Ever considered if you should cut out alcohol? We all love a pint every now and then, but drinking too much can have a devastating impact on your health, including your weight. Did you know that just one pint of cider has the same calories as a McDonald’s sugar ring doughnut? As it’s so easy to down several pints in one sitting, the calories start stacking up very quickly. So why does alcohol affect our weight loss so much, and how can you make sure that it doesn’t stop you from hitting your target weight?
How alcohol affects your weight loss
Put simply, alcohol is made when yeast ferments the sugar found in grains (e.g. barley) or fruit (e.g. grapes) into alcohol. This is then distilled to remove water, producing something more concentrated and fuller-flavoured. Being high in sugar is what makes alcohol high in calories – one gram of alcohol has 7 calories, much higher than the 4 calories found per gram of carbohydrate or protein and almost as many calories as the 9 calories found in one gram of fat.
Because there aren’t many other nutrients found in alcohol, the calories in alcohol are also ’empty calories’, meaning there are no other nutritional benefits to drinking it. And as we all know, those extra calories can have a real effect on your weight. (If you’d like a way, way more in-depth look at why alcohol is high in calories, have a look at this interesting Reddit thread)
It’s not just the calories in your drink
But it’s not just the calories in what you’re drinking you need to be mindful of. Hands up if you’ve ever stopped off at the kebab shop on the way home from a night out? I know I have, and my drunk self definitely isn’t interested in loading up on salad and healthier options like chicken shish. It doesn’t stop when you get home from a night out either – in the midst of a hangover, sometimes only greasy, fatty food will do to ease the pain and there is no way I’m going for a run or to the gym when I feel like I’m DYING.
Obviously, it’s not impossible to go for a few drinks and forgo the extra calories from drunk food, but lots of alcohol makes it much more likely that you’ll consume hundreds of extra calories without even really thinking about it.
The other benefits when you cut out alcohol
Weight loss isn’t the only benefit you’ll get from cutting back on alcohol – it will also have a positive impact on your liver and will lower your risk of many different health problems, including some cancers, stroke and heart disease.
In the short term, cutting back on the booze could help you sleep better, will improve your skin and might improve your mood too – alcohol is a depressant and it’s very likely that it contributes to low mood and anxiety. And of course, it’s not cheap, so cutting down on your intake will also help your bank balance. Win win.
So should you give up alcohol?
Whether or not you drink alcohol, how much you drink and what you drink is a very personal thing. Some people choose not to drink for religious reasons, some people only drink on special occasions and some people choose to relax and catch up with friends over a pint (or 8).
Similarly, whether or not you decide to cut down on your intake is a very personal thing too. There are official guidelines on how much you should drink, which state that men shouldn’t drink more than 14 units a week (that’s 6 pints of lager). You can find out if you’re drinking too much by using Drinkaware’s self-assessment tool here.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll probably find that booze has a negative impact on your weight loss even if you don’t drink too much thanks to its high-calorie nature, so you might want to cut out alcohol anyway for what admittedly might seem like superficial reasons.
Even cutting down and introducing low-alcohol drinks or soft drinks can help you cut a huge number of calories, which will help on your quest to tackle fat.
Start by cutting down
If you’ve decided that your weight loss is stalling because of what you drink, it can sometimes feel difficult to know how to cut out alcohol, especially if it’s something you’re so used to having. You can start by gradually cutting down, drinking more soft drinks on a night out (low-calorie ones, natch), buying smaller bottles from the supermarket or drinking at home just a few times a week instead of every day.
There are a lot of low-calorie or low-alcohol drinks on the market these days as manufacturers realise that health-conscious consumers want the taste without the negatives, so experiment with some of these to see which ones you like. We put together a list of some of our favourite low-alcohol beer here, but we’re also a fan of some new kids on the block – Budweiser’s Prohibition, St Peter’s Without and Rekordelig’s low-alcohol cider are all great. There is also an increasing number of low-alcohol wines you can probably find in an off-licence near you.
Ways to keep track of your alcohol intake
- If you’re not quite ready to cut out alcohol completely, you should still be mindful of what you’re drinking as alcohol tends to be really high in calories. When you’re drinking, calories are likely to be the last thing on your mind so it’s incredibly easy to blow your calorie budget on a night out. Limit the impact on your weight loss and be prepared by deciding what you’re going to drink in advance. Boring? Maybe, but if you want to protect your weight loss, sometimes you’ve gotta be boring. Sorry.
- Ever noticed that finding nutritional information on alcohol is rare? That’s because there’s no legal requirement for manufacturers to print this information on labels, although healthcare experts are putting increased pressure on the government to change this to help combat Britain’s obesity crisis. A 2014 study by the Royal Society for Public Health found that people had no idea of the calories in their favourite tipples, with almost 90% of people not knowing the number of calories in a pint of lager (it’s 180 by the way, which is similar to one large slice of pizza), so we’d say proper labelling is much-needed.
- Because of this, you often have to do a bit more digging to find how many calories there are in your drink of choice. Luckily, there are a lot of resources online, including this handy website from Drinkaware, where you can calculate the calories in drinks as well as the units.
- There are also apps you can get to keep track of how much you’re drinking, including the NHS OneYou drinks tracker (available for Android here and iOS here) and a mobile version of the Drinkaware calculator.
If you do decide to stop drinking completely…
If you want to take the next step and cut out alcohol completely, remember that it doesn’t have to be a big thing, even if your friends can’t quite believe it. It’s hard when your social life revolves around alcohol, but it is possible to have a good time without it.
That said, it’s completely natural to worry about peer pressure to drink. You could try making it known that you’ve cut out alcohol, as hopefully friends will be supportive (and it’s not uncommon these days to meet a teetotaller), but if you’re finding the ribbing a bit much you could try making yourself the designated driver, avoid socialising in pubs or if your friends are really not supportive of your efforts to improve your health and boost your weight loss, it’s worth thinking about whether they’re the kind of people you want to have in your life because TBH they don’t sound like very good friends(!)
Whether it’s just to give your body a break or a more long-term commitment to your health, cutting down on or cutting out alcohol can be a very positive thing for your weight loss. If your weight has plateaued or you’re just looking for a way of easily cutting out hundreds of calories from your week, give it a go and see how much better you feel for it.
If you’re concerned about your alcohol intake please see your GP, who can refer you to the most appropriate local support services.
You can also find a good list of support services on Drinkaware’s website here, including contact details for organisations such as Addaction and Al-Anon. You can also contact Drinkline, which runs a free helpline for anyone concerned about their drinking or someone else’s, on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm).
- giving up alcohol