'Think of it as turning off fat burning': 5 ways drinking alcohol sabotages weight loss goals (2023)

  • Alcohol wreaks havoc on your hormones, self-control, and ability to burn fat.
  • Therefore, it can make you gain weight if you're drinking too much.
  • Some folks are more prone to weight gain than others, though.

"Beer belly" refers to that protruding stomach some men carry around. But you don't have to be male or drink beer in order to gain weight from alcohol.

To be upfront, study results are mixed on the matter: Researchers are still pinpointing exactly how alcohol can make people gain weight and who might be most at risk, says Judy Simon, a clinical dietician nutritionist and clinical instructor at the Nutrition Sciences Program at University of Washington.

Still, an estimated 42% of Americans are obese, and 60% of Americans say they drink alcohol. Now, not all Americans who drink alcohol are obese, and not all obese Americans drink.

But if you fall under either, or both, of these categories, here's some important information on how drinking alcohol can affect your body and may cause weight gain, among other side effects, — plus a few tips on how best to consume alcohol to offset the risk.

1. It changes how your body processes fat

Alcohol is a toxin. If you consume too much of it, you can develop alcohol poisoning or even die. This is important for potential weight gain because it dictates how your body reacts to alcohol.

To prevent alcohol poisoning and possible death your liver focuses all its energy on metabolizing, or breaking down, the alcohol into non-toxic components.

As a result, your body sacrifices metabolizing fat because it's too busy breaking down booze. And that isn't great for your weight.

That fat you're not burning? It gets stored as additional weight. So, if you're eating pizza or even a light salad with your cocktail, the calories from that food get stored as fat instead of burned for energy.

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"One of the things I tell my patients is every night, if you have a couple glasses of wine, just think of it as turning off fat burning," says Dr. Holly Wyatt, the Vice Chair for Clinical Programs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Nutrition Sciences.

"If you're trying to lose weight, what you really want to happen is you want fat burning to be turned on as much as possible," Wyatt says.

2. It makes you hungry

Alcohol can also affect hunger levels, which may lead you to snack more, which then causes you to consume more calories, which ultimately may cause weight gain. It's a vicious cycle, really.

While recent research on humans is limited, past studies have suggested that different hunger-related hormones, like ghrelin and leptin, might be affected by alcohol consumption.

More recently, a 2017 study performed on mice found that alcohol consumption triggered regions of the brain usually associated with starvation, causing the mice to overeat.

Despite containing a lot of energy, alcohol also doesn't have the same satiating effect as solid food.

"Your body doesn't sense liquids the same as it senses solids," says Wyatt. "You can consume a lot of calories quickly and the body might not even register them."

That can make it easy to inadvertently consume more calories than you need.

3. It makes it difficult to choose healthy options

Drinking alcohol can also lead you to make poor food choices. Alcohol is known to lower inhibitions, impairing the logical decision-making sections of your brain like the prefrontal cortex.

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While your decision making is impaired, you might be more prone to eat foods you'd normally avoid, or even to give up on your healthy diet entirely, Wyatt says.

Even once you sober up, other physical effects of alcohol can stand in the way of a healthy diet and exercise regimen.

"If somebody is getting hungover the next day, the chances of them waking up and having a healthy lifestyle [are slim]," Simon says. "You're not gonna want to get up and take a run."

4. It's already loaded with calories

Alcohol is packed with calories: It contains 7 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein and 9 calories per gram for fat.

Consequently, alcohol is considered a high-energy substance. That means, even if you skip the sugary cocktail, there are still plenty of calories in your whiskey neat.

For reference, here's how many calories are typically in beer, wine, hard liquor, and some popular cocktails:

DrinkCalories Serving size (fl. oz.)
Beer~150 calories12
Red wine~125 calories


Vodka shot~100 calories1.5
Whiskey shot~100 calories1.5
Rum shot~100 calories1.5
Mojito~140 calories6
Whiskey sour~160 calories3.5
Cosmopolitan~150 calories2.75
Pina colada~490 calories9 oz.

Cocktails are some of the worst offenders when it comes to calorie count. There are a couple of reasons for that:

1. They usually contain added sugar, which ramps up the calories.

2. They can contain up to two standard drinks worth of alcohol, doubling the calories from alcohol you'd get in a single shot.

(Video) 4 Ways To Drink Alcohol & Still Lose Weight | Weight Loss Tips

5. It messes with your hormones

Alcohol can throw a wrench into your endocrine system, too. For example, Simon says that alcohol can affect levels of reproductive hormones like testosterone and estrogen.

