Not happy with the number that comes up on your scale? Hold up! It might not be because of what you ate last night, but because of what you drank.
There are no nutrition labels on alcoholic drinks like there are on other foods. The food police could complain about too much sugar, fat, or processing.
Each glass of beer or wine has about 150 calories. Hard liquors like gin, vodka, and tequila have close to 100 calories per fluid ounce, and a standard cocktail might have one or two of those per drink.
But alcohol makes you gain weight for more than just the empty calories it has. Alcoholic drinks are a perfect storm that slows down your body and makes it store more fat, which can lead to a beer belly.
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What’s a “Beer Belly”?
Too many calories, not necessarily beer, can turn a slim waist into a belly that sticks out over your pants.
Any calories, like those from alcohol, sugary drinks, or big portions of food, can make your belly fat worse.
But there does seem to be a link between alcohol and fat around the middle.
Beer is also blamed because it is so easy to drink too many calories from alcohol. A typical beer has 150 calories, and if you drink a lot of them at once, you can get way too many calories.
Don’t forget the calories in the food you eat while drinking those beers. Alcohol can make you want to eat more.
Also, when you drink beer at a bar or party, you usually eat unhealthy foods like pizza, wings, and fried foods.
Why drinking alcohol makes you gain weight more quickly
Too many calories are in it.
The first bad thing is that with 7 calories per gram, alcohol has almost twice as many calories as carbs and proteins.
On top of that, we have to think about things like the carbs in beer, the sugar in fruit juices and mixers, and the fat in the cream that goes into cocktails.
The second issue is where to put everything. Protein is stored in the body as muscle.
Many of us know that the body stores carbs and fat as glycogen in the liver and muscles and as fat in adipose tissue.
Alcohol can’t be stored in the body, though. Once it’s been eaten, it has to be burned right away.
It is more important than the food we eat with it or even what we eat during the day.
Worse, because alcohol has a lot of calories, the food we do eat will be more than we need for the day. This extra gets turned into fat as well.
A third reason is that alcohol is known to make people hungry. Since the Middle Ages, doctors have told older people who often lose their appetites to drink a glass of wine before dinner.
An “aperitif” was first done as a French tradition. The word means “to open,” and alcohol does open us up. This is clear from the fact that drinks are often served with cocktail nuts, canapés, and other small snacks.
With a drink or two, these high-calorie side dishes are easy to eat.
Nervous system suppressant
A fourth factor is that alcohol is known to slow down the central nervous system.
A drink or two slows down inhibition more than other brain functions in small amounts.
This is why people get more talkative and less shy as a party goes on.
People who don’t drink can tell right away that the conversation is getting louder and more boisterous.
With each drink, we lose our inhibitions more and more, so we eat more of what’s in front of us or eat ice cream, pastries, and other high-calorie treats that we wouldn’t normally eat when we’re sober.
As the amount of alcohol you drink goes up, your judgment gets worse and worse.
The breakdown of alcohol can’t be sped up.
Last but not least, alcohol makes us fat because it goes through a rare type of metabolism called “zero-order kinetics.”
Almost all foods follow what is called first-order kinetics. First-order kinetics in physiology means that you can speed up the metabolism of a certain substance in the body’s furnace by adding more of it, just like adding more coal to a boiler makes the fire burn hotter.
The one big exception to this rule is alcohol. The metabolism of alcohol can’t be sped up in any way, no matter how much you drink or how fast you drink it.
It burns steadily at a rate of one ounce per hour. This is why coffee can’t help drunk people get sober. All you get is a wide-awake drunk.
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How Alcohol Makes Us Fatter
Now that we know why alcohol makes us gain weight a little faster than usual, let’s talk about how it does it. Here are some of the ways drinking makes us fat:
Your metabolism slows down when you drink.
How many calories you burn when your body is at rest depends on how fast your metabolism is.
Since having too many extra calories is what causes fat to build up and weight gain, the faster your metabolism, the better.
By hurting the organs in your digestive system, alcohol can stop your body from burning fat the way it should.
Your body can’t get the nutrients it needs without the help of your stomach, liver, and intestines.
Heavy drinking can affect how well they work, making your digestive system less effective at breaking down food.
The calories from alcohol are used up first.
Even if you don’t care about how many calories are in a drink, how your body handles those calories can have a big effect on your weight.
Usually, your body uses the food you’ve eaten in the order that it was eaten.
When you drink alcohol, it cuts the line, making the last meal you ate the main source of fuel for your body.
Even though it might seem good that those alcohol calories are being burned, it’s bad for the food in your stomach.
If that food isn’t used right away, its energy is wasted.
The body stores that extra as fat. A study done at Oxford found that the scale can show that fat in as little as four hours.
When you drink, you eat more.
There is a direct link between drinking alcohol and having a bigger appetite.
When we drink, the hormone leptin, which tells our brains when we’re full, can’t work as well. This makes us eat more to feel full.
Also, studies have shown that drinking alcohol doesn’t make you feel full at all, even though it gives you extra calories.
This is probably because alcohol turns on neurons that are linked to the body’s starvation mode.
To make things even worse, drinking can make you want to eat unhealthy foods.
Why? Salts and fats are already very tasty, and alcohol makes them even more so. These are the kinds of flavors that junk food is best known for.
Usually, we might know not to eat greasy food late at night, when our metabolism is the slowest.
But alcohol can lower both our inhibitions and our sense of right and wrong, making it hard to say no to that midnight fast-food run.
Getting rid of a beer belly
There is no magic way to get rid of belly fat besides the tried-and-true methods of eating less and moving more.
Jensen says that a healthy, low-calorie diet will help you lose belly fat faster than any diet with monounsaturated fats or so-called “belly fat” diets.
Since alcohol calories are linked to belly fat, cutting back on alcohol is a good place to start.
Don’t drink too much at once. If you do, you could hurt your liver and have other serious health problems.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture say that women should only drink one serving of alcohol per day and men should drink two.
People who like beer should choose light beers with 100 calories or less and limit how much they drink each day.
Another choice is to only drink alcohol on the weekends and to switch between alcoholic drinks and low-calorie drinks that don’t contain alcohol.
Don’t forget to eat something healthy before or with your drinks to help you avoid high-calorie bar food.
If you are having trouble losing weight, skipping that beer or second glass of wine could help a lot.
Even if you like the way you look, drinking less alcohol is likely to make a big difference in your internal health, lowering your risk of heart and liver disease, diabetes, and even some cancers.
If you’ve tried to cut back on drinking before and found it hard, you might have a drinking problem.
If you’re seeking help cutting back on or quitting drinking, online our expert coaching programs are here for you. The Alcohol Coach can help.
Please note: Although we refer to ‘alcoholism’ and ‘recovery’ in our articles, this is because these terms are often used by others.
The Alcohol Coach services come from a viewpoint of empowerment, mindset shift, and high-powered transformational change.
When this happens there are no lifelong labels, no counting days, and pure unbounded freedom and discovery!
Hi, I'm Michela
I’m a leader in the science of transformational freedom for women, and someone previously addicted to alcohol. I have walked the path. I understand your concerns and fears. Here you will find some of my thoughts and insights. Happy browsing!
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