Weight loss can be a difficult goal, especially when you feel like you’ve already tried everything and nothing works. A big part of losing weight is changing your habits, and that is not easy. Some people would suggest starting with the little things, like cutting out the cream and sugar in your coffee. This only works, of course, if you are a coffee drinker.
Quitting alcohol to lose weight is another great place to start. Depending on how much alcohol you drink in a week, you stand to see a substantial weight loss in a short period of time by reducing the amount you consume. That initial success could spur you on to make changes that result in additional weight loss. Plus, there are other healthy benefits to cutting alcohol out of your diet.
How Does Alcohol Impact Body Weight?
Alcohol is a drug, but it is also a beverage. Like any other food you consume, alcohol has calories and affects your body weight. However, alcohol also interferes with the digestion of the other foods you consume.
Your body perceives alcohol as a toxin, something that is dangerous to your system. In fact, alcohol is poisonous, and in large enough quantities, it causes death. Most people do not die from drinking alcohol because they drink it slowly enough for their liver to metabolize it, mitigating the immediate threat.
Keep in mind, though, that many people do die because of alcohol — just not from the liquid substance itself. On average, the number of people who die as a result of alcohol is about 88,000 per year. Most alcohol-related deaths have to do with the side effects: impaired driving, serious chronic diseases, depression and other addiction-related problems.
When you drink alcohol, it goes through your digestive system and enters your bloodstream. From there, it travels to your brain and causes effects like increased body temperature, lack of coordination and lowered inhibitions. Before the alcohol gets to your brain, though, it has to get out of your stomach.
In the stomach, alcohol mixes with other foods you have eaten. Since your body recognizes alcohol as a toxin, it gets fast-tracked through the digestive system and into the bloodstream. Meanwhile, the other food you’ve eaten has to wait for its digestion to resume.
The longer digesting food sits in your stomach, the better chance your body has of absorbing the carbohydrates and fats out of it. A meal that might have resulted in a three-pound weight gain can actually pack on additional pounds when accompanied by alcohol.
Think of some of the weight loss products on the market today. Advertisements for digestive aides claim the added bonus of weight loss because they help move food out of your stomach faster. Some diet aides are specifically designed, like laxatives, to speed up the movement of food you eat through your digestive system.
Alcohol makes the food sit in your stomach longer, which, of course, is the opposite of a weight loss aide. The longer food sits in your stomach, the more weight you will be likely to gain because more of the fat-producing elements of the food have a chance to be absorbed.
Add the fact that alcohol contains calories and sugar itself, and you have twice the impact on your body weight. For the average American, about 100 calories per day comes from alcoholic beverages, whether it’s beer, wine or liquor. Consuming 2,000 calories in a day is considered normal by most health standards. That breaks down to roughly 660 calories per meal. If you drink six beers in a day, that is the equivalent of an extra meal.
Those are just the rough estimates for basic alcoholic beverages. If you drink mixed drinks that contain fruit juices or sugary mixes, the calorie count is even higher. Here’s a list of the calories contained in some mixed drinks:
The Nutrition of Alcohol
Alcohol has no nutritional value. This fact is significant when we start counting calories. You may be tempted to keep alcohol in your diet and simply reduce your caloric intake somewhere else. Skipping a meal and having a few drinks at happy hour would seem like an even trade, mathematically.
Skipping meals and replacing them with empty calories actually promotes weight gain, however. Your body has certain nutritional requirements that, when not met, will produce cravings. When you skip a meal, even if you replace those calories and feel full, you will not be satisfied.
The next day, your appetite will be bigger, and you will make up for the missing nutritional calories. There is no way to keep the calories of alcohol from being an add-on to your daily caloric intake, whether it’s the same day or at a later point.
Another point to consider is that alcohol is created from sugar. By starting with a carbohydrate — fruit juice in the case of wine or barley and hops in the case of beer — yeast is used to convert the sugar into alcohol, and the substance becomes fermented. For beverages that contain more than 15% alcohol, the excess water is distilled from the liquid, thereby concentrating the alcohol in the remaining liquid.
When you consume alcohol, you are consuming sugar, and sugar causes more weight gain than any other food. Sugar is broken down into two substances in the body: glucose and fructose. Fructose cannot be used by the body, so the liver turns it into fat and releases it into the bloodstream.
