Weight Loss & Diet

Five Ways Alcohol Can Cause Weight Gain

Five Ways Alcohol Can Cause Weight Gain
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Most people who are trying to lose weight are pretty aware of what they eat. You may be thinking about portion control, calories, and nutrient breakdowns for most of your meals and food choices. Alcohol consumption, though, can make a mockery of these efforts, and the effects grow as alcohol consumption increases.

That is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Weight gain is already a challenge for many who are stuck at home and facing unprecedented levels of stress. On top of that, home alcohol consumption has increased, including during daytime hours for many. “Just a drink” can lead to weight gain for many reasons, and here are five of them.

1. Alcoholic beverages are sources of liquid calories.

Liquid calories are calories that we drink in liquid form rather than eat in solid form. They are usually considered to be bad for weight loss because they are not as filling as calories from solid foods. For example, the body may not get full after drinking a 200-calorie, 16-ounce, soda or glass of juice, but may feel full after eating a 200-calorie meal with a slice of toast, scrambled egg with vegetables, and tangerine.

Alcohol contributes calories to alcoholic beverages, and these drinks often get calories from carbohydrates, too. A 5-oz. glass of wine, 12-oz. bottle of beer, and 1.5-oz. shot of liquor can have 100 to 150 calories, and mixed drinks with sugar or fruit juice can have more. Consuming, say, 4 drinks can set you back 400 to 1,000 calories, or enough for 1 to 2 meals. That is not likely to be a smart choice for weight loss!

2. Alcohol consumption and overeating go hand in hand.

Alcohol feels relaxing, and that can be a bad thing when that relaxation comes at the cost of losing inhibitions. Being quick to get angry or to accept a dangerous dare are examples of what can happen when under the influence. 

Another example is being willing to eat, often more than you would eat if you were sober and staying fully aware of your weight loss goals and plan. An hour or more of drinking may also include eating handfuls of peanuts, some cookies, and a pile of cheese and crackers. Crunching your way through a multi-serving bag of potato chips instead of sticking to a carefully portioned, 1-ounce serving can add 300 or more calories.

3. Concerns over nutrition go out the window. 

Have you ever heard that alcohol impairs your thinking skills and ability to make good decisions? It is no surprise, then, if you choose to nosh on chips and dip instead of celery and non-fat cream cheese while drinking, even if you would make the opposite choice under normal circumstances. 

How much will poor choices cost? A few ounces of chips and a small bowl of dip can have over 800 calories, compared to under 200 calories for some veggies and a light spread or dip.

4. The “party” keeps going.

Now that you have eaten everything within reach, it is time to stop, right? Wrong. Alcohol has a lesser-known effect: it tricks your brain into thinking your body is starving. The message is, “Eat!” 

What is most appealing and available when you are done drinking? After a typical night of partying or hanging out at the bar, it turns out that 24-hour drive-thrus and fast food and casual sit-down joints are the most common food destinations. McDonalds, Taco Bell, Waffle House, and Dennys top the list. Popular items such as burgers, tacos, waffles, french fries, and hash browns contribute to an average of over 700 calories per occasion.

During COVID-19, you may not be driving home from a party or bar, but alcohol may still be triggering feelings of hunger. 24/7 options may be most appealing and available through all-night delivery services, and calories are still likely to add up fast.

5. Hangovers are not conducive to burning calories.

How do you feel when waking up after too much alcohol? Chances are, you are not feeling very peppy and eager to get on your tennis shoes for your usual workout. Instead, dehydration and a headache may make staying in bed may feel much more appealing. Skipping a 30-minute workout that you otherwise might have completed means you are not burning about 150-300 calories that you normally would have burned. 

The Grand Total: 

Adding up the extra calories from the above explanations leads to a total of 1,800 or more extra calories consumed (or not burned) related to a single session of alcohol consumption.

How does that fit into a weight loss plan? To put it into perspective, a woman who wants to lose weight might aim for 1,200 to 2,000 calories a day, and a man might aim for 1,500 to 2,400 calories (numbers can vary due to exercise and other factors). In other words, a session of alcohol consumption can include more than a day’s worth of calories: not good for weight loss!

Some people can safely drink alcohol without going overboard, but if you are watching your weight, it is best to be aware of the possible consequences of drinking too much. When the hangover clears, the extra pounds will still be adding up unless you are careful. Please drink responsibly!