Can I Drink Alcohol and Still Lose Weight?

Summer is a time filled with gatherings, parties as well as plenty of  food and alcoholic beverages that might feel off limits for so many people. 

One of the questions I get asked the most is ‘’Can I lose weight and drink alcohol?’’, especially when I make a cheeky post of me sipping on a glass of vino. In this blog you’ll learn all about how more about fat loss, how alcohol can affect fat loss, and how to incorporate alcoholic beverages into your caloric allowance (in moderation, please and thank you) without having to throw in the towel on your fat loss efforts.

Fast facts on fat loss

There are three major macronutrients that provide energy to the body: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. The body uses carbohydrates as its primary source of energy in the form of glucose. And when glucose is not available, fat is next in line through a process called gluconeogenesis. 

Macronutrients make up the calories you have in a day in the following break down:

Carbohydrates- 4 Calories/gram

Protein- 4 Calories/gram 

Fat contains- 9 Calories/gram. 

Fat loss occurs when there are more calories being burned than consumed, which many professionals refer to as CICO (Calories in vs Calories Out). Many think that the way to fat loss is by completely removing food groups: Carbs, Sugar, Fat, or Alcohol from their diets. However, this strategy isn’t sustainable as social gathering will still happen, so as a coach I think it is important to guide my clients on how to make educated choices when it comes to their food/beverage options not only to lose the fat, but to also keep it off. This is the reason why today we are talking about alcohol and how to make it work even if you are trying to lose a few pounds.

About alcohol’s impact on fat loss

Although alcohol contains calories, about 7 calories per gram, it’s not a high-quality energy source for the body. It contains little to no nutrients, which makes it an empty calorie source. Not to mention, alcohol can slow fat burning. ‘’How does that happen??’’, I can hear you ask… Don’t worry, we got you covered. 

The liver has many functions including getting rid of toxins in the body and burning fat. When it’s getting rid of alcohol, it can’t burn fat, which means less fat loss if you drink too much alcohol often.

It’s like the body has to ‘take a break’’ from fat burning in order to metabolize alcohol.

But, this isn’t all bad news! In a recent study it has been shown that a moderate consumption of alcohol will not affect body composition nor exercise performance, which is great news for those who enjoy a glass of wine (or two) without ruining their body composition goals. 

Health impacts of drinking alcohol

Alcoholic drinks can contain a lot of calories which have little to no nutritional value. Some types of alcoholic drinks such as micro brews, cocktails, margaritas, flavored liqueurs, and wines can contain high levels of sugar through flavorings and syrups which increase calorie intake. The calorie content of common alcoholic drinks include:

  • Margarita: 168 calories per 4 ounces
  • Pina colada: 526 calories per 6.8 ounces
  • Mai Tai: 306 calories per 4.9 ounces
  • White Russian: 568 calories per 8 ounces
  • Beer: 153-350 calories per 12 ounces; calories increase with higher alcohol content 
  • Flavored liqueur: 154-186 calories per 1.5 ounces

Alcohol’s Impact On Food Choice

Nobody has ever been tipsy and said they craved broccoli… Well, at least not anyone I know nor me!

Besides being made of empty calories, drinking alcohol can also impact your food choices. When under the influence of alcohol, it can impact your prefrontal cortex in your brain which helps you with rational thinking (4). 

Therefore, having a few too many drinks can negatively impact decision-making and may lead to you making unhealthy food choices while under the influence. In turn, such choices may increase calorie intake and reduce your ability to reach your fat loss goals over time. 

So, try to be mindful of your food choices when drinking and avoid getting to a point where your ability to make smart food choices are compromised. 

Remember, we are ALL about balance, around here!

