What you need to know about alcohol and weight gain

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is research based and some of the views and findings do not conform with the CSN Diet.

Does alcohol make you fat? 


We all know that alcohol has calories – but how much of that actually causes weight gain? When you’re drinking, there are a number of things that could be affecting your weight without you even knowing it. If you want to know how to drink and manage your weight, read below. 


How alcohol causes weight gain

alcohol make you fat

According to a study titled Alcohol Consumption and Body Weight (2011), alcohol does contribute to weight gain due to the high-calorie count in most drinks and the sugars in cocktails. However, it’s not only the calories in alcohol that can contribute to weight gain.


There are three factors that need to be taken into account. Firstly, alcohol stimulates your metabolism and increases the urge to eat impulsively. Normally when people take part in drinking, it’s during activities with friends and family.


Whether it’s at a club, a birthday or at a sporting event, these activities are often accompanied by unhealthy meals along with drinks like cocktails and beers. Alcohol also develops a desire to eat foods which are high in fat and salt, meaning that you may find yourself reaching for snacks more often. 


Secondly, alcohol affects your body’s ability to burn off fat. When you drink alcohol your liver converts it into acetate which is released into the bloodstream. As the levels of acetate rise in the body, it will begin to burn more acetate and less body fat. 


Below is a short video by registered dietician and director of Nutrition, Outpatient, Kacy Grossman, on how your body metabolises acetate: https://youtu.be/LFmRUb6fP4I


Thirdly, alcohol is a toxin, meaning that your body wants to get it out of your system as soon as possible. As mentioned in Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on appetite and food intake (2003), this often happens at the expense of other nutrients which are stored in the body. 


Then when it is oxidized the signals that would indicate that you are satiated or full from eating food go undetected – which is what can cause you to overeat. These types of meals combined with your body’s reaction to alcohol can, therefore, result in weight gain over time. 


How many calories are there in alcoholic drinks?


If you want to know exactly how many calories there are in your favourite drink, The National Institute of Health created a calorie calculator. Below is a list of some more popular drinks.  


Gin, Rum, Vodka, Whiskey and Tequila: 97 calories 

Red Wine: 125 calories 

White Wine: 121 calories

Cosmopolitan: 146

Regular Beer: 153 calories

Liqueurs: 165

Margarita: 168

Piña Colada: 490 calories


You can drink alcohol and still lose weight


From the calorie list above, it is clear that cocktails have the most calories while distilled drinks such as gin, rum and vodka have the least amount of calories. If you are trying to maintain a healthy diet, then there is some good news as you can keep losing that weight while enjoying a drink every now and then.


This is shown in A study on Alcohol Consumption, Weight Gain, and Risk of Becoming Overweight in Middle-aged and Older Women (2010). It found that when compared to non-drinkers “…women who consumed a light to moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight…”


This was because when women in the study drank alcohol, they made a conscious effort to lower their energy consumption from other sources – such as from carbohydrates in food. This suggests that if you watch what you eat and choose the right types of drinks, you can still manage to lose weight. 


Why does alcohol cause bloating?


Have you ever noticed that you feel bloated after a night of drinking? This is because alcohol is an inflammatory substance, which causes inflammation in the lining of the gut. This is according to Robbie Clarke, an accredited dietitian and co-founder of the online platform The Health Clinic, who was interviewed in The Huffington Post Australia. 


When the gut is inflamed, the toxins that come from the alcohol are able to cross into the bloodstream. This causes your gut to be irritated which results in symptoms of bloating. This can be made worse by drinks which contain gluten, such as beer, which also contribute to bloating. 


Clarke says that to cut back on these symptoms, you should rather enjoy distilled drinks such as vodka, tequila and whiskey on the rocks. He also suggests staying away from carbonated mixes that are often paired with drinks. 


How alcohol can be good for weight loss


It may seem far-fetched, but there is an alcoholic drink that has certain properties that can help you to lose weight. According to Chris Lockwood, a Dietary Supplement Expert & Sports Nutritionist, as interviewed in Shape, the drink that you should be looking to in regard to this is red wine.  


Red wine, like most alcohol, increases blood flow resulting in more oxygen being transported through your body, which is needed for burning fat. It also increases the levels of hormones, free testosterone and adiponectin, in the body which helps to burn fat and decrease estrogen, which retains fat. 


It should be noted that these effects only apply when you drink moderately, meaning that having more than one glass per day could have the opposite effect. Lockwood states that drinking heavily actually causes your body to store more calories as it tries to adjust to the stress from alcohol’s inflammatory effects.    


While there are certain benefits that come with having one glass of red wine a day, this doesn’t mean it’s a full-proof way to lose weight. Firstly, it affects your sleeping patterns, causing you to wake up more frequently throughout the night.


This cuts back on the amount of fat that would’ve been burnt during sleep and causes you to wake up hungrier. Secondly, if you are eating a healthy amount of fruits and vegetables they are already providing you with the antioxidants that would come from the red wine.


If you are having a glass of red wine a night and are on a healthy diet, then red wine won’t have as much of a negative or positive effect on your body. 


How alcohol can be used for weight gain 


Kase, Piers, Schaumberg, etc, discuss alcohol and weight loss in The relationship of alcohol use to weight loss in the context of behavioural weight loss treatment (2016). In this study they talked about how drinking alcohol increases your appetite and can lead you to eat more if you have a drink before a meal. 


In one of the above sections, we also talked about how alcohol increases impulsive eating and how it can lead you to make unhealthy eating choices. This stimulation of appetite and choices based on taste rather than on healthiness is what can help you to gain weight. 


However, one should keep in mind that heavy drinking will cause you to gain weight in a way that can cause serious health risks. This suggests that if you are looking to gain weight, this may not be the best method to adopt. 


Alcohol affects your body in a number of ways when it comes to weight gain. Whether it’s by stimulating your appetite or by producing hormones that help with burning fat, there are few benefits and many drawbacks that come with drinking alcohol. However, if you drink in moderation and watch the types of drinks that you order you will be able to manage your weight better.  




Hi, my name is Karien Nel and today I’m 37kg lighter than the day I started my weight loss journey with CSN Diet.

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