How Alcohol causes weight gain

Diva - 05 Feb 22

clear glass cup on wooden surface

What starts with an A and ends with a hangover? Yeappppp... that's the one, Alcohol. We dive into this blog with some information relating to alcohol Vs. weight loss. Can you gain weight when you drink alcohol?

Can alcohol really make me gain weight? 

Oh goodness, the age old question... will I pick up weight if I drink? But why??? Alcohol can cause or contribute to weight gain as mulitiple proven studies has shown. There are several links between alcohol and weight gain including:

  • alcohol is packed with sugar, carbs and empty calories
  • you’re also likely to eat more unhealthy foods than you would if you weren’t drinking.
Weight gain is just one of the many health considerations to keep in mind when it comes to your alcohol use and limiting how much you drink.

When you drink alcohol, particularly large amounts or excessively or daily intake of alcohol, it can affect many parts of your body and your life. One area of concern that people frequently wonder about is weight gain related to alcohol use. Does alcohol cause weight gain or is this a myth? We are afraid there is no myth to bust here. 

There are a few reasons why alcohol and weight gain are linked, some of which are direct and others are indirect. First, alcohol can cause weight gain simply because it has calories. Not only does the actual alcohol have calories, but additives and mixers that are included with many alcoholic beverages can be packed with calories as well as sugar. The calories that come from alcohol are considered empty, meaning they have no nutritional value. Hmmm okay - what about straight whiskey on the rocks then? Well, it all depends on your own methabolism and Per 100g, whiskey tends to come in at around 200-300 calories.

Alcohol is also an appetite stimulant, so you may be more likely to eat more and also make poorer food choices. Not only are you likely to feel hungrier if you’re drinking, but your inhibitions will be lowered, so you’re not going to be thinking about choosing healthy foods.

Research suggests that heavy episodic drinking is associated with a 41% higher risk of transitioning from normal weight to overweight, a 36% higher risk of transitioning from overweight to obese, and a 35% higher risk of maintaining obesity compared to those who aren’t heavy drinkers.

And finally, another way alcohol and weight gain are linked is alcohol suppresses the central nervous system which ultimately just slows all the functions of your body down. This likely only has a significant effect on chronic drinkers.

Drinking in moderation is usually considered okay from a health perspective, but it’s important to have a full grasp of what “in moderation” means because drinking excessively can contribute to a range of health problems, many of which are serious.

Drinking in moderation means having no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and no more than two a day for men. If you’re drinking more than this, it could be considered problematic, and if you drink more than five drinks a day as a man or four as a woman, that’s considered binge drinking. Regardless, it is best just to not drink on a daily basis. 

The immediate effects of alcohol can include impaired coordination and judgment, memory problems and slow reflexes. Even if you just have a single drink, these things can occur and the more you drink, the more profound and apparent these symptoms can become.

When you drink, a significant portion of the alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream, and then it is distributed through most tissues in your body.

Here are just some of the effects of alcohol on the body:

  • When you drink, it affects your brain significantly, including altering the levels of GABA and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that are part of the brain’s reward system. If you have changes in either of these neurotransmitters, it can lead to multiple effects, including increased heart rate, aggression, and depression.
  • Your liver is one part of the body that is most significantly impacted by drinking. Your liver processes and metabolises alcohol. When you drink excessively, it causes your liver to accumulate fat, which can lead to a serious condition called fatty liver disease. This can ultimately lead to cirrhosis.
  • Drinking raises estrogen levels and this has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
When you drink, it causes your stomach to make an excessive amount of acid, which can contribute to a variety of conditions like irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining.

When participants in a survey was asked about health complications directly related to their alcohol use this was the response:
    • 1 in 3 reported depression (38%)
    • 1 in 3 reported high blood pressure (31%)
    • 1 in 6 reported liver disease (17%)
    • 1 in 10 reported cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) (12%)
    • 1 in 10 reported cardiovascular disease (11%)
    • 1 in 7 reported a weakened immune system (15%)
    • 1 in 10 reported nerve damage (11%)
    • 1 in 12 reported pancreatitis (8.4%)
    • 1 in 11 reported seizures (9%)
    • 1 in 13 reported cancer (7.8%) 

Alcohol's calories in your body are burned first

Caloric content aside (which can be considerable considering that the average person drinks between 4 and 14 drinks per week—that’s an extra 600 to 2,100 of liquid calories), the way that alcoholic calories are handled once they’re inside your body can make a big impact on your weight. Normally, your body uses the food you’ve consumed on a first-come, first-serve basis. When alcohol enters your body, it essentially cuts the line, replacing the last meal you ate as the body’s primary fuel source. While it might sound like a good thing that those alcohol calories are being used, it’s bad news for the food in your stomach. The energy (carbs and sugar) from that food goes unused if not immediately necessary. That excess is then stored as body fat. That fat can show on the scale in as little as four hours.

Alcohol Really Does Make You Eat More

There is a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and an increased appetite. Drinking can interfere with the hormone leptin, which signals to our brains when we’ve had enough to eat, causing us to eat more in order to feel full. Further, studies have proven that alcohol provides absolutely no satiation to feelings of hunger, despite all the excess calories they provide. This is likely due to alcohol triggering specific neurons associated with the body’s starvation mode. To make matters even worse, alcohol can cause you to crave foods that are really bad for you. 

Why? Alcohol enhances the already hard-to-resist tastiness of salts and fats, the flavour areas where junk food reigns supreme. Normally, we might possess the wherewithal to avoid greasy food late at night when our metabolism is at its slowest. But alcohol can lower both our inhibitions and judgment, making that midnight fast-food run difficult to refuse.

Alcohol slows down your metabolism

The speed of your metabolism determines how many calories you burn when your body is at rest (i.e. sitting and sleeping). Since having excess calories lying around is the cause of fat building up and consequently, weight gain, the faster your metabolism the better. 

Alcohol can interfere with your natural fat-burning ability by harming the organs involved in the digestive tract. The stomach, liver, and intestines are crucial to your body getting the nutrients it needs. Heavy alcohol consumption can impair their function, causing your digestive system to be less efficient at breaking food down. If you’re struggling with weight loss, skipping on that beer or second glass of wine could make a big difference . Even if you’re happy with your physical appearance, minimising your alcohol intake is likely to improve your internal health significantly, reducing your risk of heart and liver disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers. If you’ve tried to cut back on drinking  before and found it difficult, you might have a drinking problem. 

These aren’t even all the ways alcohol can affect your body—there are many more.
We  aim to improve the quality of life for people who struggle to lose weight and might not know what the causes for this is, we do this with fact-based content about the nature of behavioural health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider. But we do wish that you can see the reasons why we would not recommend alcohol intake whilst undergoing our ultrasound liposuction treatment or if you are on a weight loss journey.  

Book your appointment for Ultrasound liposuction now

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