Does Alcohol Make You Gain Weight?

Does Alcohol Make You Gain Weight?

When we go on a diet, we focus on what food we are–and aren’t–putting in our mouths. We don’t typically pay as much attention to what we drink, besides avoiding those oh-so-sugary sodas.

So, what about a glass of wine with your dinner? Most people are surprised when they find out just how much alcohol contributes to the success, or lack thereof.

If you’re looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, you need to know what your weekend or evening treat is doing to your body. Read on to find out. (Hint: it goes beyond just calories!)

3 Major Effects of Alcohol on Your Weight

The Calories

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the calories. Most people know that alcoholic drinks usually come with a calorific cost, though some much more than others. These calories are often referred to as “empty calories” because although your body does make energy from the drink, there’s no nutritional value like vitamins and minerals.

If your response to that last statement was “what about red wine?” then yes, there are some elements in red wine that are nutritionally beneficial. Wines do have some vitamins and minerals - but not a lot. Red wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol and around 10% of your recommended daily intake of manganese, but it also contains 160 calories.

So, if you want to have a drink while being calorie conscious, opt for dry red wines, which are lower in sugar, or spirits mixed with a sugar-free mixer, like soda water and lime.

The Sugar

The process of making alcohol relies on sugar - yeast or bacteria react with the sugar added or contained in the grain, fruits, or vegetables. That sugar doesn’t disappear, especially if the drink itself is sweet like white wine is typically. A bottle of white wine has, on average, 22g of sugar.

Choosing spirits with a mixer will also increase your sugar content dramatically if you don’t opt for sugar-free mixer.

To avoid sugar when drinking, opt for colorless spirits and a sugar-free mixer. Avoid cocktails unless you’re absolutely sure what’s in them - cocktails are usually very sweet and thus full of sugar.

The Effect

Why do we drink alcohol? For the effect - we like feeling more at ease than we otherwise would. But that means we lose a little bit of that tight control we have on our sense of reason, making it easier to give in to temptations, particularly with food. In fact, studies have found that we may eat as much as 30% more when we’ve had a drink before or with a meal.

It’s also worth noting that a recent study found that the increased cravings can last for a few days after drinking, triggering signals in the brain that cause us to feel hungrier and more likely to eat foods that aren’t good for us.

What are the long-term effects?

There are some long-term effects involved with drinking, namely harm to the stomach and intestines. Regular drinking or heavy drinking can damage the cells in the stomach and intestinal lining, causing inflammation. This inflammation can cause significant discomfort and even make it more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.

This irritation and inability to absorb the necessary nutrients affects the metabolism, causing weight gain.

Of course, we can’t talk about the long-term effects of alcohol without acknowledging the harm it can do to the liver. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver and, when consumed regularly, can lead to a build-up of fat in the liver cells, making it far more difficult for the liver to work efficiently. In extreme cases, this can lead to liver failure.

Can I consume alcohol at all when on a diet?

Staying sober is undeniably the best option for your health, both on a short-term and long-term basis. However, relaxing with a glass of wine once a week or enjoying a few drinks for a special occasion can be done with minimal damage to your long and short-term health goals. Opt for low sugar and low-calorie drinks, try not to overdo it, and keep in mind that you may be more likely to overindulge if there’s food available. The next day, do your best to opt for healthy meals, even when you crave something greasy. The faster you get back to your diet, the less damage a night of drinking will do.


Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.