How to choose more calorie friendly alcoholic options

There are some tips to help you enjoy alcoholic drinks within a healthy lifestyle. These options help you to lower sugar intake and in turn can reduce calorie intake:

  • Sugar-free add-ins: Use sugar-free colas, soda water, or flavored seltzer waters in place of sugary juices in cocktails
  • Fresh fruit flavor: Instead of fruit syrups, try adding slices of cucumber, orange, herbs like mint or rosemary, ginger, or add muddled berries for flavor

Examples of lower calorie alcoholic drinks include:

  • Margarita replacement: One standard drink of 1.5 ounces tequila with ½ lime’s worth of juice squeezed in = ~102 calories, <2 grams carbohydrate. 
  • Gin and seltzer: Replace sugary tonic with no-calorie seltzer to save calories. One standard drink of 1.5 ounces of gin and 8 ounces of seltzer contains about 100 calories.
  • Rum and diet cola: Use your favorite sugar-free bubbly drink to replace cola in the classic “rum and Coke” mixed drink. One standard drink of 1.5 ounces of rum with 8 ounces of diet cola contains 100 calories.
  • Vodka soda: Soda water and seltzer is calorie-free, so adds no additional sugar or calories to your drink. One standard drink of 1.5 ounces of vodka and 8 ounces of soda water contains about 96 calories. 
  • Low-cal Mai Tai: Mix rum and lime juice with orange slices versus orange syrup and replace almond syrup with almond extract. Add in your favorite fruit-flavored seltzer water for a refreshing fruit finish to this mixed drink. One standard drink of 1.5 ounces of rum mixed with the extracts, ½ lime’s worth of lime juice, and a calorie-free seltzer water contains about 102 calories.
  • Light beers: One standard drink of 12 ounces contains about 103 calories. 
  • Non-alcoholic beer: One standard drink of 12 ounces contains <100 calories. 

Other tips for including alcohol in a healthy lifestyle

Besides choosing drinks with lower sugar and alcohol content, there are other ways to enjoy alcohol within a healthy lifestyle like:

  • Limiting alcohol drinking to one or a few days each week. A standard alcoholic drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Most adults should consume 7 or less standard drinks each week (no more than two standard drinks each day) for optimal health (7,8).
  • Drink a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks to slow down your drinking behavior and hopefully in turn consume less alcohol.
  • Have healthy snacks accessible to consume with alcohol or after drinking alcohol to prevent overconsuming calories under the influence.

Bottom line on alcohol and weight loss

Just like you don’t have to give up your favorite foods to lose weight, you don’t have to give up your favorite drinks either. A balanced, healthy lifestyle is all about being aware of those foods that are nutrient-dense and those that aren’t. Once you are aware, then you can enjoy those foods and drinks that may not be the healthiest in moderation. 

If you’d like to learn more on how to lose weight while having a balanced lifestyle take advantage of the 4th Of July Promo for my Signature program: The Mother Strong League. 

You can learn more about it HERE

References:

  • Sozio, M., & Crabb, D. W. (2008).” Alcohol and lipid metabolism.” American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 295(1), E10–E16. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00011.2008
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedLine Plus (last reviewed May 26, 2020) “Calorie Count- Alcoholic beverages.” https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000886.htm
  • Park, S. Y., et al. (2015). “The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep.” Korean journal of family medicine, 36(6), 294–299. https://doi.org/10.4082/kjfm.2015.36.6.294
  • CHUEH, Ke-Hsin1; GUILLEMINAULT, Christian2; LIN, Chia-Mo3* Alcohol Consumption as a Moderator of Anxiety and Sleep Quality, Journal of Nursing Research: June 2019 – Volume 27 – Issue 3 – p e23, doi: 10.1097/jnr.0000000000000300 
  • Wood, Ph.D., A.M., et al. (April 2018) “Risk Thresholds for Alcohol Consumption: combined analysis of individual participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies.” The Lancet, Volume 391, Issue 10129, P1513-1523.
  • Chiva-Blanch, G., & Badimon, L. (2019). “Benefits and Risks of Moderate Alcohol Consumption on Cardiovascular Disease: Current Findings and Controversies.” Nutrients, 12(1), 108. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12010108