does alcohol cause weight gain

Whether you are just having wine with dinner or drinks with friends at the local bar or social function, a lot of us just enjoy hanging out sipping on one alcoholic beverage or two. But is alcohol really all that bad and will it make you fat?

There is no denying the fact that moderate consumption of alcohol has some health benefit there have been different claims by several studies often arguing for and against the ability of alcohol to make you add or lose weight. Nonetheless, one fact remains clear and that is the fact that excessive alcohol consumption does really make you fat.

Some of the known benefits of moderate alcohol consumption come from the alcohol itself irrespective of the form it comes in (e.g. lowering blood pressure and stress levels) and others from the constituent ingredients of wine particularly the polyphenols found in red wine. Polyphenols have certain antioxidant qualities by themselves. Alcohol has anti-clotting properties by which it reduces blockage of coronary arteries thus providing some protective effect against heart attacks. Modest level of alcohol is also known to increase the good blood lipid, HDL, and lower the bad one, LDL.

A study published in 2004 concerning about 50,000 American female nurses who were followed for an eight-year period suggested that alcohol was associated with lower body weight – with some caveats. It showed that women who drank up to 30 grams of alcohol a day – i.e. roughly two beers or two 1.5 shots of vodka – gained less weight than women who did not drink or who drank more than this! These results also correlated with other British results which also confirmed that women who were moderate drinkers were about half as likely to be obese as nondrinkers.

Despite these obvious benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, the damage resultant from its consumption far outweigh whatever benefits you might derive from it. It is therefore much wiser to avoid the detrimental effects of alcohol completely and protect yourself with proper exercise and nutrition. For instance, even moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in women.

Pure alcohol by itself is high in calories as it contains about 7 calories per gram making its fattening ability nearly twice as that of carbohydrates and proteins which have about 4 calories per gram each. And then again, it is only slightly lower than fat which has 9 calories per gram.

Nutrient Kcal/Gram
Alcohol 7Kcal/oz
Carbs 4Kcal/gram
Portein 4Kcal/gram
Fat 9Kcal/gram

Although these values may seem small, don’t be quick to forget how many grams of alcohol there can be in a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. And while one day of excessive calorie intake may not be too alarming, the cumulative amounts over a week, then a month, should however become a source of worry as the alcohol consumption by itself can therefore lead to storage of body fat.

What really makes alcohol a major risk factor to your weight loss effort? This is nothing but the fact that upon consumption, alcohol slows down or more appropriately put, stalls your body’s metabolism of fat. How, you’d say? Well, let’s look at it this way.

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Your body cannot store alcohol so the body burns it as quickly as it can for energy. Therefore, majority of the alcohol you drink is converted by your liver into a substance called acetate – basically vinegar. When this acetate is released into your bloodstream, your body automatically switches to it as its primary source of energy fuel. This effectively replaces your fat metabolism and your body becomes more likely to store the fat from your food intake due to the fact that it is now getting all its energy fuel from the acetate from the alcohol you just drank.

Couple the above tendency with the fact that having a drink before or with a meal makes you to consume as much as 200 calories or more without you ever knowing it. This is because alcohol dehydrates the body, which, in turn, makes you start feeling hungry and thus more likely to eat more than you normally should.

Also, there are studies that indicate that your metabolism can be reduced by as much as 73% for several hours after just two drinks. Other studies showed that a few drinks can stall your fat loss for a few hours while more than a few drinks may stall it for as long as four days.

Alcohol interferes with one other very important component of effective weight loss – muscle mass. The more lean muscle mass you have in your body, the higher your resting metabolic rate and therefore the greater your ability to burn fat. You need to be well-hydrated to build muscle but drinking consuming too much alcohol dehydrates you and your muscles.

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Alcohol also raises the level of cortisol – a muscle-wasting hormone – as it reduces the production of testosterone for up to 24 hours. Worst still, alcohol retards muscle recovery after a hard workout as well as reduce protein synthesis thus making you feel rather lethargic.

Furthermore, alcohol’s interference with insulin production causes an increase in the level of the female hormone – estrogen – which in most men increases fat deposit around the abdomen – resulting in having a beer belly – and also causes the development of "man boobs". The increase in estrogen in women often results in irregular menstrual cycles and cycles without ovulation.

So, looking at it retrospectively, it is becomes evident that alcohol consumption makes you add fat in four different ways and these are through the fact that:-

  1. Alcohol by itself is calorie rich.
  2. It dehydrates you, making you hungry and thus creating a craving for food.
  3. Alcohol causes a loss in muscle mass thus reducing your resting metabolic rate.
  4. Most importantly, it decreases and stalls your metabolism of fat due to the body’s preference for acetate as its primary energy fuel.

While the best advice would be to stay away as much as possible from alcohol, this does not however mean that you should give up on alcohol entirely but rather that you make better beverage choices and practice moderation if you are serious about losing weight. For instance, you can turn to red wine as it rich in antioxidants. And if you are not the wine type, you can alternatively chose low calorie options such as a lighter beer, rum and diet coke, or vodka soda with lime while making sure that the mixer is sugarless – no juice, tonic water or non-diet soda.