Alcohol and Weight Gain

Alcohol and Weight Gain
You can drink AND maintain a healthy weight. The key is moderation.

It’s well-documented that alcohol can and will, if abused, cause you to put on weight.

In men this excess weight is stored around the stomach area (hence the term 'beer belly'). In women the excess weight is stored around the hips, buttocks and thighs.

Consuming alcohol contributes to weight gain because of the high caloric content of alcohol.

Many heavy drinkers would disagree with the assertion that alcohol makes you gain weight and, for them, this is true but only because heavy and alcoholic drinkers tend to sacrifice food for alcohol. (read drinking problems to discover the difference between heavy drinking and alcoholic drinking)

Not eating properly means they burn all the calories that alcohol provides and they do not gain weight.

However, they are causing themselves untold damage with the effects of excessive alcohol intake.

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Alcohol and Weight Gain

It’s no surprise that most people fear the prospects of weight gain. This fear is rooted in several reasons. For one, we know that being overweight or obese is associated with a variety of health conditions ranging from

  • cardiovascular disease to 
  • high blood pressure to 
  • Type II diabetes.

Likewise, individuals who struggle with extra weight are more likely to die prematurely.

Furthermore, it’s no secret that most people want to avoid weight gain for cosmetic reasons. In a society that’s hyper-focused on appearance, we all face an immense pressure for our bodies to look a certain way.

Yet, weight gain can happen for a variety of reasons, including poor diet, lack of exercise, metabolism issues, or other physical health conditions.

It can also happen if someone struggles with alcohol addiction.

It's More Complicated than Alcohol = Fat

When you consume alcohol, your body breaks it down into acetate. Acetate is also known as ethanoic acid – an organic acid that gives vinegar its sour taste. This, in turn, is absorbed by the body, and is used as energy.

weight gain and alcohol

Typically, when vinegar (acetate), fat and sugar are present in the body, the vinegar gets burned first.

Think about it this way. If you drink heavily and take in more calories than your body requires to function, your body will store the fat from that cheeseburger you ate at lunch.

It will also store the sugar from the coke you guzzled down. That’s because your body is actually getting the energy it needs from the acetate in the alcohol you consume

Scientific research supports that alcohol temporarily impedes lipid oxidation. Simply put, your body uses whatever you feed it. When acetate levels rise, your body burns more acetate, and less fat.

Therefore, it becomes much more difficult for your body to burn fat when excess alcohol is present in your system

Following this logic, if your diet consists of fattening food and plenty of alcohol, you will put on weight at a much greater rate than if you drank in moderation and ate foods lower in fat and calories.

To further illustrate the above, here is what happens after you have a drink or two:

  • A fraction of the alcohol is converted into fat.
  • The liver then converts most of the alcohol into acetate.
  • The acetate goes into your bloodstream, and replaces fat as a source of fuel.

Alcohol and Weight Gain
When Alcohol is A Problem

If you drink too much, you need to reduce or eliminate your alcohol consumption. 

If you believe you have an alcohol problem, get help. You may need to learn how to create a life free from alcohol. In addition to weight problems, alcohol addiction is associated with numerous emotional and physical health consequences. Likewise, because drinking is progressive, as your tolerance increases, you will only continue to drink more and more.

What is Drunkorexia?

Some people restrict their food calories to allocate extra calories for drinking. Some research suggests that upwards of a third of young adult women engage in this tactic. This method, which some experts label as drunkorexia, may cause some initial weight loss, but it’s incredibly dangerous. 

There are many risks associated with this pattern.

  • Excess intoxication: drinking on an empty stomach can cause overconsumption, which can lead to faster and more intense intoxication.
  • Poor decision-making: all alcohol consumption can impair impulse control and critical thinking. Likewise, even if someone tries to restrict their calories, their strategies may backfire while under the influence, which can lead to compulsive overeating or binge eating.
  • Limited nutrient availability: when the body has to metabolize alcohol, this makes it more challenging for it to absorb the appropriate nutrients. This increases one’s risk for nutrient deficiencies.
  • Problems after exercise: drinking after working out impairs both the muscle repair and protein synthesis processes. This affects the recovery process, which can negate some of the benefits associated with exercise. If a person does not recover properly, they may be at a greater risk for injuries.

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  • Discuss your treatment options


Continuing to Drink without Weight Gain

Drinking should never be the primary focus of one’s diet. While moderate drinking can be acceptable (and even enjoyable) at times, it should never compromise one’s relationship with food or nutrition.

alcohol and weight gain

There are no foolproof, sure-fire diets or weight loss supplements that specifically target weight gain. Instead, avoiding weight gain requires

  • discipline, 
  • conscious effort, and 
  • education. 

You need to be willing to put in the work to obtain the desired results.

Remember that a surplus of calories are stored as fat. That’s why you need to be choosy on what you eat. Focus on integrating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains into your meals.

Drink plenty of water. Ideally, you should drink at least eight glasses per day, although this figure is higher if you exercise regularly.

Your TDEE refers to your total daily energy expenditure. This is a general estimate of how many calories you burn per day. This number is calculated by a variety of factors including your height, current weight, sex, age, body fat, and physical activity.

If you consistently eat above this amount, you’ll gain weight. Likewise, if you consistently eat fewer calories than this amount, you’ll lose weight.

Slow and steady often beats fast and pressured. While crash diets might be tempting, sustainable progress is a long-haul game. Focus on changing 1-2 habits per week.

For example, if you typically eat dessert after dinner each night, consider swapping out the chocolate for some berries. If you always order takeout for lunch, consider bringing your own food to the office twice a week.

Likewise, exercise can play a huge role in weight loss efforts. Even just adding 20-30 minutes of movement per day can supercharge your metabolism. When it comes to working out, consistency is key. It doesn’t matter which exercises you do (or don’t do). What matters is your ability to stick with the routine.

If you like lifting weights, commit to a weightlifting program. If you like being outdoors, consider taking up cycling or hiking. Try and sneak in small movements throughout your day - every little step can help. You may want to invest in a fitness tracker to determine the number of steps you take each day. These devices are relatively inexpensive. They also help promote personal accountability. 

Discipline is the key. Focus on your diet, avoid drinking too much, and if you have to drink to socialize, then make it a few glasses.

Surplus calories are stored as fat, hence you should be choosy of what you eat. Watch your calorie count, and avoid junk food.

To summarize how to get rid of excess weight:

  • A strict diet that avoids excessive calories in-take.
  • Regular exercises to burn the residue fat and help increase your metabolism.
  • Moderate consumption of alcohol.

In short then, you can continue to drink even if you wish to lose weight. The key is to drink moderately and eliminate or avoid fatty foods.

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:


University of Texas Health Services - Drunkorexia
Healthyeater - TDEE Calculator

Speak with an Addiction Specialist

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