So you exercised regularly and consumed fewer calories to reach your weight loss goals. Everything is going well with your new changes, but you notice that the number on the scale isn’t moving much and your body isn’t changing shape as quickly as you would have liked. There may be another habit that is interfering with your weight loss efforts: alcohol. Maybe enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, have a few beers while watching the big game, or even cocktails on a Saturday night with friends. All common practices, but they can get in the way of your weight loss efforts.
Alcoholic drinks have been consumed throughout history. For some, a drink with dinner can be relaxing. Others may enjoy the inhibitions alcohol can create to ‘let go’ with friends. Many people drink for its health benefits. After all, there is some evidence that moderate drinking, especially red wine, can lower the risk of heart disease. Whatever your reasons for drinking, alcohol can interfere with your weight loss goals.
Alcohol is a product of the fermentation of carbohydrates, both sugars and starches. This means that it provides calories. Specifically, it provides 7 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates and proteins, and 9 calories per gram of fat. Drinking 4 (12 ounce) beers provides 600 calories. To burn those calories, a person would have to walk non-stop for 3 hours. Skipping the cab and walking home can be a strategy, but for most of us, a 3-hour walk is a bit daunting, even when we are in good shape.
Although wine has fewer calories than beer, it can also lead to extra calories. Drinking a glass of wine provides 100 calories, but this depends on the glass size. A serving of wine is 5 ounces. The larger wine glasses hold about 10 grams and turn your one glass of wine into two glasses. To put this in perspective, drinking two glasses of wine with dinner every night adds 200 extra calories each day. If these calories are not burned through exercise and daily activity, it can lead to a weight gain of 20 pounds in a year.
Adding juice, creams, and soda to cocktails will increase the calorie level beyond what the alcohol already provides. Be careful what you drink. In some cases, one drink provides more calories than an entire meal! These are the drinks that top the scales for the most calories:
Long Island Iced Tea: 780 calories
Margarita: 740 calories
Pina Colada: 644 calories
White Russian: 425 calories
Sex on the Beach: 356 calories
Mai Tai: 350 calories
Lemon Drop: 223 calories
Besides adding calories, alcohol can affect your weight for other reasons. There is some evidence that drinking alcoholic beverages can stimulate your appetite and cause you to eat more than you normally would. It also decreases your inhibitions so you don’t care how much more you eat.
Another factor to consider is that your body processes alcohol first before processing fat, protein or carbohydrates, which can slow down fat burning. There is also some evidence that drinking too much seems to increase fat in the stomach area, also known as the beer belly. Studies show that people with more fat in the abdominal area are at higher risk for heart disease.
Okay, this looks bleak, but it doesn’t mean you can never enjoy alcohol again. It just means it’s time to take inventory to see how much you drink and pay attention to how many calories your favorite drinks provide. Learn how to enjoy alcohol in moderation so that you don’t sabotage your weight loss efforts.