Expert review by:
Dr Melissa Oldham

Alcohol and weight loss

Alcohol consumption is likely to affect weight loss in a number of different ways making it more difficult – from various physiological processes being hindered or altered, to poorer food choices when under the influence, followed by increased junk food cravings in the following hours or days. By reducing your alcohol intake, you are more likely to position yourself to be able to lose weight when paired with a balanced diet.

Alcohol has no nutritional value and so solely comprises of ‘empty calories’, and lots of them. In fact, there are 7 calories per gram of alcohol. To put this into context, a 175ml measure of wine could contain around 140 calories, and a single pint of beer can have around 240 calories. These empty calories can add up quickly, and they don't keep you feeling full or satisfied either!

A study showed that the average calorie consumption of men in the UK was around 27% of their daily caloric intake, and 19% in women on the heaviest drinking day in the last week. It is unsurprising then that a positive association between alcohol calories and obesity has been highlighted.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that when we drink, alcohol is metabolised first. This is because your body focuses on breaking this down first in order to filter it out of the body. This means whether we’re running, cross training, doing Pilates or playing tennis, these useless alcoholic calories are used to power our bodies before we ever even touch the energy stores from the carbohydrates (glucose), or fats (lipids) in our food. Not only can this result in decreased performance capacity, but will likely also impact your ability to lose weight.

Carbohydrates and fats are fuel sources, and are healthy and essential, but too much of them (say after one too many chocolate bourbons) and these will store as adipose tissue or excess body fat. And if we’re active and moving each day, a bit of indulgence here and there is no problem. But drink more alcohol than we can burn off, it a lot harder to achieve the energy deficit necessary to lose weight.

Is alcohol bad for losing weight?

We can all be eating organically, running weekend 10k’s, cooking with coconut oil and choosing avocado on toast over carcinogenic fry-ups. But could all of this be in vain, for the sake of a glass of wine after work, or those Saturday night G&T’s?

One of the questions we are asked most often is ‘if I stop drinking, will I lose weight?' The answer is alcohol may well be hindering your weight loss goals. With around 150 calories in a glass of white wine or pint of beer, 120 calories in a double spirit, and a whopping 215 in a pint of cider, losing count on how many drinks you're consuming could hinder your weight loss. Drinking three bottles of cold cider on ice over a sunny afternoon could add up to the same calorie count as three Krispy Crème doughnuts!

So if you are looking to shift a few, reducing or removing alcohol from your diet could be the key to dropping the weight.

Alcohol bloating

Next up we tackle alcohol bloating.

Over 30% of adults in the US report experiencing some bloating and it is one of the most commonly reported gastro-intestinal issues. Many factors can cause bloating. Alcohol can lead to irritation of your gastrointestinal tract, which could cause bloating. Similarly, drinking carbonated drinks such as beer or cider or soft drinks with spirits could also leave you feeling bloated so cutting out alcohol might help you to experience less bloating.

How do you get rid of alcohol bloat?

By drinking plenty of water, your body will begin to restore the sodium balance which will help to relieve any bloating and reduce water retention. Water helps to flush out your system which improves daily bodily functions, meaning your body can process what you eat more easily.

Consider the number of calories in popular alcoholic drinks:

  •      There are usually 220 calories in a large glass of wine
  •      They can be around 180 calories in a pint of beer
  •      There are roughly 100 calories in vodka
  •      There are 65-70 calories in a shot of tequila
  •      There are around 120 calories in a gin and tonic

In the UK, 56-60% of people drink within the government recommended guidelines of a maximum of 14 units per week. One unit of pure alcohol is equal to 56 calories, not including the extra sugar or other additives found in many alcoholic beverages. This adds up to almost 800 extra calories a week. By cutting out the extra calories from alcohol entirely, the average person could limit their calorie intake by around 40,000 a year and this doesn’t even account for all the extra sugars or additives in different drinks!

So how quickly could you lose weight after you stop drinking?

If as stated above, you are drinking 14 units of alcohol per week, at 85 calories per unit, that means you could be cutting out 1,200 calories each week. That combined with regular exercise for example running for half an hour, burns 270–400 calories per session. If you stop drinking alcohol, and exercise 3 times per week, paired with a balanced diet, you could quite quickly begin to experience healthy weight loss.

