Alcohol is a part of many people’s diets. And why not!? In moderation, it’s a nice way to relax at the end of the day, provides an enjoyable way to celebrate happy occasions, and tastes nice. However, alcohol can also derail your diet, prevent weight loss, and even cause weight gain. And as you are a reader of Days to Fitness, I know you don’t want that to happen to you!
Alcoholic drinks contain a lot of calories (and Not all Calories are the same)– far more than water which contains none at all. Alcohol comes from the fermentation of carbohydrates and sugar, and that means that all alcoholic drinks contain varying amounts of energy. If that energy exceeds your daily needs, it will be quickly and easily turned to fat and stored in your body. Alcohol is also more calorie-dense than most of the other food groups:
- Protein – four calories per gram – More about at The Power Of Protein
- Carbs – four calories per gram – learn more at What are Carbs – A Complete Guide about Carbs
- Alcohol – seven calories per gram
- Fat – nine calories per gram – Not all fats are created equally
The number of calories per drink varies depending on how much alcohol it contains, and if you add any mixers, but a typical 12 oz. beer contains around 200 calories, whereas a small glass of wine contains about 150. A typical shot of refined spirits contains about 100 calories.
While the occasional drink is nothing to worry about, it’s easy to see how a couple of drinks per day can soon add up to enough calories to cancel out your diet.
To see how many calories are in your alcoholic drinks, use this free online calculator.
Like most drinks, alcohol doesn’t fill you up very much, so even though you drink extra calories, you probably won’t adjust your food intake to make an allowance. To make matters worse, alcohol tends to increase your appetite and lower your willpower to eat healthily. How many times have you had a couple of drinks and then ended up eating potato chips, a take out, or raiding the fridge to find something to eat? Alcohol and food often go hand-in-hand.
It’s also worth noting that alcohol is what nutritionists call a priority fuel. This means that, when you drink alcohol, your body processes it preferentially even if you have food in your stomach. This means that calories from food are more likely to be converted to fat if you are also drinking alcohol.
To summarize how alcohol can hinder weight loss:
1. Alcohol contains calories – often a lot, and many from sugar and carbs (learn How to Identify High Food Carbs)
2. Alcohol can reduce willpower to eat healthily
3. Alcohol calories are processed preferentially so food is more likely to be converted to fat
So, does all of this information mean you should give up alcohol? Not necessarily. I enjoy the occasional drink with friends and family, and so do many of the people I know. It’s a sociable habit that may also have some healthful benefits – moderate alcohol consumption often being linked to improved heart health, reduced risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, and lower blood pressure.
However, to stop alcohol causing weight gain, or interfering with fat loss, you should observe the following rules:
Enjoy alcohol in small quantities and infrequently. One small drink per day is plenty, and if you feel you MUST drink more than that, you may have a dependency that needs to be addressed.
2. Choose low carb/low-calorie drinks
Avoid high sugar mixers, limit your intake of higher-calorie beers and ciders, and drink wine and straight liquor instead.
3. Watch those measures!
At a bar, measures tend to be small. However, if you have your drinks at home, you probably pour bigger measures. I have a friend who says she only has one drink per night. However, that one drink is half a bottle of wine! Measure your drinks to make sure you aren’t inadvertently drinking more than you realize.
4. Take a break
Try to have a couple of days per week when you drink no alcohol at all, and also have the occasional alcohol-free week.
5. Count the calories and the carbs
Make sure you take account of the carbs and calories in your alcoholic drinks. Use a food tracker to record how many extra calories you have ingested. If necessary, reduce your food intake to allow for those extra calories e.g. by skipping a snack or dessert.
Alcohol can be part of a healthy diet, but only if you drink smart and in moderation. Giving up alcohol is not necessary, but doing so will remove one of the most common roadblocks to successful weight loss.