Choose the wrong beverage, and you might sabotage your diet in just a few gulps. Many alcoholic drinks are loaded in calories, especially if they contain sugary or creamy mixers. What's more, alcohol may lead to water retention, adding several extra pounds of fluid weight to your frame. To avoid weight gain and other negative health effects, men should have no more than two alcoholic beverages per day, while women should have no more than one.
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The Dehydration Effect
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes your body to flush water. You typically wind up urinating more water than the alcoholic beverage itself contains, which can easily lead to dehydration. A dehydrated body tends to hold onto more precious water than a well-hydrated one. Therefore, you may gain some water weight after a night of drinking, causing you to look and feel somewhat bloated. As with all water retention, the effect is only temporary. You can help prevent it entirely by drinking plenty of water, along with your alcoholic beverage.
If you're mixing your alcohol with nondiet sodas, juices or sweet-and-sour mixes -- or if you're drinking sweet liqueurs such as schnapps -- you're probably swallowing significant amounts of sugar. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, and your body stores carbs in your muscles as an energy reserve. These carbs hold water, which could translate into a couple of added pounds on the scale. If you skimped on carbs prior to drinking -- and therefore shed your carb reserves -- the fluctuation may be strongest. Sodium also makes you retain water, so a salty rim on your margarita may also produce a bloating effect.
Alcoholic beverages tend to pack quite a calorie punch, spelling danger for your waistline. Wine may contain 120 calories or more in just 5 ounces, while 12 ounces of regular beer has about 153 calories, and the same serving of light beer contains about 103 calories. Distilled spirits have about 97 calories per 1.5-ounce shot, and sugary mixers such as cola and orange juice will add even more. Go for a tropical cocktail, and you're in even deeper diet trouble; a pina colada contains about 490 calories per 9 ounces. For every 3,500-calorie excess in your diet, you gain 1 pound of body fat -- that can happen with about seven pina coladas.
Decreased Fat Burning
Not only does alcohol contain significant calories, but it can prevent your body from burning calories from meals and snacks, according to Dr. Pamela M. Peeke, author of "The Hunger Fix." Peeke says that your body must burn alcohol calories immediately, so it stops burning calories from food -- and stops burning body fat, as well -- when you start drinking. She notes that alcohol is shown to decrease abdominal-fat burning in particular, which helps account for the "beer belly" effect.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Calorie Calculator
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions
- CNN.com: Wine or Your Waistline? 3 Rules to Follow
- ABC Science: Why Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Dehydration?
- CNN.com: How Is it Possible for My Weight to Fluctuate so Much?