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Does Drinking Alcohol Make You Fat?

Average: 4.3 (26 votes)
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Does drinking increasing the size of your waist? Learn the surprising answers, and 7 suggestions to better manage your alcohol drinking and diet program.

Is alcohol making you fat?Alcohol has been implicated as a factor that may hurt your efforts to lose body fat. Whether alcohol is "fattening" has been a very controversial subject because technically speaking, alcohol is NOT stored as fat; it is oxidized ahead of other fuels.

Whether moderate drinking is healthy has also been a subject of controversy. Many studies show that cardiovascular health benefits are associated with moderate beer or wine drinking (which has been of particular interest lately with reservatrol in the news so much), while other studies show improved insulin sensitivity. Some experts however, say that alcohol has no place in a fitness lifestyle.

A recent study published in the journal Obesity adds new findings to our knowledge about alcohol, insulin resistance and abdominal obesity. Analysis of the results as compared to other studies also gives us some insights into why some people seem to drink and get fat while others seem to drink and get thin!

The truth about the beer belly phenomenon

This new study, by Ulf Riserus and Erik Inglesson, was based on the Swedish Uppsala Longitudinal cohort. The researchers found that alcohol intake in older men did not improve insulin sensitivity, which contradicted their own hypothesis and numerous previous studies.

They also said there was a very "robust" association between alcohol intake, waist circumference and waist to hip ratio. They pointed out that a high alcohol intake, especially hard liquor, was closely associated with abdominal body fat, not just overall body mass.

Abdominal fat accumulation is not just a cosmetic problem, it can be a serious health risk. Abdominal fat, also known as "android" or "central" obesity, increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, glucose intolerance and elevated insulin levels.

Many other studies have also found a link between alcohol intake and abdominal fat, but this too has been controversial. A study that was widely publicized by the BBC in 2003 dismissed the concept of the “beer belly.”

Nevertheless, it looks like there’s some scientific support to it after all (or at least a “liquor belly” according to this newer study).

Hormones may be strongly involved because high alcohol intake has been shown to decrease blood testosterone in men, and also increase cortisol levels, which can lead to visceral fat accumulation.

Why is there so much controversy? Why the discrepancy in research findings about alcohol’s influence on obesity, abdominal fat, and insulin sensitivity?

Well, here’s the real story of why some people don’t get fat when they drink:

A lot of the confusion is because epidemiological research cannot show cause and effect relationships and mistakes can easily be made when drawing associations based on limited data.

With the nature of these longitudinal studies, you have to look at the lifestyle and nature of drinkers in general (or in this study, hard liquor drinkers). Also, the Swedish study focused on older men, so age may have been a factor. You may be more likely to deposit alcohol right on your belly as you get older.

When you hear that alcohol increases belly fat, you also have to look at what else is going on in the life of the drinker, particularly what the rest of a person’s diet looks like, and how alcohol intake affects appetite and eating habits.

Research says that alcohol can mess up your body’s perception of hunger, satiety and fullness. If drinking stimulates additional eating, or adds additional calories that aren’t compensated for and which lead to positive energy balance, then you get fat. You may also get fat in the belly, no thanks to what booze does to hormones.

Another thing that confounds the reports on whether alcohol contributes to weight gain is the fact that the game changes in heavy drinkers. We know that alcohol contains 7.1 calories per gram and these calories always count as part of the energy balance equation… or do they? With chronic excessive alcohol consumption, it's possible that not all of these calories are available for energy. Due to changes in liver function and something called the microsomal ethanol oxidizing system (MEOS), alcoholism may be a real case of where some calories don’t count. Many alcoholics also skip meals and eat less with increasing alcohol consumption.

Alcohol metabolizing pathways notwithstanding, even if binge drinkers, daily drinkers or heavy drinkers consume most of their calories from alcohol, if they eat very little, and remain in a calorie deficit, they will not get fat. Compound this with the hormonal effects and you witness the skinny, but under-nourished, unhealthy and atrophied alcoholic (the person you'd think would be most likely to have a beer belly).

It's the calories that count

The bottom line is, the idea that alcohol just automatically turns into fat or gives you a beer belly is mistaken. It’s true that alcohol suppresses fat oxidation, but mainly, alcohol adds calories into your diet, messes with your hormones and can stimulate appetite, leading to even more calories consumed. That’s where the fat gain comes from.

