Alcohol And Weight Effects: Weight Loss And Gain

Last Updated: April 9, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

There have been numerous debates on the connection between alcohol and weight loss.  Counter perspectives have also deliberated the possibilities of alcohol and weight gain. The reasons for both viewpoints are extensive and often a bit of gender bias as many claim that alcohol weight gain may be more prominent in males than females.

Ethanol is recognized to play an essential role in the management of body weight. There have been questions if alcohol makes one gain weight. Does alcohol make one fat? In many cases, some have even experienced weight loss after quitting alcohol.

What then is the true story behind alcohol and weight? Does drinking alcohol make one gain weight?

What Alcohol Does To The Body

The alcohol weight loss or weight gain probabilities are dependent on various factors such as: what type of ethanol one drinks, how much ethanol one consumes, how often a person drinks, the uniqueness of the consumer’s body type, and the person’s lifestyle in general. The impact of alcohol by weight can be better analyzed by understanding what ethanol does to the body.

Ethanol consumption also affects one’s food choices and nutrition, as it is known to increase appetite. Either way, there are many side effects of alcohol, especially if one consumes five drinks or more per day for males and four drinks per day for females. Illnesses such as diabetes from alcohol use are also a significant risk.

Alcohol And Weight Gain

There has been a lot of conflicting data on the alcohol weight chart and the variations as it relates to each individual. However, not every drinker can attest to an increase in body mass. The question of whether alcohol causes weight gain can better be answered with a deeper understanding of the metabolism of ethanol.

Heavy drinkers are at risk of an abrupt increase in their Body Mass Index (BMI). Ethanol is an appetite stimulant that will cause a person to eat more and recklessly. Drinking can also affect one’s mood which also changes eating habits. Alcohol affects depression by enhancing its properties. The inhibition of fat break digestion by ethanol inevitably leads to the storing of fatty tissues and a corresponding weight gain.

Does alcohol affect belly fat?

The “beer gut” is a common term used to describe people who have added immense stomach weight due to excess drinking. It is considered as one of the physical effects of alcohol abuse. Alcohol and belly fat are closely related as the body extracts all the calories and simple sugars in the drink and stores them in the abdominal area by choice.

man with belly fat drinking beer

Can alcohol cause cellulite?

The lumpy or dimpled top layer of the skin, mostly experienced by adolescent and adult women, is commonly known as cellulite. It has been contemplated that alcohol may contribute to cellulite.

This is done by increasing fluid retention and fat deposits in certain areas in the body, such as the thighs, arms, and others.

How many calories are in alcoholic drinks?

Reports have shown that an evening out with friends can lead to significant calorie intake. Alcoholic beverages contain empty calories that simply add to the bodyweight but without any nutrients. The effect is a substantial increase in mass. The table below shows different alcoholic beverages and the amount of calories they contain.

Calorie count for different alcoholic beverages
Light beer 12 oz (355 ml) 103
Regular beer 12 oz (355 ml) 153
Distilled ethanol
Gin (80 Proof) 1.5 oz (45 ml) 97
Rum (80 proof) 1.5 oz (45 ml) 197
Vodka (80 proof) 1.5 oz (45 ml) 97
Whiskey (80 proof) 1.5 oz (45 ml) 97
Coffee Liqueur 1.5 oz (45 ml) 160
Coffee liqueur with cream 1.5 oz (45 ml) 154
Mixed drinks
Bloody Mary 4.6 oz (136 ml) 120
Margarita 4 oz (120 ml) 168
Mimosa 4 oz (120 ml) 75
Mojito 6 oz (177 ml) 143
Tequila sunrise 6.8 oz (200 ml) 232
White Russian 8 oz (235 ml) 568
White table wine 5 oz (145 ml) 128
Muscat 5 oz (145 ml) 129
Chardonnay 5 oz (145 ml) 128
Sauvignon Blanc 5 oz (145 ml) 128
Dry dessert wine 3.5 oz (90ml) 157
Red table wine 5 oz (145 ml) 125
Red dessert wine 3.5 oz (90ml) 165
Claret 5 oz (145 ml) 122

Alcohol as a primary source of fuel

The complication with drinking is that is can be difficult for one to burn fat while drinking ethanol. When one consumes ethanol, the drink automatically becomes the immediate source of fuel for the body. The breakdown of ethanol is a reaction that is prioritized over other metabolic reactions, making it a primary source of fuel, until it has been metabolized to acetate.