If I stop drinking alcohol will I lose weight?

Of course, this answer depends a lot on your personal circumstances and lifestyle. However, alcohol can affect your weight for multiple reasons; it is very calorific, makes you more likely to crave and eat junk food, and hangovers can impede any exercise or activity you might have participated in if you felt fine.

Therefore cutting out alcohol could help you lose weight if you cut out the excess calories from drinking alcohol and sugary mixers, will reducing your daily calorie intake directly from alcohol.
Stopping drinking may also make it easier for you to stick to your diet and exercise plans as you may be less likely to experience cravings.

How long after stopping drinking alcohol will I lose weight?

As well as being asked how much weight can I expect to lose if I quit drinking alcohol. People also ask “how long after stopping drinking alcohol will I lose weight?” Again a lot depends on your starting position.

If you quit drinking beer or any kind of alcohol for that fact you will more than likely see your weight drop. How much weight you lose from giving up drinking overall will depend on the amount of effort you put in elsewhere in your life such as what you are eating and how much physical activity you are doing.

By stoping drinking you will have more energy to focus on these two other important factors when it comes to weight loss.

One Year No Beer – weight loss success stories

Colin gave up drinking back in 2013 and it changed his life, ditching the booze, cutting down on takeaways and focusing on his fitness all lead to Colin losing the alcohol bloat and the very beginning of his weight loss journey.

“In my case, that motivation came from one final week night in the pub on the booze with an empty stomach. I left the pub and craved takeaway pizza (which I duly got) and scoffed the lot. The next day I felt lethargic, tired and bloated. I was disgusted with how I looked. Even under a relatively loose t-shirt, I could see a bloated belly in side profile hanging over my trousers. I hated how I looked.”

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“Before, even though I wanted to get trim, I didn't think I was that bad. I could suck my belly in or hide it with some clever choice of clothing so the desire to really make a change and make a commitment to that change wasn't there. That day though, seeing myself in the mirror,  that was the straw that broke the camel's back. No more excuses, no more denial. I was ready to confront this head on. Once that decision was made, the idea of giving up alcohol and sticking to it was not a difficult one. I wanted a trim body more than I wanted beer or bad food.”

Colin's top tips on losing the alcohol and beer bloat

Here are are the 8 steps Colin took to get rid of his alcohol bloat, losing weight and feeling great! These top tips can help you to lose the beer belly and puffy face.

  • Top Tip #1 – Establish a deep personal motivation, you wont stick to achieving your goal
  • Top Tip #2 – Learn to live without alcohol
  • Top Tip #3 – Drink plenty of water
  • Top Tip #4 – Get into your fitness
  • Top Tip #5 – Accept there will be good days and bad days
  • Top Tip #6 – Get 7-8 sleep per night
  • Top Tip #7 – Plan your meals in advance
  • Top Tip #8 – Have a positive attitude

alcohol bloat before and after
Top Tip #1 – Without a deep personal motivation, you wont stick to achieving your goals

“The first thing I learnt is that its not possible to stick to something you wouldn't normally do (in my case, stop drinking) if you don't truly have a reason and therefore the motivation to do it and make that sacrifice.

Top Tip #2 – Learn to live without alcohol

“For years, the idea of going even just a couple of nights without alcohol was just an impossible achievement. Alcohol was too en-grained in my life. Like a lot of people in the UK, its a part of your culture. A ‘good time' involves going out in a social environment and drinking.”

“For me however, I was having a beer or two every night at home when I got in from work. This was part of my routine and the idea of that routine being broken was very scary, it was a crutch that I needed. However, once I'd found the motivation to lose weight by giving up alcohol, I was able to overcome that fear.”

“Pretty soon, with this motivation underpinning my abstinence, I found it possible to do things I would never have contemplated before. For example, going out for a nice meal and drinking orange juice, or buying a round of drinks for people and ordering a water for myself. It sounds crazy but trust me, once I could see myself losing weight from not drinking and feeling better physically, those kind of decisions became easier. Pretty soon, my routine became no alcohol, that became normal.”

Top Tip #3 – Drink plenty of water

By drinking plenty of water, your body will begin to restore the sodium balance which will help to relieve any bloating and reduce water retention. Water helps to flush out your system which improves daily bodily functions, meaning your body can process what you eat more easily.

“When you drink every day, the lethargic feeling it gives you begins to feel normal to the point where you think that that groggy feeling in the morning is just because its the morning and you aren't ready to get out of bed. Well, that's totally wrong, that's the booze doing that. When I quit drinking, within two days I had so much more energy, getting out of bed in the morning was a lot easier, I felt more positive about the day and even the stress of work was easier to cope with because I felt so much more capable with a fresh, alert and energetic head.

“More energy meant I was able to and wanted to do things like run half marathons. It's only when you stop drinking for a sustained period of time that you realise what a disabling affect it has on your physical and mental being without you even knowing it because that feeling has become ‘normal'.”

“The alert and energetic feeling I get from staying off the booze is probably the single biggest reason I will continue to drink only infrequently and by that I mean no more than twice a month.”

Top Tip #4 – Get into your fitness

“As I could see the weight dropping off me and my energy levels increasing with each day, I came to embrace the feeling of being fit. I craved it. The more capable I became physically, the more I wanted to do. Being able to wear slim fitting clothes and treat myself to new clothes made me want to get even fitter, get the body I'd always wanted. Not only did I look good but I felt good, I felt confident.

“With more energy, I wanted to exercise more which made me feel good about myself. Once I'd lost the beer belly, I wanted more, I wanted to attain the next step which for me, was getting toned so I signed up for Freeletics which was a 15 week bodyweight training program I could do at home without any need for gym equipment. I guarantee you that when you give up drinking, you will soon crave exercise to burn off those new found energy levels

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Top Tip #5 – Accept there will be good days and bad days

“I am the first to admit that I became quite obsessive in my desire to lose weight. I was weighing myself everyday which most people advise against as weight does fluctuate up and down daily of its own accord.”

“There were a couple of occasions where my weight seemed to randomly go up over night, the second time, it stayed up for about three days. This was a crushing, demoralising thing for me, particularly given how religious I was being with my diet, exercise and alcohol abstinence. My initial feeling was to go out and get a pizza and some beer but once I was able to rationalise it, I was able to use the knock back to knuckle down and try even harder. These setbacks motivated me. As long as you keep up what you are doing, the fluctuations will be just that, fluctuations, your long term weight will continue to fall.”

“There were also a couple of times (in December) when I had takeaway pizza after a night drinking (after my initial alcohol abstinence was over) where the next day I was livid with myself. I couldn't get the guilt out of my head and it dominated conversation with my girlfriend. This is not a good thing and is a sign of how obsessed I got.”

“This was compounded when I got on the scales the next day and could clearly see the effect it had had. The one thing I did learn from these occasions is that most of what you put on the next day from 1 night of indulgence does seem to disappear over the next three or so days. I suppose if you knock back a load of beer and pizza the night before, a lot of that will physically still be sitting in the bottom of your belly the next day. Weigh yourself three days after the night out and you'll probably find your weight hasn't taken too much of a dent at all (from my experience anyway).”

Top Tip #6 – Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night

Getting a good nights sleep requires a combination of factors aligning in your favour, but there are things you can do to ensure you get a good nights sleep.

  • Avoid blue lights for 1-2 hours before bed, try reading instead.
  • Eat high potassium foods as your late night snacks, for example nuts or bananas.
  • Establish a routine, go to bed and get up in the morning at the same time each day.
  • Drink ginger tea before bed, no caffeine!

Top Tip #7 – Plan your meals in advance

“You've just consumed a load of additional calories through the alcohol you've consumed. The beer has lead to a craving for fatty food such as pizza, chips, Kebab or curry (so even more calories than normal consumed). You've eaten the fatty food late and night than gone to bed meaning you aren't being active and naturally working it all off. The body is choosing to store this highly fatty food as fat as it need to prioritise getting the alcohol out of the body.”

“Also, the next day, you are tired so you have no energy for the gym and you crave a bacon sandwich meaning all of the above is compounded further. Ouch!”

“So in my case, removing alcohol from the equation also removed all of the above weight causing contributors.”

“For me, I never used to have any food in the house. What tended to happen was I would wait until I was hungry and then decide it was time to cook. Because there was nothing in, I would have to go the corner shop (limited choice, lots of convenience foods) meaning I was choosing what I wanted to eat whilst being hungry – This is not a good place to be because when you are hungry, you are drawn to the ‘quick fix' or ‘gratification' foods which for me was pasta with cheese or a ready meal.”

