The idea of giving up so many things you enjoy in order to lose weight seems cosmically unfair, but few things worth achieving are ever easy.
Cutting alcohol from your diet, or at least cutting back on the amount you drink, has many health benefits, including a positive effect on weight loss — though it is impossible to estimate exactly how much weight any one person will lose if he or she stops drinking.
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Enjoying a cocktail, beer or glass of wine every now and then is so entrenched in American culture that it may seen unthinkable to give alcohol up entirely. The good news is that if you have no trouble stopping after one drink and remember to factor in those calories, you can still enjoy an occasional drink without drastically slowing your weight loss.
How much weight you will lose by quitting alcohol depends on how much you are drinking now, as well as on other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.
How Weight Loss Works
According to the health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), losing only 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight provides solid health benefits. These include better sleep, more energy and more easily managed blood sugar levels. Well-regulated blood sugar levels can decrease your risk of Type 2 diabetes, the CDC says. Losing weight, especially belly fat, also lowers your risk of heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancers, the CDC explains.
But, if weight loss was simply a matter of burning more calories than you take in, no one would ever struggle to get lean. It is a bit more complicated than that, the CDC warns, and you may have to experiment a bit to find the weight loss program that works for you to shed those extra pounds and to keep them off.
There are many approaches to healthy weight loss, the CDC reassures, but your meal plan should be sustainable for the long run. This means no fad diets that severely restrict your calorie count or food choices. You also need a wide range of foods to ensure that you get all the nutrients that you need.
Alcohol's Effects on Weight
According to the University of Ohio-Wexner Medical Center, alcohol can slow down your weight loss, even if you are dieting carefully and exercising regularly. This is partly because drinks vary widely as far as calories. A light beer may have only 100 calories, Wexner says, but a margarita can have as many as 400 calories. Drinks made with cream have even more.
Aside from calories, Wexner Medical Center also reminds you of the effect that alcohol has on your sleep. It can help you fall asleep, but the quality of sleep suffers — you are more likely to awaken several times during a night after drinking. Lack of sleep can play havoc with your will power, and it can also slow your metabolism.
Evaluate How You Drink
Before deciding whether to quit drinking alcohol entirely, it is a good idea to take an honest look at why, when and how much you drink. According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy amount of alcohol per drink consists of no more than:
1.5 ounces of distilled alcohol such as bourbon, gin, vodka or whiskey
5 ounces of wine whether it is red, white or rosé
12 fluid ounces of beer
Moderate drinking, the Mayo Clinic explains, means no more than three drinks per day for women and no more than seven drinks per week. This also applies to men over the age of 65. For men under the age of 65, moderate drinking means no more than four drinks per day and fewer than 14 drinks per week. If you regularly drink more than this, you may be damaging your body as well as sabotaging your weight loss program.
Choose a Healthy Diet
A more efficient method than counting calories is to count macros, advise the fitness gurus at the International Sports Sciences Association. Put simply, macros, or macronutrients, are your body's primary sources of energy, Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are all macronutrients — and they account for all of the calories you consume, except for those in alcohol. Vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are also needed for a nutritious weight loss program.
ISSA explains that it is important to know what each macronutrient does for your body. Protein builds and maintains lean muscle mass and body tissue, which it also helps to repair. Carbohydrates feed your body and your brain by increasing the level of glucose in your bloodstream. Fat is needed to regulate your hormones, and unsaturated fats are your healthiest choice for this, says ISSA.
The different types of macros each contain a set number of calories. Protein has 4 calories per gram, as do carbohydrates. Fat contains 9 calories per gram. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, but those calories contain no protein or fat and are basically empty sugar with no nutritional value whatsoever. Drinking alcohol while trying to lose weight can keep your calorie count too high while compromising your nutrition.
Get Enough Sleep
You would think that staying awake for longer would burn more calories and therefore speed up your weight loss, but it does not actually work that way. According to the experts at Tufts University, people who sleep less tend to have a higher body mass index, or BMI, than those who regularly get a full night's sleep.
Because alcohol can interfere with normal sleep patterns, it makes sense to avoid it if you are trying to lose weight.
Handle Your Hydration
According to the University of Michigan, one possible secret weapon for weight loss may be water. People who tend to be chronically underhydrated, explains University of Michigan, also tend to have a higher BMI than people who stay fully hydrated. University of Michigan also notes they tend to eat fewer foods that have a high water content, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
While the link between hydration and weight loss needs further study to draw any definite conclusion, it might not be a bad idea to replace your alcohol intake with water, either plain or sparkling.
Experiment With Exercise
Regular, moderate exercise can help you reach your weight loss goal. Rush University Medical Center echoes other experts in recommending you do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week. This can include walking, jogging, swimming, bicycle riding, dancing or anything else that raises your heart rate.
Pair cardiovascular exercise with weight training Rush advises, so that you are not just burning calories, but also building muscle. The more lean muscle tissue you have, the more calories your body burns when it is at rest, Rush explains, but that is not the only benefit. Avoiding alcohol, enjoying a healthy diet, sleeping well, staying hydrated and building muscle can all work together to make it so easy to get through the day that you will not need to reach for that cocktail to cope.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Healthy Weight"
- University of Ohio-Wexner Medical Center: "Should You Try Dry January?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Alcohol: Weighing Risks and Potential Benefits"
- International Sports Sciences Association: "Counting Macros: A Reliable Way to Lose Weight?"
- Tufts University: "Sleep and Weight Gain"
- University of Michigan: "Study: Water Intake Overlooked in Obese Individuals"
- Rush University Medical Center: "Is There 'One Trick' to Losing Belly Fat?"