Hey, we’re going out for a drink after work! Do you want to come?”
Sigh…when you’re on a strict diet, trying to lose weight, THIS invitation is so hard to turn down. Not because you can’t NOT drink. But you know that you would LOVE to have a glass of wine with your team (or your friends). After all, it’s a great way to socialize, get to know each other, maybe break some ice with the new people…Right?
Waaaay back in 2008 when I was following a VERY strict diet to lose weight, I had to say “no” to these invitations so often. And I ended up being “that person” who no one even asked out anymore!
Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t NEED to drink. But I knew that I’d totally lose the battle with my will power if everyone else was enjoying a cold one.
So, I lived in isolation for over 6 months, avoiding any social situation that involved alcohol. Honestly, I avoided dinners out or any place where I couldn’t control all my food. But that’s an entirely other problem!
When it comes to weight loss or even weight management, we know that too much alcohol can be an issue. And, yes, there are tons of great reasons to give up (or reduce) alcohol. Besides your waistline, too much alcohol can interfere with hormones and normal detoxification too. And, it has been tied to inflammation and some mental health concerns.
But, if having a glass of wine (or whatever your drink of choice is) is a cherished pastime, a way for catching up with old friends, or just a part of you weekly team-building activities, it may not be feasible to completely give it up.
But can you still enjoy a drink or two without worrying about your health (too much)??
Alcohol and Your Metabolism
Heard of the term “beer belly”? Well, there is evidence that this a pretty truthful description! Certain types of alcohol, and in certain quantities, can definitely lead to a slower metabolism.
However, good news! According to a review done in 2015, women’s weight was not affected by alcohol, and in some cases it went down!
The distinction? Women who have up to 1 drink per day showed no signs of alcohol affecting their metabolism. But binge drinking? That was linked to a definite increased risk of obesity.
Your Metabolism and Alcohol
When alcohol is consumed it is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and intestines. Then two main enzymes in the liver begin to metabolize it.
Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) go to work, breaking apart the alcohol molecule so that it can eventually be eliminated from the body, as it cannot be stored.
Because of this, alcohol detoxification becomes a priority for your metabolism.
In other words, it moves to the front of the metabolic line when it’s consumed, even if you’ve consumed food (that contain nutrients like fats, proteins and other carbs) along with it. In turn, that slows the breakdown of fats (lipolysis), and the digestion of any other nutrients.
The good news is that postponing those digestive processes doesn’t necessarily equal imminent weight gain. It’s just that the biochemical pathways don’t work as efficiently with alcohol on board.
Alcohol Detoxification and Estrogen
One thing to remember is that females metabolize alcohol much slower than men. Alcohol detoxification uses up important antioxidants and vitamins, potentially leaving you with a deficiency (especially if you’re stressed).
Women with estrogen dominance (i.e. PMS, breast fibroids, stubborn belly fat, heavy periods, hot flashes) will struggle with hormonal imbalances if they consume too much alcohol too. This is because alcohol consumption increases your estrogen levels because the same metabolic pathways are used for detoxification of both…and alcohol takes precedence!
Rate of Alcohol Metabolism
If you’re like me, you may notice you get tipsy faster than the men in your group, right? This is because of how alcohol affects us. Our bodies can only metabolize a certain amount of alcohol each hour, and how much your body can metabolize depends on a few different factors:
- Gender – women tend to have a lowered tolerance for alcohol or absorb alcohol faster due to the fact that they have less of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)
- Drugs – recreational and some prescription
- Alcoholism – family or personal history/genetics
- Consumption of food & drink
- Food consumed at time of or around time of alcohol consumption
- Type of drink consumed and congeners or “irritant properties” in it, e.g. low-quality alcohol has a high percentage of congeners that increase absorption of alcohol and chances of getting a hangover
- Concentration of alcohol consumed
- Rate of consumption
How Does Alcohol Affect Weight?
It’s not actually that 1 or 2 glasses of wine each week that leads to alcohol-related weight gain.
It’s actually more to do with the sugary substances and mixers added to some drinks. And the fact that we “let go” a bit after drinking and tend to eat the fattier, unhealthier foods out there! Raise your hand if you’ve ever hit the McDonald’s drive-thru after a night out??? Yeah, me too!
If you do want to enjoy your favorite alcoholic beverage once in a while, though, there are some tips to help maintain your weight while you have fun!
- Be sure to get in a good workout the day you plan to indulge.
- Don’t skip meals in an attempt to “save up” those calories for drinking – and the extra eating that usually goes along with the drinking.
- Determine how much you already consume – is it 2 glasses of wine per night? Start by cutting it down to one, then only have one every other day. And whatever you do, don’t stockpile your drinks all week and have a big binge day on the weekend!
- Drink no more than ONE glass per hour.
- Have a full glass of water (or two) in between each drink.
- Swap out sugary mixers, syrups, sweet wines, heavy beer, and pre-bottled hard alcohol drinks for lower calorie options.
Your Best Choices
If your goal is weight loss, the best drink to enjoy will be a lower calorie, lower sugar, and lower carb one that will have a more minimal impact on your overall daily nutrition – and your bottom line!
- 5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor: 97 calories
- 5-ounce glass of white wine: 100-121 calories
- 12-ounce bottle of light beer: 55-103 calories (big range)
- 5-ounce glass of red wine: 105-125 calories
- 12-ounce bottle of regular beer: 153-320 calories (very big range!)
For wine lovers: the best wine for weight loss is dry wine like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Merlot or a very dry sparkling white wine. Sweet wines (like Port or Ice wine) have significantly higher calorie and sugar or carb counts.
Check out the sugar content in pretty much any wine you can buy – check out the Liquor Connect website to find your wine or drink of choice, and choose those with 5 g/L of sugar or less.
You can see just by shaving off a couple of drinks per week how the reduction in calories (and alcohol + sugar) could really add up… in the right direction!
Indulging in a few alcoholic drinks when you’re out with friends can help you appreciate the occasion more than when you’re just mindlessly drinking wine on the couch on a Tuesday night! (Not pointing any fingers!)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Metabolism – An Update
Clinical Liver Disease Journal (Nov 2013): Alcohol Metabolism
Health Psychology Journal (May 2016): Alcohol’s acute effect on food intake is mediated by inhibitory control impairments
NYTimes.com (March 2017): Do We Need To Give Up Alcohol To Lose Weight? Not Necessarily.
Nutrition Action (December 2017): Which Alcohol Packs the Most and Least Calories
Healthline: How Does Alcohol Affect Weight Loss?
Scientific American: Enzyme Lack Lowers Women’s Tolerance for Alcohol
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