“I quickly learnt that to eat well, I needed to plan in advance and know what I was going to be eating on any given day the day before. I picked 4 or 5 meals from a low fat cookbook that I actually found tasty and ensured that I had a weeks worth of those ingredients in so I was never in a position where I had to go to the corner shop hungry and pick my meal there.”

“So for example, I ate a lot of salmon and chicken. This I could buy lots of and then store in the freezer frozen until I needed it. Always having the right food in the house in advance of when I needed it meant that every night, my diet choice was good.”

“They say that losing weight is 80% diet and 20% exercise. I never believed this and over the years, have always tried to lose weight from hardcore exercise. However, it was only when I gave up booze that I really understood that the 80/20 thing is true. Dominos Texas BBQ, mmm so good! It's ok to eat this sort of thing every once in a while, but if you do, don’t do it when you’ve been drinking alcohol as the negative effect it will have on your waistline is massively amplified.”

“When I drunk alcohol, my diet choice was bad. A night out would end with some sort of take away food and I'd eat loads of it. In addition to this, I'd go to bed soon after meaning that the food wasn't being worked off.”

“Finally, alcohol is a toxin. Your body prioritises its removal from your system at the expense of digesting the food you've eaten meaning a take away pizza eaten after a night on the beers is put on the ‘back burner' by your body and is stored as fat whilst your body works on processing the alcohol out.”

Top Tip #8 – Have a positive attitude

“Lessons 1 – 7 have meant that my attitude to alcohol has completely changed. I no longer need it and most of the time, no longer want it either. The short term ‘fun' it brings is negligible in comparison to the drawbacks.”

“I enjoy feeling fit, I enjoy wearing nice slim fitting clothes and I enjoy getting so much more done with my day than I used to. Because of all of that, alcohol just isn't the crutch it used to be for me.”

“Don't get me wrong, I still like beer. I don't think that will ever go. And there are time's when I do want one. Because of that, I won't give up alcohol forever. I will however severely moderate my consumption of it and limit it to just once or twice a month when I can really savour it and enjoy the social occasion that it comes with.”

“Moderating it in this way will still allow me to feel fresh and alert 95% of the time and keep my physique in check (I hope).”

I fell off the wagon!

“Having quit booze for three months and discovering all the positive effects that came from it, I decided that although I would not give up drinking completely, I would limit it going forwards to once a week max, but often go longer.”

“Initially this worked well and I had a good balance. However, a change in working circumstances ramped up the stress levels and I began to find the booze creeping back into my life on a more regular basis.”

“After two or three months, drinking had become as regular as it used to be and for the same (wrong) reasons – To relax, cope with stress etc. With that, all of the negatives have returned – No time or motivation to exercise, a negative, pessimistic view on life – Things became impossible hurdles rather than exciting challenges to overcome. With even just a low amount of alcohol rattling around my system from the night before, confidence wained, self-esteem plummeted and life just became ‘harder'.”

“Everything I learned and wrote about in my 8 Lessons learnt from giving up alcohol post had been forgotten and I have found myself back in the relentless cycle of hangovers and low productivity.”

“People have told me its all about moderation but I know from first hand experience that I am happier when I don't drink. However, the fear of having no social outlet and being seen as anti-social has always sucked me back in.”

“However, I don't see that as an excuse anymore, I know what is best for me and what is best for me is no alcohol. I function better, am happier, fitter and more positive.”

“So, having recognised that I am back on the slippery slope to somewhere I don't want to be and knowing that I am happier without alcohol, this time, I have decided to challenge myself by going even longer and that's how I found”

“Whereas before, not drinking was a temporary measure, this time, I want it to be permanent. I know most people I know wont get that – They will tell me its just moderation and try and get me to come out and that's why I want to do this through – It is so refreshing and exciting to learn and realise that there are like minded people out there who feel exactly the same way I do. It's great to read everyone's stories and give each other encouragement and know that there isn't something wrong with me. No, its just that I am making a decision that will benefit my well being.”

“Good luck to you all!”

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Shelton NJ, Knott CS. Association between alcohol calorie intake and overweight and obesity in English adults. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(4):629-631. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301643

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