Is it possible to include alcohol in a fat-loss diet? Or do you need to cut out booze completely the minute you decide to adopt a better diet? Here’s the honest truth about alcohol and fat loss.
IS ALCOHOL FATTENING?
Let’s quickly revisit the basics of fat loss.
To lose weight (body fat) you need to be in a calorie deficit.
That means creating a deficit in the energy balance between calories in (food, drink) and calories out (BMR, movement, activity, exercise). Whether you choose to eat less, move more, or a bit of both, being in a caloric deficit will lead to fat loss.
Alcohol itself isn’t fattening, but of course it contains significant calories.
In fact, alcohol contains 7kcals per gram. Compare that to 4kcals per gram for protein and carbs, and 9kcals per gram for fats, and you’ll see that drinking alcohol is not far off drinking liquid fat in terms of calories. (1)
Alcohol also tends to contain a lot of sugar, which adds extra calories. And we often mix it with high sugar mixers.
The bottom line is that alcohol itself isn’t fattening – overeating through excess calories is fattening. And it’s easy to add excess calories when you drink alcohol.
DOES ALCOHOL PREVENT FAT LOSS?
What happens within your body when you drink alcohol?
The body metabolises different foods at different rates, but when you add alcohol into the mix, metabolism of the alcohol takes priority over fats, carbohydrates, or proteins.
Your body will always opt for the easiest source of energy, and alcohol is far easier to burn than fat.
This means fat oxidation is suppressed until the alcohol is metabolised.
However, studies have shown that energy intake and appetite are not supressed.
This may mean that you eat as much – if not more – yet your body metabolises the food more slowly. (2)
CAN I DRINK ALCOHOL ON A DIET?
As a coach, I don’t like to give “rules”. I believe the most successful fat loss diet is the one you can stick to and maintain in the future.
In an ideal world, the minute you start dieting you would flick a switch and remove any sub-optimal foods and drinks from your world.
But we are humans, not robots.
My best advice is to take an honest look at your alcohol intake and behaviours.
When, why, and with whom do you drink?
Can the alcohol be replaced by a healthier drink (or a non-food related behaviour)?
Reduce your alcohol intake as much as you can.
This is good for your calorie intake, but will also have far-reaching benefits for your health.
If having a drink is important to you, an integral part of your working relationships, or important to your social life, make smarter choices and remain aware of other ways alcohol can scupper your fat loss diet.
5 WAYS ALCOHOL HARMS FAT LOSS…
1.It contains significant calories (in itself, and in mixers)
2. Weight gain from alcohol sits around your belly area
3. Alcohol can spike your appetite and lead to poor food choices
4. It can also impact your sleep quality, which is bad for fat loss
5. And it can impact your energy and motivation to be active (3, 4)
…AND WHEN IT MIGHT NOT
If you really enjoy a drink once in a while, having one low-cal drink and savouring it mindfully could help you stick to your diet.
TIPS FOR ALCOHOL DURING A DIET
- Track it as you would any other calorie intake
- Keep a note of when and why you drink (mood, triggers, behaviours)
- Stick to the lowest-calorie choices (see below) and low-cal mixers
- Make a plan and stick to just one drink
- Be aware of how alcohol can lead you to overeat, order takeaway, snack etc
THE BEST AND WORSE ALCOHOL CHOICES FOR DIETING
- Champagne: real champagne is low in sugar compared to other bubblies, around 90kcal per 125ml
- Wine: around 100-120kcal per 125ml glass (most of us overpour at home!) White wine has slightly fewer calories than red wine.
- Fortified wines: drinks like Vermouth are around 65-70kcal per 45ml, but of course this all changes as soon as you mix it with anything else.
- Spirits: gin and vodka contain around 95kcal per shot, whiskey around 105kcal per shot. Avoid the flavoured spirits and spiced rums and opt for low calorie or “light” mixers.
- Beer: light beer can come in at 60kcals, but don’t use this as an excuse to knock several back!
The worst alcohol choices for fat loss are cocktails (packed with sugar), alcopops, high-alcohol craft beers, and Prosecco (sorry!)
Drop me an email if you’re not sure how to design a fat loss diet that works with your lifestyle.
For today’s blog post I had help from the following scientific studies: