Most of us quit drinking alcohol in the hopes that it will improve our physical health. For many, sobriety and weight loss are primary concerns. Whether you’re at risk for obesity-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes or heart disease, or if you’re looking to approve your appearance and emotional wellbeing, can sobriety help?
The quick answer is: probably. There are many factors that 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 end up getting stored in the body. Additionally, alcohol lowers your testosterone levels which also 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 the ways alcohol causes weight gain, check out our 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 are consuming fewer calories.
For example, one small 330 ml bottle of beer with 5% alcohol has 182 calories, which is the equivalent of about half of a cheeseburger. One pint of cider, which is 2.6 units of alcohol, 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 both fun to use and incredibly eye-opening.
If you are consuming anything over two drinks in a single evening, you’re entering into some significant caloric territory. Naturally, if you drop those extra 1,000+ calories every week, 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 for this is many people who quit drinking end up replacing alcohol with sugary drinks and treats.
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 the 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.
Depending on your body type, genetics, and amount of alcohol consumption, you may add weight in the beginning. It’s something many people experience on their sobriety journey.
But if you’re able to keep your sugar intake to a reasonable amount and wind up consuming 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 are likely to lose some weight.
Even if you don’t burn a ton of calories exercising, developing a new healthy habit will have ripple effects on your new sober lifestyle that will contribute to weight loss.
Even moderate amounts of exercise at a low intensity can help you lose weight. This is because physical activity helps you reduce stress, improves your sleep, and makes you feel better. All of these things can lead to weight loss.
Healthy Nutrition in Sobriety
You might experience 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 after a long night of drinking you start devouring everything in sight. 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 as a result of 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 start to 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
It depends! If you replace alcohol with extra sugar and other poor food choices, you will likely gain weight. On the other hand, if quitting alcohol helps you consume fewer calories and make healthier choices, you will lose weight.
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 a number of factors including how much alcohol they drank, for how long, and whether they had other unhealthy lifestyle choices to overcome.
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 get an approximate estimation of weight loss in the first after quitting alcohol.
A word of caution – this is a very rough calculation that does not take into account any of the other factors that contribute to weight loss. So take your results with a grain of salt.
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, there are a number of diet and lifestyle factors that contribute to the dreaded beer belly. It’s important to talk to your doctor and create a tailored plan for losing weight. Excess belly fat is a serious health problem and should be taken seriously.
The Bottom Line
Does getting sober lead to weight loss? Most likely. Sobriety itself does not inherently cause weight loss. It is the behaviors that sobriety supports that 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 are going to lose weight, feel better, and completely level up your life.
But there are some barriers to weight loss in early sobriety such as replacing alcohol with sugar and depression that can delay some of these sobriety benefits.
It doesn’t mean you should give up on sobriety or that you will never lose weight after sobriety. It just means that it will happen at different times for different people. Some experience weight loss right away and others require a bit more time.
The important thing is that you are improving your health, your overall quality of life, and your physical and emotional wellbeing. The other stuff will come in due time.