Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Can I drink alcohol if I am trying to lose weight?

This is a question I get all the time from new clients.  The answer is yes you can, but in moderation. Alcohol has been associated with weight gain in the research literature. Scientists from Harvard combined subjects from 3 separate cohorts into a giant study on individual foods and weight gain (1). Over 120,000 men and women were followed for up to 20 years. Increases in alcohol, even just one drink a day, were significantly and consistently associated with modest weight gain. There are several reasons why this may be true:

-Alcohol is calorie dense, it contains 7 calories per gram. A typical beer has 150 calories, a glass of wine has 85 calories and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor generally has 100 calories. Have 2 or 3 of these a day and trust me, the calories begin to add up.

- Liquid calories generally don’t register with the body. In other words, if you eat a solid food snack in the late afternoon, you would compensate by eating a little less at dinner. The body does not seem to recognize liquid calories in the same way. So, if you have a drink or two before dinner, you don’t eat any less food. In this way, alcohol calories are simply added on rather than substituted.

               - Alcohol can’t be stored in the body, so it becomes a priority for oxidation. Because of this fact, alcohol consumption suppresses fat oxidation. Therefore, you are burning less of your body fat when you drink.

               - In my experience and that of my clients, when you have a few drinks and start to get a bit of a buzz, your discipline goes out the window. After 3 or 4 drinks, the dessert menu becomes harder to resist and the late night fast food/diner stop seems to become all but inevitable!

You don’t necessarily have to give up alcohol here. If you have a few drinks a week, say four or less, you’ll be fine. If you’re drinking every day, this can really slow your rate of weight loss. A good strategy that several of my successful clients have used is to drink only on the weekends and avoid alcohol completely during the week.

1) Mozaffarian D, et al. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. New England Journal of Medicine 2011; 364:2392-404.

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