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Does Alcohol Cause Weight Gain?

beer-belly.GIFWe have all seen “beer bellies” on beer drinkers. Yet French women who drink wine on a regular basis seem to remain thin. So does alcohol contribute towards weight gain?  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. A Canadian study shows that an aperitif (an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to increase the appetite) increased calorie intake to a greater extent than a carbohydrate-based drink.  Other studies show similar effects. Researchers from Denmark’s Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University report similar results. When a group of men were given a meal and allowed to eat as much as they wanted, they ate more when the meal was served with beer or wine rather than a soft drink.

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).

Bottom line: if you are having difficulty losing weight, you will need to evaluate how alcohol affects you.

  • How many calories are you consuming from alcohol? I have many clients who eat out at least 4 nights a week and consume 2 glasses of wine at each restaurant meal. This is a significant amount of calories.
  • 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. 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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