If you drink in moderation, if you’re aware of the calories in the alcohol, if you're aware of the calories from additional food intake consumed during or after drinking, and if you compensate for all of the above accordingly, you won’t get fat.

Now, with that said, you might be wondering: “You mean I can drink and still lose fat? I just need to keep in a calorie deficit?”

Yes, that's exactly what I mean. But before you rush off to the pub for a cold one, hold that thought for a minute while you consider this first: The empty alcohol calories displace the nutrient dense calories!

When you’re on a fat loss program you have a fairly small “calorie budget”, so you need to give some careful thought to how those calories should be “spent.” For example, if a female is on a 1500 calorie per day diet, does she really want to "spend" 500 of those calories – one third of her intake - for a few alcoholic drinks, and leave only 1000 for health-promoting food, fiber and lean muscle building protein?

I realize some people may answer “yes” to that question, but then again, if some people spent their money as frivolously as they spent their calories, they would be in deep trouble!

To summarize this into some practical, take-home advice, here are 7 of my personal tips for alcohol consumption in the fitness lifestyle:

  1. Don’t drink on a fat loss program. Although you could certainly drink and “get away with it” if you diligently maintained your calorie deficit as noted above, it certainly does not help your fat loss cause or your nutritional status.
  2. Drink in moderation during maintenance. For lifelong weight maintenance and a healthy lifestyle, if you drink, do so in moderation and only occasionally, such as on weekends or when you go out to dine in restaurants. Binge drinking and getting drunk has no place in a fitness lifestyle (not to mention hangovers aren’t very conducive to good workouts).
  3. Don't drink daily. Moderate drinking, including daily drinking, has been associated with cardiovascular health benefits. However, I don’t recommend daily drinking because behaviors repeated daily become habits. Behaviors repeated multiple times daily become strong habits. Habitual drinking may lead to heavier drinking or full-blown addictions and can be hard to stop if you ever need to cut back.
  4. Count the calories. If you decide to have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine or two (or whatever moderation is for you), be sure to account for the alcohol in your daily calorie budget.
  5. Watch your appetite. Don’t let the “munchies” get control of you during or after you drink (Note to chicken wing and nacho-eating men: The correlation to alcohol and body fat is higher in men in almost all the studies. One possible explanation is that men tend to drink and eat, while women may tend to drink instead of eating).
  6. Watch the fatty foods. When drinking, watch the fatty foods in particular. A study by Angelo Tremblay back in 1995 suggested that alcohol and a high fat diet are a combination that favors overfeeding.
  7. Enjoy without guilt. If you choose to drink (moderately and sensibly), then don’t feel guilty about it or beat yourself up afterwards, just enjoy the darn stuff, will you!

To learn more about fat loss check out my book Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle.

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    Average: 4.3 (26 votes)
  • About The Author
    Tom has been involved with fitness since 1989. His book "Burn the fat, feed the muscle" and articles have been featured in many large online sites.
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Comments (23)

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Griset
Posted Sat, 10/09/2010 - 11:43

The article was full of information, and I think you know what you really did your research. It really helps when someone gives you good advise. Thanks

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garry field
Posted Mon, 11/08/2010 - 15:29

good article.it's not the beers that count it's the chips and pizza after! i think a little of what you like now and then wont hurt you.after all they say all things in moderation

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Good Life Fitness
Posted Thu, 06/16/2011 - 14:51

Tom great article! Very informative and I really enjoy your insight on this subject.

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C3
Posted Sun, 10/23/2011 - 09:39

Unfortunatly i am kind of a daily drinker since loseing my job 9 months ago.But something else started the same time,i started lifting weights and getting in shape and eating better.So not only am i in the best shape of my life at 34 but im drinking more than i ever did also,about 5 or 6 days a week 5 beers each day,i wonder what i would look like if i stopped the booz?

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vijay
Posted Tue, 07/31/2012 - 02:06

u will save money,but few days u il be irritating mad fr others as u ill be controlling ur booz ofenly if u continue the same ur life wil be super but ocasionaly booze

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Katie
Posted Wed, 11/09/2011 - 09:41

Great article! Backs up what I always thought. I work out regularly, eat well, and really enjoy a glass of wine or two in the evening. One thing that helps me, is I drink my wine out of a small mason jar, that way I know I'm consuming 4oz(100 calorie)glasses of wine.

