How alcohol messes with weight loss

Around this time of year I always end up talking with clients about how we’re going to manage their alcohol intake over the festive period. Why? Because alcohol is a cheeky little saboteur when it comes to fat loss.

Here’s why…

1. Yes it’s the calories

You know it. But does it stop you? A large glass of wine or a pint of lager comes in around 240 calories. Multiply that by 3 and you’ve just demolished your daily calorie deficit (i.e. the space between you losing weight and not). According to a YouGov survey, the tipping point (when we make bad decisions about food) is about 9 unit- or 3 large drinks.

Worse still, the calories in alcohol don’t fill you up, because they don’t trigger satiety in the same way solid food does. In fact, studies show that we don’t compensate for the calories from alcohol by eating less by eating less food. So you end up consuming lots of extra calories. But that’s not all…

2. Alcohol makes you hungrier  

Alcohol lowers blood sugar (triggering hunger), so if you start drinking on an empty stomach it won’t be long before you’re raiding the bar snacks. But studies also show that drinking with a meal actually increases how much food we eat, because it changes our perception of how hungry we feel. And it makes food more rewarding.

3. Alcohol reduces the amount of fat your body burns 

Alcohol is a toxin, so the body is forced to work on burning it off before anything else. This means it reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy, because everything else is put into storage mode until your body has burned off the calories from alcohol.

4. Alcohol lowers your threshold for eating junk

Forget willpower; alcohol lowers inhibitions. This means you’re prompted to engage in behaviours you wouldn’t normally, like ordering a kebab or eating a family sized bag of crisps. Research also shows that alcohol can encourage binge eating, especially in people who suffer with chaotic eating patterns.

5. Hangovers + healthy eating are a unicorn

The thing we don’t account for with drinking and weight loss is the after effects. When you wake up with a furry head, the last things you want to do are head out for a run, or make a healthy breakfast. Chances are, your thoughts are going to be solely focused on how to get through the day, and if that involves a can of coke and a bag of crisps then so be it.

In a You Gov survey looking at the drinking habits of over 2,000 people, half admitted that binge drinking led to them eating fast food. Most people also said they ended up cancelling exercise plans after drinking, in favour of staying in bed watching TV. They also ate an extra 2,051 calories when suffering with a hangover – that’s about 4 days healthy eating and exercise down the drain.

6. Alcohol slays your sleep (and that makes you hungry….)

 Yes alcohol reduces the time taken to fall asleep, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. People who drink lots of alcohol sleep for fewer hours, and have a lower quality of sleep. And  just one night of disrupted sleep increases hunger hormones and desire for junk food, making healthy choices less likely.

The bottom line

It’s not impossible to have a few drinks within a weight loss plan – but being honest with yourself how drinking alcohol affects your eating and exercise habits is often the difference between losing weight and not.