Effect on organs and metabolism

The liver is one of the organs that play a significant role in the metabolism of fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Excessive intake of ethanol can lead to fatty liverThis leads to the damage of the liver and the inability to metabolize and store fats and carbohydrates.

Effect on appetite

Reports have shown that ethanol can affect appetite positively. Drinking may stimulate appetite for food, which leads to fat gain.

woman eating burger with appetite

Effect on hormones

Drinking is known to affect hormone levels in both males and females. Alcohol impairs the function of glands that produce hormones. Testosterone is a hormone predominantly found in males.

Effect on sleep

Drinking can cause irregular sleep cycles by disrupting the production of melatonin in the body. Research confirms that ethanol could be a culprit to lack of sleep or the inability to fall asleep. It may be wise to avoid alcohol while preparing for a good night’s rest. Good sleep helps to regulate the body system as well as weight. The lack of sleep will cause certain irregularities in the weight of the person.

Effect on nutrition

Ethanol has a toxic effect that erodes the walls of the guts, causing ulcerations. This inevitably leads to poor absorption of food nutrients and the inability to digest food properly in the gastrointestinal tract. Ethanol intake goes as far as inhibiting the absorption of essential nutrients in food, such as thiamin, folic acid, zinc, and others.

Ethanol-Induced Weight Loss

In spite of the reasons why alcohol makes one fat, there is also another side to the story. Yes, one can also lose weight drinking alcohol. Some people believe that drinking moderately helps to train the body’s metabolism, this helps to improve digestion sufficiently, and those who are working on losing weight can lose some pounds. However, the risks definitely outweigh the possible benefits. It is always better to abstain or drink in moderation.

There is also the risky business of carelessly drinking alcohol and losing weight, which is a significant problem as binge drinking can trigger the increase in stomach acidity. This condition can be life-threatening.

Effect on organs

The downside is that alcohol mostly hurts organs. Excessive ethanol intake puts pressure on the liver, and in extreme cases, drinking can lead to liver Cirrhosis, which damages the liver and can lead to death. The liver filters toxins and also plays a role in metabolism. Excess ethanol can impair the function of the liver. Substances can no longer be broken down as usual, which may lead to irregularities in the weight of the individual.

man with a liver disease

Decreased nutrient intake

Ethanol can hinder the efficiency of one’s metabolic system. When one eats, the food is digested in the stomach; the liver produces digestive secretions to break down the food into micro and macronutrients. These nutrients are absorbed into the system to boost energy and vitality. Drinking can obstruct the breakdown of fat, protein, and carbohydrate, causing irregularities in weight management.

How to Manage Weight And Drink

Drinking isn’t the only way that one may gain or lose weight, depending on the system of the individual. There are many ways to stay healthy even after consuming moderate amounts of ethanol, however, it is essential to note that ethanol intake can take a toll on health and wellbeing if taken inappropriately. The best way to avoid alcohol belly fat is to abstain or drink in moderation. Avoid soda-ethanol and drinks that are high in sugar or calories.

In case a person cannot control the amount of alcohol consumed, it is best to ask for help. Alcoholism is the addiction that can be treated. There are specialized rehab centers that help alcohol addiction with co-occurring eating disorders.

Page Sources

  1. Calorie count - Alcoholic beverages. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  2. Caton SJ, Ball M, Ahern A, Hetherington MM. Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on appetite and food intake. Physiol Behav. 2004 Mar;81(1):51-8.
  3. Timothy Roehrs, Thomas Roth. Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  4. Nielsen SJ, Kit BK, Fakhouri T, Ogden CL. Calories consumed from alcoholic beverages by U.S. adults, 2007-2010. NCHS Data Brief. 2012;(110):1-8. PMID: 23384768

Published on: December 10th, 2019

Updated on: April 9th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


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