How Alcohol Impacts Your Weight Loss Progress

If fat loss is the finish line, alcohol may be your ball and chain. Those bubbly brews, mixed margaritas, and sweet sangrias are slowing you down. 

Here’s why you should think twice before taking another sip, and what you should drink instead.

Alcohol Hijacks Your Metabolism

We’re all trying to keep our metabolisms revved. Who wouldn’t want to burn an extra hundred calories while sitting on the couch tonight? If that sounds appealing to you, skip the cocktail. 

Let’s say that you did pour yourself a drink after dinner. Before the alcohol, your liver was working to break down (or metabolize) the fats you eat. When alcohol is introduced into the system, it interferes with fat burning because once it reaches your liver, it forces its way to the front of the line.

 Your liver makes it a priority to break down alcohol first. Therefore, fat metabolism comes to a screeching halt while your body uses alcohol for energy. 

When alcohol cuts in line, it’s called “fat sparing,” and it’s bad news for those of us trying to lose weight. Your liver won’t bounce back either. Alcohol can hijack your metabolism for up to 6 hours after your last drink!

Alcohol Adds Unnecessary Calories

A single shot of alcohol may not seem like a huge deal. But most of us don’t stop at just one drink. Alcohol rings in at about 100 calories a serving, so consuming just 3 drinks adds 300-400 calories to your intake for the day. That’s not including all the extra sugary mixes and additions that come in your cocktail. 

Alcohol is made up of what we call “empty calories.” It offers no nutritional benefit to our body, so it only takes up space in our calorie limit and eventually our waistlines.

Alcohol Lowers Inhibition

You’ve heard it from your mom—drinking doesn’t lead to good decisions. Scientifically speaking, she was dead on.

The alcohol in your bloodstream affects the functioning of your brain. Alcohol inhibits the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain primarily responsible for rational and logical thinking, as well as impulse control. 

Alcohol also affects the levels of the neurotransmitters GABA, dopamine, and adrenaline in the nervous system. These changes further impact your judgment. 

Years later, we should still remember our mama’s wise advice. Drinking leads to bad choices, even in the pantry.

Alcohol Hurts Your Hormonal Balance

Raise your glass if you’ve ever popped open a bottle of wine and poured yourself a glass to “take the edge off” after a stressful day. 

While in the short term having a drink might seem like it’s relieving stress, drinking can make your stress worse by stimulating two stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol. 

Alcohol adds extra, unwanted stress on both your brain and body. Over time, drinking changes the chemical makeup of your brain as well as how your brain manages and provides stress hormones like cortisol. This shift can exacerbate stress and anxiety levels even more.

Alcohol Increases Your Cravings for Carbs

The pizza-beer combo isn’t just a college tradition. It’s a physiological food pairing. Alcohol stimulates our brains in such a way that it makes us crave junk food. Here’s what happens: 

When you drink alcohol, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called galanin. Galanin increases appetite, not for apples and spinach, but for high-carb, high-fat foods. 

To make matters worse, junk food has high sodium content. This can leave the body feeling dehydrated and thirsty for another cold beer.

Alcohol Sabotages Your Sleep

Alcohol is a sedative, so you might think it can help you sleep. While a nightcap might get you drowsy before bed, alcohol actually disrupts the quantity and quality of your sleep. By now, we know that bad sleep and weight loss don’t pair well together. 

Alcohol can decrease the amount of time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This stage of sleep is critical for restorative functions such as memory consolidation and learning.

Alcohol can also disrupt how long you sleep. Frequent wake up’s, trips to the bathroom, vivid dreams, and nightmares will steal your slumber. Alcohol can also cause breathing problems, such as snoring and sleep apnea, which can further disrupt sleep.

How to Drink Responsibly

Thankfully, there’s a healthy balance you can achieve with alcohol. Wine, for example, brings many health benefits, but there’s a catch. Beverages like wine switch from beneficial to harmful when we drink the wrong way. Here’s how to have a healthy imbibe: 

  1. Keep track of calories: The number of calories in different drinks varies dramatically. A gin and tonic contain 140 calories while a Long Island iced tea contains 240 calories or more. 
  2. Limit your servings: If you are serious about improving your health and fat loss then I suggest limiting alcohol to no more than 1-2 times a week.
  3. Don’t drink before bed: People who drink before bed typically experience insomnia symptoms and feel much sleepier the following day. Try to stop drinking four hours before bed to prevent any sleep-disrupting symptoms.
  4. Drink during a meal: Alcohol can switch our brains into starvation mode, increasing our hunger and appetite. Avoid drinking before you eat, and instead, sit down with a healthy plate of satiating food.

Sip This on Saturday

Limiting alcohol to two servings a week will help you reach your health goals faster. That said, you don’t have to cut alcohol completely to lose weight. On the days you’d like to drink, sip on my 10 favorite low-calorie drinks, or try these healthier options.

  • Dry red wines: Red wine is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. This ancient drink can regulate your blood sugar, aid in your digestion, prevent blood clots, and may even fight against cancer. Just keep your serving to 6 ounces. 
  • Homemade red sangria with fresh fruit: You can get all the benefits of red wine and stretch your portion by making a fresh sangria. Add a splash of orange juice and fruits high in electrolytes, like watermelon, pomegranate, and strawberries to create a balanced, refreshing drink.
  • Tequila with lime on rocks: A shot of tequila will only cost you 97 calories. With the addition of Spindrift Lime Sparkling Water, fresh lime juice, and ice, you can enjoy a summer drink without breaking the calorie bank. 
  • A skinny mojito: Mojitos mean summer to me, so having a clean recipe helps me get my fix without sacrificing my health goals. I like to add a splash of coconut water to this recipe to pack in more electrolytes and boost the tropical flavor. 


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