It’s no lie that alcohol and weight loss goals generally don’t mix, and if we’re being honest, there really are many reasons to reduce or even give up alcohol from our diets and social habits.
On the other hand, having a glass of wine, or whatever your drink of choice may be, is also a cherished pastime, a conduit for connecting with friends and is infused into most of our social gatherings.
How alcohol influences metabolism
But, word on the street is that alcohol messes with your metabolism – big time! There’s a reason why they call is a “beer belly”. While that’s true to some extent, according to some studies, we shouldn’t freak out about it just yet.
Here’s how the metabolic process basically goes when you’ve had a drink:
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 in breaking apart the alcohol molecule so that it can eventually be eliminated from the body, as it cannot be stored.
Because of this, it 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.
Factors affecting the rate of alcohol metabolism – and how tipsy you get!
But, the fact is that no matter how much alcohol a person consumes, the body can only metabolize a certain amount of alcohol every hour.
There are certain factors that can determine what an individual’s absorption rate is – and how quickly they’re going to feel the effects.
According to the Clinical Liver Disease Journal:
- Gender – women tend to have a lowered tolerance for alcohol/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
Is it actually possible to lose weight while including wine/alcohol in my diet?
So while it’s somewhat of a relief that alcohol itself isn’t the entire problem, it’s the high calorie count, especially when combined with sugary mixers and a tendency to overeat when imbibing that usually keeps us in the resistant weight loss zone.
But, there is hope as it IS possible to get ahead in your weight-loss goals, even if you choose not to give up your wine!
Here are a few tips for making it happen… and you’ve heard it a million times, but MODERATION really is key when it comes to alcohol consumption.
Six (6) diet tips when you plan to consume wine/alcohol
- 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.
The best alcohols to drink when you’re trying to lose weight
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.
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!)
Alcoholic drinks are often referred to as “empty” calories, meaning that they provide you with calories (sometimes overflowing with them!), but very little nutrients. That’s why we came up with a cocktail that’s actually got a little something more under the hood!
Ginger BuchKa Cocktail
3 oz ginger flavored kombucha (look for low sugar variety)
1½ oz vodka (or other clear hard liquor OR see mocktail substitutions)
Juice of ½ lime
Stevia for sweetness
Pinch of Himalayan pink salt
Combine vodka, lime juice, and stevia in an ice-filled highball (tall) glass.
Top with kombucha and garnish with a lime wedge or squeeze it into drink.
For a “mocktail”, omit vodka and add additional 1½ oz kombucha or seltzer water in its place OR for a really lip-puckering substitution, add in ½ oz unpasteurized apple cider vinegar + 1 oz kombucha or seltzer water.
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