Is Alcohol Making Me Fat? The Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Weight Gain

Anyone who knows me well knows I LOVE red wine. Specifically, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. So aside from the one time only "dry January" this past year, and the obvious abstinence from alcohol in my future pregnancy, you'll in all likelihood catch me with a glass of red on a Friday night. With that said, I am a huge health nut. I exercise 6 days a week, I sleep 8 hours a night, I eat well (mostly), and I am all around health conscious about the state of my body. So even though I love my red wine, I try not to drink throughout the week, and only have alcohol on the weekends in moderate amounts.

I started cutting my alcohol consumption down at the end of last summer to only a couple days a week, for the reason being I noticed I had gained a few extra pounds. I was drinking a couple Nude Soda's basically every day and considered the reason for my recent weight gain (albeit minor) could potentially be from the excess calories I was consuming from my alcoholic beverages, despite them being only 100 calories. Lo and behold, once I cut down my alcohol consumption to Friday and Saturday, I dropped those couple pounds and went back to the weight I normally sit at. More importantly, I'm sure the inner workings of my body were thankful for the decrease in alcohol consumption, too.

The relationship between alcohol consumption and weight loss is complicated so I would like to break it down for you in simplistic terms and offer you suggestions on how to manage the relationship better, in a way that doesn't require you to cut out alcohol completely.

The question: do I have to cut out alcohol to lose weight?

The simple answer: No.

BUT... If you cut down your intake, or cut it out completely, it will probably help.

From a metabolic perspective, alcohol and your body have a complicated relationship, and scientists have put a lot of time over many years into understanding that relationship. Numerous studies, both observational and controlled, have shown that people who consume light to moderate amounts of alcohol do not usually gain weight. You might be thinking, what is "moderate" amounts anyway? Moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men.

Alcohol has a unique effect on your body. For one, it cant store alcohol like other products you consume, and secondly it has 7 calories for every gram it delivers. This means alcohol has less calories per gram than fat, but more calories per gram that carbs and protein! So because your body cannot store the alcohol, it rapidly runs it through your system instead.

Additionally, a high percentage of calories from alcohol get burned up by your metabolism through a process called the thermic effect of food (TEF). The thermic effect of alcohol is about 22.5%, which puts it on par with protein (which has a TEF of 25-30%) and well ahead of carbs (6-8%) and fat (2-3%). With that said, alcohol alone won’t necessarily make or break your weight loss goals.

So why do some people gain weight when they consume lots of alcohol then?

Your body doesn't store the calories from alcohol, but this is not to say that your fat cells get to go on their merry way without any repercussions. When your body is processing those calories from your jalapeño margaritas (message me for insight on where you can get the best spicy marg in Vancouver!), or that extra glass of wine you probably shouldn't have had, they take the place of other calories you could be burning — like the spinach dip and truffle fries you ate alongside those drinks. With alcohol calories taking its place in the metabolic line, the appetizer calories are now being held onto and adding on to that belly of yours. And even though your body doesn't store alcohol, it does store the calories mixed with the drink you chose — like the 23 grams of sugar in a mojito.

A lot of people tend to eat more when they drink, especially things they normally wouldn't have ate had they been sober. The only 12am slices of pizza I've consumed has been when drinking was involved. Hey, we've all been there. On that note, a lot of researchers, including a review published in Physiology & Behavior, claim that the alcohol itself isn't necessarily the problem with your weight gain, it's the food you consume along with it. It found that drinking before or during a meal tends to increase food intake. Remember that big bag of Cheetos you just NEEDED on the way home from the bar? Or those pop tarts in your cupboard that have been sitting there since 2018? Or the 2am chicken wing fiasco? Mhm.


1. Assess the amount of alcohol you currently consume

That "casual drinking" you do may more accurately be represented as "a couple drinks every night, plus multiple rounds on the weekend." As previously mentioned, moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. So ask yourself if you are really only "casually drinking" or going a little overboard. Any more than the recommended maximum amount has been shown to lead to weight gain and poorer health, so if your goal is weight loss, then I highly suggest you cut back the alcohol consumption.

2. Pay attention to the amount of food you eat when you drink

We all love a girls night out, and like I said, I love my red wine on a Friday night, but if your night out turns into many rounds PLUS that loaded plate of nachos, or a late night binge fest, then thats where the problem lies and how those extra calories can start to add up. Let your occasional cocktail nights with the girls be just that — a cocktail — by having dinner at home beforehand and only having the one drink, that way the caloric load of your frozen margarita wont be all that significant.

3. Balance out the other part of your day accordingly

The drinks you're consuming that night and the food you eat that comes along with it is only part of the picture. You must look at your food intake for the day as a whole. So let's say you only have 1 or two drinks a day, and you're being mindful of the food you consume when you're drinking, but the pounds keep piling up. To counteract the calories you consume by having a night out on the town, see where you could trim calories elsewhere. Could you cut out 30 to 40 grams of carbs from lunch to offset the ~130 calories that is in a glass of wine? The only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit, which means that you need to burn more calories than you consume, both in liquid and solid form.

Bottom line is you don't need to cut alcohol out of your diet or deprive yourself of any fun, you just need to be mindful of the amount you consume. This is true for weight loss goals, your health, and your bank account! You'll be pleasantly surprised how much money you save when you reduce the amount of boujee cocktails you buy every weekend! ;)

My inbox is a minute away, feel free to drop me a message, question, or inquire about my personal training sessions here in Vancouver at a local gym near you.

Chelsea Ellacott

'Commit to be Fit'