"Some of those can be related to weight, because everything in the endocrine system is so interrelated," she says.

Alcohol can also affect your circadian rhythm as well as your cortisol levels, says Laura Lashinger, an associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Alcohol is "kind of a stressor for your body, so it can cause your body to lose proper cortisol secretion," Lashinger says. "And cortisol is responsible for a lot of our bodily functions."

Cortisol can stimulate hunger and affect your metabolism. In other words, elevated cortisol could contribute to weight gain, especially around the belly.

You can still enjoy drinking

Have we scared you off alcohol yet? Don't worry: not everyone who drinks gains weight.

There is especially little evidence suggesting infrequent drinkers will pack on the pounds. If you'd like to continue to drink while staying slim, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Choose wisely: First and foremost, Wyatt says you should pick lower-calorie alcoholic beverages. Steer away from high-carbohydrate, high-sugar drinks, like cocktails with fruit juices, and opt instead for a distilled alcohol like vodka combined with a calorie-free mixer like flavored seltzer.

2. Drink on time: Pay attention to when you drink, Wyatt says. While there's no magical time of day you can drink and not be at risk of weight gain, you should be aware of what time of day you're most likely to snack or overeat. For example, if you already tend to overeat late at night, that might not be a good time to throw alcohol into the mix, since it can lower your inhibitions and lead you to have a bigger junk food binge than you were planning. Same goes if you're a breakfast binger — skip the bloody marys and mimosas.

3. Eat solid foods: Even though alcohol reduces your ability to burn fat, Simon says the answer isn't to drink on an empty stomach. Drinking with food can help ensure a clearer head which may help you make better, healthier decisions throughout the night, like avoiding junk food.

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4. Hydrate: Drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic drink can also help you slow down your consumption, Simon says.

Overall, Simon says, that the best protection against weight gain is "sticking to that average of four or less drinks a week for women, and less than two drinks a day for men."

Insider's takeaway

While alcohol doesn't necessarily affect everyone the same way, it can cause some people to gain weight due to its high-calorie content and the way it affects metabolism, hunger-hormones, and decision making.

If you'd like to prevent weight gain and still enjoy drinking, try choosing lower-calorie alcoholic beverages and manage how much alcohol you consume.

And if you find it hard to stop drinking, despite a strong desire to, there are helpful resources: Talk to your doctor or call the SAMHSA's Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), a free, confidential, 24/7 treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing substance use disorders.

Willa Hart

Willa Hart is a Chicago-based freelance writer who writes about healthcare, science, and women's news, among other topics.

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Does drinking alcohol stop you from burning fat? ›

In addition to contributing extra energy (calories) to your daily intake, alcohol interferes with normal metabolic pathways including 'fat burning'. This interference can lead quickly to more body fat being stored.

Is alcohol sabotaging my diet? ›

Your liver also breaks down fat. When you drink, your liver is too busy metabolizing the alcohol and dealing with the toxin to also break down fat. This will not only put a halt to fat loss, but it will also increase fat storage.

What is the effect of alcohol on weight loss goals? ›

Drinking alcohol can make it harder to lose weight. There are many reasons for this, including: Alcohol is high in calories, and so are the mixers that are popular to use in many drinks. Calories from alcohol are empty calories, as they do not help the body meet its nutritional needs.

What happens if you drink alcohol on Optavia? ›

Drinking alcohol is not recommended while on the OPTAVIA Program. Consuming alcohol increases your calorie and carbohydrate intake, which can take your body out of the fat-burning state and hinder weight loss. Alcohol is not recommended because it: Contributes extra calories of no nutritional value.

How much alcohol do you have to drink to stop burning fat? ›

The liver is how our food is broken down and metabolized so the liver basically halts the metabolism of all the food you have eaten in the recent past and spends its time getting alcohol out of your system. Having just one drink can stop all the fat burning your body would normally be doing for days!

What 3 weeks without alcohol does to your body? ›

At 3 weeks of not drinking, most drinkers have successfully reduced their risk of heart disease, including stroke, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Their kidney health and even their vision may improve. For dependent drinkers, blood pressure may reduce to normal levels by the 3rd or 4th week.

What happens to your weight when you stop drinking? ›

When you're insulin resistant, your blood sugar levels are higher and you store a lot more fat than normal. When you stop drinking, you're less insulin resistant, and therefore store less fat. At the very least, this stops weight gain. At best, this promotes weight loss.

Why am I not losing weight after quitting drinking? ›

Your healing gut may be absorbing more nutrients.

