How Fast Can You Lose Weight After You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Giving up alcohol is a small change that can be achievable for some people, making it easier to cut calories and lose weight. The exact amount of weight loss eliminating alcoholic beverages will bring about -- and how quickly -- will depend upon a number of factors, including your overall dietary intake and how much you're exercising.

A row of red and white wine glasses on a table. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Alcohol and Body Weight

The research on whether alcohol increases the risk for weight gain is conflicting, but a review article published in Current Obesity Reports in 2015 notes that it may be a risk factor, at least in some people, such as heavy drinkers. Another review article published in Health Economics in 2011 notes that alcohol consumption may lead to small increases in body weight, with these increases becoming more likely as the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption increase. If alcohol is causing you to gain weight, once you stop, it may be easier to lose weight.

Stop Drinking Alcohol to Lose Weight

A review published in Physiology & Behavior in 2010 notes that drinking alcohol either before or during meals tends to increase the number of calories consumed during the meal, so not drinking alcohol around meals may help you cut enough calories from your diet to help with weight loss. Alcohol calories seem to be most likely to affect weight in people who don't drink often or in those who are overweight or who eat a high-fat diet, notes another review published in Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences in 2005. People who fall into these categories may be likely to experience more weight loss benefits once they stop drinking.

Calories in Alcoholic Beverages

The key to losing weight is to burn more calories than you eat. Replacing the alcoholic beverages you would typically drink with beverages that have few or no calories -- such as water with or without lemon, unsweetened tea or black coffee -- can help you create the necessary calorie deficit. Eliminating about 500 calories each day will help you lose about a pound a week, as each pound contains about 3,500 calories.

If you were a heavy drinker or usually drink higher-calorie alcoholic beverages, you'll lose weight faster by cutting out alcohol . Regular beer has about 150 calories per 12-ounce serving; white wine has about 100 calories per 5-ounce serving; and a bloody Mary has about 120 calories per 4.6-ounce serving. Mixed drinks are particularly high in calories, with a mudslide having as much as 820 calories, a margarita providing 327 calories and a rum and Coke about 361.

Other Dietary Changes to Lose Weight

You'll probably want to make other dietary changes as well as giving up alcohol, if you're looking to lose weight relatively quickly, although it's best to lose weight at a rate of about 1 to 2 pounds per week. One way to cut calories without feeling too hungry between meals is to eat more foods with a low-energy density -- meaning foods that have very few calories per gram -- at the beginning of your meals. Examples include most fruits and vegetables, broth-based soups, salads and whole grains. This will help you eat less of the foods that are higher in energy density that come later in the meal, as these foods will help fill you up with fewer calories. Foods that are high in fat or sugar tend to have the highest energy density, such as fatty meats, desserts and many processed foods.

Importance of Exercise for Weight Loss

If you want to make sure that you lose as much weight from fat as possible and that you don't lose too much of your muscle, you'll need to exercise as well as cut out alcohol and other high-calorie foods. A combination of fat-burning cardio and muscle-building resistance-training exercise is best for this purpose. This exercise will also help you lose weight faster, as it will help you create a greater calorie deficit each day. For example, you can burn 423 to 715 calories an hour if you weigh 160 pounds by swimming laps, depending on how vigorously you're swimming. Walking at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour will help you burn 314 calories in an hour, and running 5 miles per hour burns about 606 calories. Aim for at least 150 minutes of cardio exercise and two strength training sessions per week, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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