What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Body Weight?

Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or a body-building expert, you probably spend a fair amount of time thinking about how what you put into your body affects your weight. Diet and exercise are two sides of the same coin when it comes to fitness.

One topic that comes up frequently is drinking. Many fitness buffs like to get out for a drink (or several drinks) and there are different schools of thought on whether that’s a good idea. It’s called a beer belly for a reason, right?

But as it turns out, the effect of alcohol on body weight are not all bad. There are some benefits to drinking alcohol – in moderation, of course.

Effects of Alcohol on Body Weight

Let’s start with the negatives, since those seem to get a lot of attention. When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into acetate, which is essentially vinegar. If you have alcohol in your system, your body will always burn it first – before carbs, before fat, and before protein. 

That means that if you eat and drink alcohol, you may be more likely to store your food as fat because you’ll burn the alcohol first.

Another thing that happens when you drink alcohol is that your ability to metabolize fat takes a huge hit. That means that even if you’re on a metabolic diet, you could lose three-quarters of your fat-burning ability when you consume alcohol.

For women, the problem may be even bigger. That’s because, on average, women have more body fat than men do. It takes them longer to process alcohol and that means that their fat-burning ability will be decreased for a longer time than a man’s would.

Not all weight-related effects of alcohol are related to physiology. Some are mental. You probably already know that when you drink, your inhibitions are lowered. For some people, that might mean less will-power and a tendency to overeat.

Alcohol and Weight Loss

You might think, after reading the last section, that there’s no way that drinking could be beneficial to your weight. But there are actually some studies that suggest that moderate drinking might help some people maintain a healthy body weight.

For example, a 13-year-long study followed more than 19,000 women who were at a healthy weight when the study began. Over the course of the study, approximately 41% of the women gained enough weight to be considered overweight or obese. 

What’s interesting, though, is that the women who drank moderately – meaning one or two drinks per day at post – gained less weight than the women who didn’t drink at all.

There are other studies that suggest that moderate alcohol consumption can be beneficial. However, even the most comprehensive study can’t predict the effect that alcohol consumption will have on any one person.

The Variables Regarding Alcohol and Body Weight

If you want to remain in good shape and make fitness a part of your life, here are some variables to consider:

  • Alcohol consumption may have a more significant effect on women than on men
  • Our bodies grow more susceptible to weight gain as we get older
  • The type of alcohol you drink will play a role – for example, drinking a sugary mixed drink is more likely to make you gain weight than having a glass of red wine or a shot of vodka

If you drink a lot of beer, which is high in sugar and carbohydrates, you probably will end up with a beer belly even if you work out regularly.

The Bottom Line…

The bottom line is that light to moderate alcohol consumption may not make you gain weight, particularly if you stick to non-sugary drinks. Your best bet is to pay attention to what happens to your body when you drink and make adjustments based on what you observe.

Paul J

Last Updated on August 20, 2021