Can You Drink Alcohol and Still Lose Weight?

I often get asked by my clients  “Can I fit alcohol into my weight loss plan?” My answer would be yes – as long as you are accounting for your calories from alcohol and are drinking in moderation. So for example, let’s say that your weight loss calorie goal is 1300 and you choose to drink a 5 oz glass of wine a night for 100 calories. This would mean that you had 1200 calories left from food. You should be able to lose weight as long as you stick to your total calorie goal.

Here is a real life example of how you can fit alcohol into your weight loss eating plan and still lose weight. Esther, from “Esther’s Weight Loss Journey” is a NY city girl who lost 20 pounds by following a 1500 calorie diet. She had an active social life and incorporated alcohol into her eating plan several times week.  (See pic of Esther, second from the right) But she also was quite careful with what she ate and exercised at least 4 days a week.

But what if you are drinking alcohol in moderation and are not losing weight? I have come across some people who have a very difficult time losing weight, despite being diligent with their caloric intake and exercise regimen. Here is an example:

Comment from CGB reader Liz (in response to my previous post on dieting and drinking):
“I have been counting calories and working out regularly for about 6 months
If I drink, I have been keeping track of the additional calories so I never went over my calorie goals. The weight has been really difficult to drop. Like almost won’t come off difficult. I looked in my food diary one day and noticed I have been having a drink or two almost everynight. It frightened me not only because it is something I never payed attention to but also the fact that it became so routine, I never even recognized the cycle. I have stopped drinking and in a matter of a week, my clothes feel looser, I feel better and skinnier. My stomach started shrinking. I read some people have a trigger to alcohol that actually does make them retain or gain weight. It effects insulin and other chemicals in the body. My advise is just don’t drink it. You will notice an immediate difference within the first week.”

What does the research say? As with many areas of nutrition, the research in this area is controversial. Some studies demonstrate a link between alcohol and weight gain, especially when alcohol is combined with a high calorie meal. This is likely due to the fact that alcohol acts as an appetite stimulant.

But not all studies support this link. Some clinical research indicates that replacing dietary carbohydrates with alcohol causes body weight loss, and adding a moderate amount of alcohol to an adequate diet causes little weight gain, according to Richard Mattes, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor at Purdue University.

So as we can see from the above studies, alcohol does not affect everyone in the same way. In my experience, I find that some of my clients experience more difficulty losing weight if they are consuming alcohol (or at least more than a few drinks a week).

My advice: If you are diligent with watching what you eat and are exercising on a regular basis and are still not losing weight, you will need to evaluate if alcohol is having a negative impact on your weight. Consider…

  • How many calories are you consuming from alcohol? From my experience, many of us underestimate the amount of calories we consume from alcohol. We assume a glass of wine is ~ 100  calories (5 oz). But what if it is an 8 oz glass of wine? And what about your martini? Sure, a martini with 1 1/2 oz of vodka or gin may have 120 calories. But who has a martini this size? Most restaurants pour at least 3 – 4  oz. (Pic is of citygirls enjoying martinis)
    Check out my previous post on calories in alcohol.
  • Does alcohol decrease your willpower to watch what you eat or increase your hunger at the meal when you are drinking?
  • Does alcohol increase your hunger later on in the evening after you have had a few drinks? (dialing for Chinese food at 1 am, stopping in at the diner after a night out with the girls or late night snacking?)
  • Do you have increased cravings the day after drinking or decreased energy levels for your workout?

If you are still having trouble losing weight despite being careful with your food intake, I would recommend that you experiment and avoid alcohol totally for 2-4 weeks like Liz did.  If you see your weight drop by a pound or two on the scale, you will know that alcohol is having an effect on your weight!

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I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.

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