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jamshaid
Posted Sun, 01/08/2012 - 13:08

very nyce article

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JOshua
Posted Thu, 02/02/2012 - 03:59

very nice article bud :) :) :)

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vixen
Posted Mon, 03/19/2012 - 04:34

I own/moderate a few fitness/diet-related groups, and this is exactly what i have been trying to tell folks about alcohol!

~i~ really love wine, and have been working it into my healthy diet for decades now! But all the "caveats" you state are true!

Would you mind very much if i repost this article to a few groups ( with proper accredidation, of course!)

i recently started a thread in one of my Groups called "Don't Drink Your Calories!", and i think they would really benefit from reading this. ( i don't seem to be able to copy the URL)!

Thanks in advance for your response,

MWvixen

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Karl
Posted Sun, 11/04/2012 - 15:20

This article reads as though it was written by a 7th grader. Unacceptable syntactic structure and assumed semantics are rampant. I got through two thirds of this article before I asked myself what I had learned so far and realized it was nothing. Cite your sources better next time too. Unsubscribed.

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Lorna Ann
Posted Thu, 12/13/2012 - 20:06

I feel only pity for you. You must feel so inadequate to have written this. I hope you find a life.

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henry
Posted Tue, 07/08/2014 - 08:20

Where, Karl, exactly is the "unacceptable syntactic structure"? And what do you mean by "assumed semantics"? You're basically saying nothing there. If you failed to learn anything then that's probably mostly due to your inability to comprehend. Your comment is a few sentences strung together attempting to sound intelligent by disparaging the article, but the fact is you make no sense at all.

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thomas padilla
Posted Tue, 08/26/2014 - 17:52

Actually police officers, fire fighters and medics are trained to write reports as clear and concise as possible. And reports should be written so a 12 year old can understand. I thought the report was very informative and well written.

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Brian Walpole
Posted Mon, 11/19/2012 - 06:19

If you’re working hard to build that chiselled physique, even one drink too many, over a period of time will slow your progress. While some studies have pointed to the benefits of an occasional glass of wine, the general consensus remains that more often than not, it’s the alcohol that is responsible for expanding waistlines. Knowing how exactly alcohol affects your body and interferes with the normal metabolic process will give you a better idea of why even social drinking can become a threat to fat loss.

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Mehdy
Posted Sat, 12/08/2012 - 11:23

The article was so nice,I was wondering how can i drink it during my fitness diet.Now I now what is the best for me,I WILL ENJOY DRINKING MORE THAN BEFORE

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Beatrice M
Posted Thu, 12/13/2012 - 20:04

Poor Karl. One of those sad people who can't bear to see anyone else get an "attaboy". Fantastic, well-researched article by Tom and all this nimrod can do is critique the structure and syntax. What are you, a frustrated school teacher?

Great article Tom. Great body too. Mmmmm maybe that's what's got up Karl's nose.

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jimmy warren
Posted Fri, 02/08/2013 - 23:56

yes wine and beer make you fat because of the yest and liver swelling

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jimmy warren
Posted Fri, 02/08/2013 - 23:58

a lot of fluid on your body

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terri
Posted Fri, 06/14/2013 - 17:45

@Jimmy Warren....What the heck is yest? Do you mean yeast?? You might want to make sure you know what you're talking about before you post. Alcoholic drinks that have been distilled (which is most of them, and all commercial products) do not contain "yeast"

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Louie
Posted Tue, 06/04/2013 - 08:51

i cant believe people are bagging you out
I feel that it is the most honest answer to this question regardless of thier oppinion.
I got a lot out of it thank you

necessary
Thanks

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Sophie
Posted Fri, 01/10/2014 - 21:38

What about taking shots of vodka every weekend .. Binging lol that's what I do uh oh

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Lynda Dove-Garcia
Posted Mon, 07/28/2014 - 13:41

If I may, I would like to add a few things based on my own observation and facts from doctors. My father was an alcoholic He was overweight but severely undernourished. He got cardiomyopathy (heart failure) due to the body being unable to produce enough B vitamins. So alcohol abuse causes severe nutritional deficiency. Also, drinking in excess can cause liver inflammation which can produce the severely distended abdomen (think starving children in Africa...their lack of protein in their diets has caused their livers to start failing). Just thought these observations might help. Thanks for the article Tom.

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Sammy
Posted Tue, 08/19/2014 - 00:10

Everything in moderation is the key. Too much of anything is bad so there you go have a few brews once in a while. good article by the way

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