Due to the proven connection between sugar and weight gain, the World Health Organization recommends limiting sugar intake to 10% of daily calories. For an average 2,000 calorie day, that would mean only 200 calories from sugar or roughly 50 grams of sugar.
It’s easy to see how alcohol can put your sugar intake over the limit and create additional weight gain. Since there are no nutrients to be gained, either, alcohol consumption does not contribute anything to a healthy diet.
Health Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
Besides weight gain, drinking alcohol detracts from a healthy lifestyle in many other ways as well. Although it is socially acceptable, alcohol consumption can lead to addiction — a chronic mental illness that requires professional treatment. For some, overcoming addiction can be a life-long struggle.
Since it is a toxin, consuming alcohol can also cause these short-term effects:
• Impaired judgment
• Difficulty breathing
• Slurred speech
• Loss of coordination
• Blurred vision
However, the long-term benefits of quitting alcohol could include avoiding any or all of the following conditions:
• Alcohol poisoning
• Liver disease
• Nerve damage
• Sexual dysfunction
• Loss of work productivity
• Permanent brain damage
• High blood pressure
If drinking alcohol has not created any serious health effects for you, now is a good time to quit. It is better to prevent some of these negative health outcomes than to try to reverse them later. Adverse health effects are often inevitable with continued alcohol consumption.
One side effect of drinking alcohol that you probably have experienced is a disruption to your sleep patterns. Even if you are not a heavy drinker, your alcohol consumption has likely kept you up late at night or caused you to wake up much too early in the morning.
Alcohol consumption can change sleep patterns and cause sleep deprivation as well as all sorts of other problems. Additionally, fatigue is one of the top addiction recovery relapse triggers. When you are tired, you do not make good decisions. Poor decisions can lead to weight gain or worse.
One benefit to quitting alcohol is regaining healthy sleep habits. When you get enough restorative sleep, you can function better and be more productive during the day. You will have more energy and a better attitude as well. Therefore, quitting alcohol, in addition to promoting weight loss, can make you happier and more productive.
How Much Weight Can You Lose If You Stop Drinking Alcohol?
Losing weight, like addiction recovery, is a very personal journey. There are several factors that impact your body weight. Adjusting your calorie intake and increasing your physical activity are the two major changes that should result in weight loss.
Losing weight is something many people struggle with because it requires changing habits. What, how and when you consume calories is a regular part of your life that you probably don’t think about much any more. Eating and drinking, like exercising, become activities we perform without much thought. Most people who are overweight don’t even realize all of the calories they consume in a day.
There is no doubt that if you stop drinking alcohol, you will lose weight because your sugar intake will likely be reduced. The amount of weight you lose because of that one change will depend how much alcohol you regularly consume and what percentage of your daily sugar intake that represents.
Beyond that simple calculation, however, there are other ways that ending your alcohol intake will contribute to weight loss, and these pounds will be harder to calculate in advance. Since alcohol is a depressant, it slows your body functions and reduces your physical activity. When you stop drinking, you will have more energy.
In addition to having more energy, you may also find some more time in your day or your weekend when you quit drinking. The time you spent at the bar could be re-allocated to exercise. If you stop drinking alcohol and you increase your amount of exercise, you will lose even more weight.
One more thing to keep in mind is that even though alcohol is a depressant, it can actually increase your appetite. When you stop drinking, you may find situations like those late-night munchies simply go away. Not eating as much, of course, makes it much easier to lose weight.
How to Lose Weight by Quitting Alcohol
In some respects, the weight will come off on its own if you stop drinking alcohol. The focus, then, needs to be on quitting alcohol. Most people think they can stop drinking whenever they want to, but in reality it might be harder than you imagined.
Alcohol is an addictive substance that is often used to calm nerves or relieve stress. Just because you decide to quit doesn’t mean the addiction will suddenly loosen its grip. Also, for many people, alcohol is a habit. You might notice that you always drink at the same time of day, in the same place or with the same people around. Habits can be hard to change.
If you want to see how much weight you can lose with a no alcohol weight loss regime, try these tips:
Find another way to relax
If you typically use alcohol to unwind at the end of the day or to deal with a particularly stressful situation, you’ll have to find a substitute. Stress happens in everyone’s life, but relieving stress is important to survival. If you try to quit alcohol but don’t find another way to relieve stress, you are not likely to be successful. Learning to meditate, taking a yoga class or doing some deep breathing are all ways to reduce stress. Experiment with different approaches until you find one that works for you.
