before you know it, you’re waking up daily with crippling anxiety and self-medicating with alcohol and 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 judgment here.)
Bottom Line on Alcohol and Weight Gain
Whether you are a heavy, moderate, or casual drinker, consuming alcohol can seriously impact your waistline. That will 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 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.
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.)
Alcohol & Weight Gain FAQs
Can drinking alcohol every day cause weight gain?
Yes! Drinking every day means you are consuming excess calories. Heavy drinkers can consume up to 1,000 extra calories per day.
Additionally, drinking alcohol negatively impacts your metabolism and body’s ability to burn fat, contributing to weight gain.
Consuming alcohol also makes you hungrier for high fat, high sodium food while impeding your judgment, which further contributes to poor food choices.
Why do I gain weight after drinking alcohol?
Alcohol disrupts your metabolism and lowers testosterone which, in addition to the added calories, contributes to weight gain.
Does alcohol cause belly fat?
Yes! Alcohol spikes cortisol levels in the body, which contributes to the accumulation of belly fat.
It also impedes your ability to get a good night’s sleep, further contributing to belly fat.
Also, since alcohol delays your liver’s ability to break down fat, you will likely accumulate unhealthy fat the more you drink.
How long does alcohol stop fat burning?
Alcohol stops fat burning for as long as it takes your body to metabolize the alcohol you consume.
The more (and longer) you drink, the longer your body will stop burning fat.
I agree I look like im 6 months pregnant
Oh my God, great article. I usually don’t drink. I’ve had about 2 dozen drinks in the last 20 years but the last 9 days I started drinking Tequila with ginger ale because of back problems. I don’t like taking pills. Maybe 2 full glasses a night. I gained 3.5 lbs in that time honestly. 184.3 to 187.8. I weight myself everyday and noticed an increase each day so the last few days I didn’t eat much but continued to gain about .3 lbs daily. So thanks to your educated article I realize what it is. I suspected it was the alcohol but now I know for sure.
I found it to be insulin resistance and fatty liver for me too many carbs and drink so i done keto diet banned sugar and ate less offen now only drink once in a blue moon seems to be working but slow process
Fair enough. Over the height of the pandemic I was easily drinking a bottle of wine or 3 martinis per night. When you’re sitting at home, scared to just walk out of your door, scared to see friends and also scared for the health and safety of your family, it’s easy to fall into that pit of “drink to numb the pain.” It also lead to a lot of stress drinking and stress eating. I don’t want to give up alcohol, I’m not an alcoholic… I’m now mostly returned to a regular day schedule, but now that people are seeing each other a lot, we’re drinking more. I’m so happy I can see friends again that I’m meeting up for dinner, for “a couple drinks” and for lunch or “come over for a pool party” at least 4 times per week. And while that’s usually just one drink or maybe two… it does add up. A lot. Especially when that’s accompanied by having lunch or dinner at a restaurant or a bar. So yeah…That would explain the 40 pounds I now need to take off.
I’ve heard it referred to as the Covid 30. You’re definitely not alone on this!
I gained 30 pounds during covid and drinking high sugar sweet bottled drinks. I hit 155 pounds and switched to seltzers I started losing weight quickly without changing my habits. Mine had 32g of sugar now I drink 1g and feel much better.
In lieu of a cocktail at night, I’ve been making sugarless mock tails. It’s still a great way to unwind and have a social evening ritual. My go to is apple cider vinegar, various bitters, seltzer, lemon or orange peel, and a sprig of rosemary and/or mint.
That sounds delicious!
Love this, I have a great workout I do for the last 3 months…… but…. nightly glasses of wine…. not helping especially wanting to loose belly fat 😳
The struggle is real! I’m genetically predisposed to belly fat and it is such a stubborn thing to manage.
great article. I am enjoying my fitness but sabotaging myself with a few glasses of wine in the evening, it becomes a habit i really don’t need and have to stop. This article has given me the nudge to get on with it. I have also spent two years losing weight and have started to see the scales creep up again, likely due to alcohol.
Love this article. It’s something I’m trying to work on. After a long week, Friday and Saturday are my days to have a drink or two if three. I really enjoy it, but I I know I’ve gained weight because of it. It’s just hard. I feel deprived.
This is a fantastic article. I’m all in for sobriety. Being sober has changed my life!!!
I now have sober fun instead of drinking every day. I have lost over 30 pounds since I stopped drinking. Thanks again, for the information.
Congrats! That’s amazing!
How long before you started to lose weight. We’re you also on a healthy diet or purely from just packing in alcohol. I stopped drinking 5 weeks ago dropping 2.000 cals a day, but no weight loss yet xx
This is exactly why I’ve gained 60lbs over the last 3 years, It’s been a slow progression but I drink daily and put on a couple pounds every week. I’m almost 200lbs now and am only 5’3″. I don’t drink until I’m drunk but I sip all night until I get sleepy. It’s to the point that I don’t know how to relax without it. I know quitting is best, I just have to muster the conviction. I’m at a turning point in my life where I have to prioritize my health over my comfort. Quite a challenge, but thank you for this reality check.
I completely understand where you’re coming from. You CAN do this!
I just got to that point to, I was looking terrible, I’m feeling a lot better after 5 weeks xx
Just found this website…… kinda refreshing to read. I need to sort myself out!!
Alicia. I know you are right. I just have it in my head I am missing out if I don’t drink. I want to have that privilege. Even if that privilege is causing me grief. Help?
Hey Rachel! I think the first thing is reframing how you think about alcohol. If you’re still viewing it as a privilege or something precious, you’ll continue to drive yourself a bit nuts over it. Does that make sense?
This article really resonated with me! I love fitness, I love being slim (although can barely recall what that feels like). I am entrenched socially with drinking. Lose my Saturdays because of Friday night antics. Husband, relatives, colleagues and friends love a drink. I’m worried I’d be a social pariah. How does one do a night out with no drink?
It’s not half as bad as we imagine it will be! For the most part, you find that you end up leaving early.
Great article as always!
I am a 9 month cold turkey recovery drinking & smoking, after 17 years of daily DRINKING. I feel and look amazing!!
Thanks for your motivational articles!
You are so welcome!
That’s amazing and so inspiring! Congratulations and good for you! Any tips for me to do the same?
I really am thankful for this article on how alcohol can hinder your fitness goals and targets. This is definitely a helpful post.
Thank you so much!