You’ve probably heard that alcohol contains empty calories and, if you want to lose weight, it’s a good idea to scale back on how much you drink. But there’s a difference between hearing your friend’s cousin lost a bunch of weight after she stopped drinking beer and knowing the actual science around weight and alcohol.
It’s not just about the calories from alcohol itself: Drinking can lower your inhibitions and sense of awareness, making you much more likely to mindlessly eat when you have a buzz, says Alissa Rumsey, R.D., owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. “While you may be able to realize you are full and stop after one slice of pizza when you are sober, it’s harder to read those fullness signals when you’ve had a few drinks,” she says. “People often end up eating when they aren’t necessarily hungry.”
Excess alcohol can also turn to fat in your liver and can raise the amount of fat in your blood, says Sonya Angelone, R.D., a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It’s also more likely to be stored in your body as fat, she says.
Add all of this together and it’s easy to see how drinking heavily can cause you to gain weight over time. That doesn’t mean you have to totally swear off alcohol if you want to lose weight—you just need to be smart about drinking. “The extra calories from moderate drinking (one serving of alcohol for women a day or two servings for men per day) can certainly fit into the calorie allotment for weight maintenance,” Angelone says. The important thing is that you factor those calories in along with what you eat, she says.
Rumsey agrees. “If you enjoy a moderate amount of alcohol and it is something that is important to you, I don’t recommend restricting yourself to try to lose weight,” she says. “This type of restriction tends to backfire.” If you want to make lower-calorie drink choices, she recommends opting for wine or beer, or having cocktails made with low-sugar add-ins like soda water and a splash of fruit juice.
Again, you can drink and still lose weight—just keep it within moderate levels and you should be fine.