Make some changes in your life.
If you use alcohol to calm your nerves or help you get geared up for social situations, you might want to examine your social life. Some people find it difficult to interact in large groups, while others are particularly unnerved by encounters with certain family members. Whatever your situation is, instead of using alcohol to get through it, you should figure out if you need these interactions in your life at all.
When you quit alcohol, maybe you should also stop attending large parties or get to the bottom of family relationships that make you uncomfortable. If you have a job that stresses you out every day, you may want to consider making a career change. If you need alcohol to get through life, it is healthier to change your life.
Change your scene.
Going to the same places with the same people and trying not to drink is not going to work. It will just add to your frustration and ultimately make you give up on your goal to lose weight by quitting alcohol. Instead, decide to make some changes up front. Make a plan to stay away from your usual drinking places. Seek out people in your social circle who do not drink and spend more time with them instead.
Taper off at your own pace.
If you are having trouble just quitting alcohol all at once or if you have a particularly heavy drinking habit, take it slow when you’re trying to quit. Detoxing from alcohol abruptly can be dangerous and should not be attempted without medical supervision.
Instead, let yourself down slowly. Make a plan to reduce your consumption consistently until you are not drinking anymore. Map out your usual alcohol use on a weekly basis. For every episode of drinking, decide to stop before you reach your usual limit. If you have six beers after work each day, for instance, cut it back to four the first week, then three, then two, until you are done.
Enlist the help and support of a friend.
Since quitting alcohol has so many healthy benefits, including weight loss, you might want to share this experience with a friend. Recruit a like-minded friend to quit with you and help them reap the benefits, too. Peer pressure is a great motivator. The two of you will keep each other on track.
If you don’t have a friend who needs to quit drinking and lose weight, ask someone like your spouse to be your support system. That person can remind you of your weight loss goals when you are tempted to drink. Someone who can hold you accountable for your goals will be invaluable in helping you achieve them.
Schedule your free time.
When you stop drinking, you will have more free time. The time you used to spend at a bar or drinking with friends is now empty. Fill that time with other healthy activities that will increase your weight loss. Trade your old bar for a new gym. Spend happy hour working out and getting the natural stress relief exercise can provide. It is hard to change habits, but replacing an old habit with a new one is much easier.
Adopt a positive attitude.
Whether it was your own idea to quit alcohol as a weight loss technique or your doctor or a loved one urged you to do it, get behind the effort. Do not bemoan the fact that you are no longer drinking, but celebrate it. Even before you start to see the positive effects, decide that you are going to be your own champion in this endeavor. If anyone wants to criticize the idea, let them know you are excited about the potential weight loss and other health benefits.
Redefine your signature drink.
Part of identifying as a drinker is having a signature drink that people know you by. When you quit drinking, you may feel a slight loss of identity when you attend obligatory social functions. You aren’t giving up drinking, however — you are just quitting alcohol. Decide on a new signature drink that is healthy and refreshing. There are plenty of juice, water and soda combinations to choose from. Be sure your new drink doesn’t contain as much sugar as your old one, though. You want to get maximum weight loss from giving up alcohol.
Watch out for substitutions.
Since you are not drinking alcohol, you may be tempted to fill up on something else, like the hors’ devours. Because alcohol is used, even unconsciously, to soothe and calm, it can be tempting to replace drinking with eating or even smoking. There is no point in giving up one bad habit for another. Be aware of the changes you are making and be sure you don’t find another unhealthy habit to substitute for drinking alcohol.
Reinvest your new-found energy.
You can use your weight loss success from quitting drinking to increase your positive results. Take the extra energy you have now that you are not drinking and invest it in additional healthy physical activity. Join a running club or a softball league to add comfortable social interaction to your schedule. Add an extra long walk with the dog to your daily routine. The more you use your energy for activities, the better you will feel and the more weight you will lose.
If you want to learn more about the connection between alcohol abstinence and weight loss, contact 12 Keys today. Our experience in addiction recovery has made us experts in changing behaviors. We can answer all of your questions about the metabolism of alcohol and why weight loss can be a typical side effect of alcohol addiction recovery.