Taking a break from booze also gives your gut a chance to heal alcohol-induced damage and take in more nutrients. That may mean weight gain because your body "is finally getting nourished again," Brooks said.

What happens to body when you stop drinking? ›

Over time, your body can begin to recover from the influence of alcohol, and you can expect: A healthier heart and cardiovascular system. Decreased risk of cancers. Fewer illnesses due to your immune system improving.

Who should not do the Optavia diet? ›

Also, older, sedentary adults and people who exercise more than 45 minutes a day should avoid the Optimal Weight 5 & 1 Plan, according to the company, and people with serious illnesses like cancer, liver disease, kidney disease or an eating disorder shouldn't follow any plan unless their health care provider has ...

Do people on Optavia keep the weight off? ›

Optavia is a low-calorie diet that relies on pre-packaged food, tiny portions, and unqualified 'coaches'. It appears, according to the research, that many people regain the weight they lost on this program, if they don't drop out of it before that.

Is diet Coke OK on Optavia? ›

Stick to calorie-free beverages, like diet soda, unsweetened tea, coffee, sparkling water or sodium-free seltzer. Alcohol OPTAVIA does not recommend the use of alcohol for people in the weight-loss phase of the program, especially if you have diabetes.

How long does it take to start losing weight after quitting alcohol? ›

After a fortnight, you are also likely to start losing weight as a result of giving up alcohol's empty calories. If you were to stop drinking six 175ml glasses of wine per week, you would have saved 1920 calories at this point, and 2160 if you'd stopped drinking around six pints of lager.

What alcohol does to your face? ›

Alcohol causes your body and skin to lose fluid (dehydrate). Dry skin wrinkles more quickly and can look dull and grey. Alcohol's diuretic (water-loss) effect also causes you to lose vitamins and nutrients.

What happens after 1 week of no alcohol? ›

Sober for One Week: How Does it Feel? Towards the end of one week sober from alcohol, it's likely that you will see improvements to your sleep cycle, energy levels, mental clarity, anxiety levels, and overall well-being. You will also discover that without drinking, you have more time and money.

What happens to your liver if you don't drink alcohol for a week? ›

Because the liver is in a constant state of regeneration, in many cases the healing process can begin within just weeks after foregoing alcohol. This happens when the liver enlarges already existing healthy cells, and new cells begin to form in the area that has sustained damage or injury.

What happens on day 4 of no alcohol? ›

However, by day 4 without alcohol, most people will have got beyond any initial withdrawal symptoms. All the alcohol will have left your system by now, and your body will begin to bounce back. If you're not as focused on alcohol, you may be eating better, drinking water, moving more, and perhaps sleeping more deeply.

What happens to your body after 3 months of no alcohol? ›

The benefits of no alcohol for 3 months are the most significant as they now impact your major organs. The liver sustains significant damage from long-term alcohol use. When given the opportunity, this organ is also magnificent at regeneration. During this time, energy levels rise, and overall better health begins.

What happens to your body after 5 days of no alcohol? ›

Milder withdrawal symptoms include sweating, shakes, headaches, and nausea, and you might have problems eating or sleeping. You may also feel anxious, irritable or agitated. While these symptoms are bothersome and even unpleasant, you'll be able to manage most of them by yourself.

What are the first signs of liver damage from alcohol? ›

About alcohol-related liver disease
  • feeling sick.
  • weight loss.
  • loss of appetite.
  • yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • swelling in the ankles and tummy.
  • confusion or drowsiness.
  • vomiting blood or passing blood in your stools.
Feb 13, 2023

What happens to your heart when you stop drinking? ›

When a person stops drinking alcohol completely, their heart muscle has the chance to strengthen and will gradually improve over time. However, some heart diseases are chronic, which means a person will never fully recover, even if they quit drinking.

How long does it take for your liver to repair without alcohol? ›

Healing can begin as early as a few days to weeks after you stop drinking, but if the damage is severe, healing can take several months. In some cases, “if the damage to the liver has been long-term, it may not be reversible,” warns Dr. Stein.

How long do people stay on Optavia? ›

During this phone call, you'll choose an Optavia diet plan, set weight loss goals, and familiarize yourself with the program. For weight loss, most people start with the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, which is an 800–1,000-calorie regimen that the company claims can help you drop 12 pounds (5.4 kg) over 12 weeks.

