Most of us quit drinking alcohol in the hopes that it will improve our physical health. But can sobriety also promote weight loss?
The quick answer is: probably.
Many factors go into sobriety, weight loss, and overall health outcomes. Let’s break them down.
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Weight
Does consuming alcohol make you gain weight?
Yes! In addition to being full of empty calories and sugar, heavy drinking impacts your body’s ability to burn fat.
When you drink, your body converts alcohol to acetate. Your body loves acetate and will prioritize metabolizing it over fat and sugar.
When your body uses all its energy to metabolize acetate, the fat and sugar get stored in the body. Additionally, alcohol lowers your testosterone levels and slows your body’s ability to burn fat.
And that’s just the beginning.
We haven’t even mentioned the dangers of that unsightly booze belly.
If you’re interested in learning more about how alcohol causes weight gain, check out my guide to alcohol and weight gain.
Can you lose weight by going sober?
All things remaining equal, if you quit drinking alcohol and change nothing else about your daily life and routine, you will eventually lose weight because you consume fewer calories.
For example, one small 330 ml bottle of beer with 5% alcohol has 182 calories, equivalent to about half of a cheeseburger. One pint of cider is 2.6 units of alcohol and has 216 calories.
If you’re curious about the caloric and unit breakdown of your current alcohol consumption, Drinkaware has an incredible tool that is fun to use and incredibly eye-opening.
You’re entering some significant caloric territory if you consume over two drinks in a single evening.
Naturally, if you drop those extra 1,000+ calories weekly, sobriety will lead to some weight loss.
Sobriety isn’t so cut and dry, however. There are many other factors to consider.
Is it normal to gain weight after getting sober?
Sometimes people experience weight gain in sobriety instead of weight loss (Hi, it’s me!).
One reason is that many people who quit drinking end up replacing alcohol with sugary drinks and treats.
Alcohol literally changes your brain.
You become reliant on alcohol for dopamine. Without it, you may feel depressed, agitated, and like the world is dull and gray.
It is incredibly common to turn to sugar as an alcohol replacement. It produces the same kind of dopamine surge and happy chemicals we used to rely on alcohol to give us.
In the early days of sobriety, it’s easy to go overboard on sweets because you’re desperately craving a sense of emotional balance.
For those of us who struggle with alcohol addiction and abuse, we do what we must to get through those critical first weeks and months. As it relates to weight loss, however, this is a hindrance.
You may add weight initially depending on your body type, genetics, and alcohol consumption. It’s something many people experience on their sobriety journey.
But if you can keep your sugar intake to a reasonable amount and consume fewer calories than when you drank, your chance of early weight loss increases.
The Importance of Exercise for Weight Loss in Sobriety
Another factor that contributes to whether sobriety and weight loss are in your future is exercise.
Exercise is critically important in sobriety for several reasons, including:
- Improves your mental health.
- Helps form healthier friendships with other like-minded people.
- Provides you an outlet for managing difficult emotions.
- Helps you combat boredom in sobriety by giving you something productive to do.
- Allows you to start healing your brain.
Depending on how often you exercise, the intensity, and what kind of healthy eating habits you adopt in sobriety, you will likely lose some weight.
Even if you don’t burn a ton of calories exercising, developing a new healthy habit will ripple effects on your new sober lifestyle and contribute to weight loss.
Even moderate amounts of exercise at a low intensity can help you lose weight.
Healthy Nutrition in Sobriety
You’re more likely to enjoy weight loss after sobriety if giving up alcohol helps you change poor eating habits.
Alcohol frequently leads to binge eating.
It tricks your body into starvation mode, which is why you start devouring everything in sight after a long night of drinking. Oh, hello, McDonald’s! I’ll have a large Number 2 and an extra, large fry, please!
Alcohol also lowers your inhibition which increases the chance of making poor food choices (among many other bad decisions).
If you quit binge eating and plowing through a pile of nachos several times per week due to sobriety, you will lose weight.
The combination of alcohol and a poor diet leads to an increased risk of depression, which further impacts your ability to stay active and eat well.
It’s all interconnected.
If sobriety helps you make healthier food choices and start getting active, even if it’s just going for occasional walks, you will see weight loss. It’s another reason why good nutrition is so important in sobriety.
Healthy food helps repair the damage bad lifestyle choices have done to your body and fortifies you against making additional poor choices. Net wins all around!
FAQs about Sobriety and Weight Loss
Do you lose or gain weight when you stop drinking?
It depends! You will likely gain weight if you replace alcohol with extra sugar and other poor food choices.
On the other hand, if quitting alcohol helps you consume fewer calories and make healthier choices, you will lose weight.
How long does it take to see results from not drinking?
Some people experience positive effects as early as a week after quitting drinking.
For others, it can take 3-6 months to see major improvements in overall health and happiness.
It depends on several factors, including how much alcohol they drank, for how long, and whether they had other unhealthy lifestyle choices to overcome.
How much weight can you lose after one month of not drinking?
Again, it depends! All things being equal, if you change nothing but your alcohol consumption, you can get a rough estimation of potential weight loss after one month.
Take the average number of calories consumed from alcohol per week and multiply it times four.
A pound of body fat can contain anywhere between 3,436 and 3,752 calories. So add up your calories from alcohol and divide by a number within this range to estimate weight loss in the first after quitting alcohol.
Will my beer belly go away if I stop drinking?
The answer is a cautious yes. If the primary cause of excess abdominal fat is alcohol, and you eliminate alcohol from your life, your beer belly will shrink in sobriety.
However, many diet and lifestyle factors contribute to the dreaded beer belly. Talking to your doctor and creating a tailored plan for losing weight is important.
Excess belly fat is a serious health problem and should be taken seriously.
The Bottom Line on Sobriety and Weight Loss
Does getting sober lead to weight loss? Most likely.
Sobriety itself does not inherently cause weight loss. The behaviors that sobriety supports will help you shed some pounds.
If your newfound sobriety helps you reduce your daily calorie intake, inspires you to get moving, and helps you reduce stress and get better quality sleep, then yes. You will lose weight, feel better, and completely level up your life.
But some barriers to weight loss in early sobriety, such as replacing alcohol with sugar and depression, can delay some of these sobriety benefits.
It doesn’t mean you should give up on sobriety or will never lose weight after sobriety.
It just means that it will happen at different times for different people. Some experience weight loss immediately, and others require more time.
The important thing is that you are improving your health, your overall quality of life, and your physical and emotional well-being. The other stuff will come in due time.