, September 27, 2022

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Can You Drink Alcohol and Lose Weight?


  •   3 min reads
Can You Drink Alcohol and Lose Weight?

The answer to this question is unequivocally…YES

Below are the results from a fairly famous 12-week study in which females were put on a 1,500 kcal diet including either ~7 ounces of white wine or ~7 ounces of grape juice (which was around ~10% of their total calorie intake for the day.)

When controlling for calories and macronutrient intake both groups lost about ~9 pounds in 12 weeks and there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups.

Adapted from Flechtner- Mors et al., [1] - Weight loss in subjects after 3 months of dietary treatment with an energy-restricted diet (1500 kcal]/day) with grape juice (n=20) or white wine (n=20), respectively. In both groups, there was a significant weight loss (P<0.001). No difference in weight loss was observed between the groups.

So is it possible to drink moderately and lose fat?

Yes.

But, perhaps a better question is how much alcohol can someone drink, lose weight, and maintain a nutritionally adequate diet?

Alcohol contains 7.1 kcal per gram and is pretty much devoid of micronutrients. Thus, if we stay with the study design above and only have 1,500 calories to work with and we utilize ~10% of that for alcohol, it is going to make it harder to get enough vitamins and minerals, especially if we are utilizing higher protein approaches to ethically maintain/build muscle. *For example, the study above was only set at 15% protein (~65 grams per day or ~0.3 g/lb which is even below the RDA). Furthermore, this study had no exercise arm and thus over 50% of the weight lost in each group was lean body mass! Not good!

For a female, I can generally build a schematic that has a shot at adequate fiber and micronutrition with one drink per day, but it is invariably going to push her amount of fat or carbohydrates down which will make adherence to the diet that much more difficult. With two drinks per day, maintaining some semblance of nutritional adequacy is pretty much a pipedream.

Males generally have more calories to work with because they are bigger, but it is still extremely difficult to have two drinks per day in the system and get enough of the higher intake minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium. In some cases, it is theoretically possible, but it will generally mean that the rest of their calories must come from only fruits, vegetables, and leaner proteins.

Adding in Alcohol will pretty much always make the diet harder given that much like ultra-processed foods these are calories devoid of nutrients that do not keep us full and generally lead to increased energy intake [2, 3]. Additionally, as many of us know alcohol can also lead to a reduction in our ability resist temptation and also increase our impulsivity [2]. Furthermore, those who abstain from alcohol seem to maintain better long-term weight loss results and consistent heavy drinkers are at greater risk for suboptimal weight loss results and subsequent weight regain [4].

Interestingly, the level of moderate amount of alcohol consumption discussed above is line with the break point of 100 grams (or about 6-7 standard drinks) per week for all-cause mortality from a massive analysis of 599,912 subjects in 83 prospective studies [5].

Open access image from Wood, A.M., et al., 2018

TL;DR - It is going to be more difficult to lose body fat with moderate alcohol consumption, but it is possible. Losing weight ethically with heavy drinking is pretty much impossible and furthermore, this level of alcohol consumption does look to be related to an increased risk of chronic disease and all-cause mortality on the population level.

REFERENCES:

1.         Flechtner-Mors, M., et al., Effects of moderate consumption of white wine on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 2004. 28(11): p. 1420-6.

2.         Caton, S.J., L.J. Nolan, and M.M. Hetherington, Alcohol, Appetite and Loss of Restraint.Curr Obes Rep, 2015. 4(1): p. 99-105.

3.         Buemann, B., S. Toubro, and A. Astrup, The effect of wine or beer versus a carbonated soft drink, served at a meal, on ad libitum energy intake. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 2002. 26(10): p. 1367-72.

4.         Chao, A.M., et al., Alcohol Intake and Weight Loss During Intensive Lifestyle Intervention for Adults with Overweight or Obesity and Diabetes. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2019. 27(1): p. 30-40.

5.         Wood, A.M., et al., Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies. Lancet, 2018. 391(10129): p. 1513-1523.

*I am using calories in this article instead of kcals for readability.

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