What are the negative effects of Optavia? ›

Because the OPTAVIA diet is low in carbs and calories, it can result in potential health problems, including:
  • Leg cramps.
  • Dizziness or fatigue.
  • Headaches.
  • Loose skin.
  • Hair loss.
  • Rashes.
  • Gas.
  • Diarrhea.
Feb 13, 2023

Do doctors recommend Optavia diet? ›

Experts do not recommend the diet. The 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Optavia Diet number 28 in Best Diets Overall and gives it a score of 2.6/5. 1 Learn about the pros and cons of this diet to find out if it's a healthy plan for you.

How long does it take to lose 20 pounds on Optavia? ›

* Average weight loss for Clients on the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan® with support is 20 lbs. Clients are in weight loss, on average, for 12 weeks.

Do people gain weight back after stopping Optavia? ›

If I'm up a pound or two, I get back on plan for a couple of days and the weight comes right back off. I still keep plenty of Optavia's “fuelings” on hand because The Husband is on plan as well (and looks amazing).

Can you eat bacon on Optavia? ›

So yes, you CAN have bacon on Optavia and it can be AMAZING!

Is popcorn an OPTAVIA? ›

Crisps & Popcorn

In addition to Fuelings and Lean and Green meals, you can enjoy an optional snack on our plans each day! Portion controlled, guilt free, and convenient, keep these on hand for a burst of flavor, and a satisfying crunch on all of our plans.

Why am I losing so slow on OPTAVIA? ›

If you notice you haven't lost any weight within a two-week period: Make sure you're following your plan exactly, not skipping Fuelings, sticking to your Lean & Green meal guidelines, and weighing and measuring your portions carefully. Make sure you are drinking water. We recommend drinking 64 ounces of water each day.

What vegetables to avoid on OPTAVIA? ›

On the Optimal Weight 5 & 1 Plan, we eliminate the highest-carbohydrate vegetables (such as carrots, corn, peas, potatoes, onions, edamame and Brussels sprouts) to enhance your results. Once you've achieved your healthy weight, we encourage you to include ALL vegetables for long-term health.

How long does alcohol water retention last? ›

Swelling after a night of drinking is usually temporary and may be gone within 24 to 48 hours. However, there are some things you can do to relieve swelling and any discomfort it's causing by getting rid of water retention after drinking alcohol.

Will 2 beers a night make me fat? ›

Over the long term, drinking beer regularly but moderately in portions of less than 17 oz (500 ml) per day doesn't seem to lead to an increase in body weight or belly fat ( 7 , 8 ). Nevertheless, drinking more than that could very well lead to significant weight gain over time.

Does alcohol stop muscle growth? ›

Analysis of alcohol and muscle recovery revealed that alcohol consumption can cause significant setbacks in gaining muscle and accomplishing fitness goals. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption reduces muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which reduces the possibility of gaining muscle.

How long does it take for puffy face from alcohol to go away? ›

The time it takes for your bloating to subside depends on many factors. But in general, bloating caused by drinking shouldn't last more than a few days. If your bloating persists for weeks or months, it may be a sign of a more severe condition. Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of many conditions.

Why does water help after alcohol? ›

Drink Lots of Water to Replenish Lost Fluids

“It does this by suppressing certain hormones that help the body hold on to fluid, and therefore you are losing fluids by urinating.” The Cleveland Clinic notes you can lose up to a quart of urine in the hours after you've had four alcoholic drinks.

What happens to your stomach when you quit drinking? ›

Nausea and Abdominal Pain

The most common symptom of alcohol withdrawal is gastrointestinal distress. This is typically the first symptom to appear, and it can also be the last to leave. As few as eight hours after the last drink of alcohol, patients might experience nausea as well as abdominal pain and cramping.

What happens when you drink alcohol everyday? ›

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

How long does it take to get rid of alcohol belly? ›

It can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for the appearance of bloating to reduce, depending on the cause and severity. In this article, we describe how alcohol can cause a bloated appearance in the stomach.

Which alcohol is best for testosterone? ›

While the answer is true – red wine has been proven in studies to help you excrete more testosterone – it does come with a caveat, which we'll explain later in this post.

Does alcohol stop fat burning for 36 hours? ›

Your body treats alcohol like a poison. It shuts down all your other metabolic pathways to focus on metabolizing the alcohol. Alcohol will shut down fat burning for 12 to 36 hours depending on the dose and the individual. That is why we like patients to only drink the day before and the day of their cheat day.

Does alcohol lower testosterone? ›

Studies found that heavy alcohol consumption results in reduced testosterone levels in the blood. Alcohol also impairs the function of the testicular Sertoli cells that play an important role in sperm maturation.


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