Alcohol is entrenched in our culture as way to have fun, let loose and be social, especially during the silly season. December brings with it Christmas parties, warmer weather and a switch into holiday mode, which means our alcohol guards are down and we might overindulge in food and drinks as a reward for a year of hard work. But how does this affect our weight loss efforts?
Some people advocate for avoiding alcohol altogether while trying to lose weight, however, as most of you will agree, when you attempt to eliminate something so ingrained into your environment or your habits – like alcohol or carbohydrates – you often set yourself up for failure.
Instead, it may be better to intelligently integrate these occasional treats into your weight loss program. Being informed about how alcohol is metabolised in your body, its caloric value, and how often is OK to drink for your body, will go a long way to helping you do this.
How our body uses alcohol
Unlike macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats, alcohol supplies what nutritionists often refer to as empty calories: calories without nutrition. When combined with a meal of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, alcohol is the first fuel to be used, postponing the fat-burning process. While the body is burning off the alcohol, it won’t be metabolising any other energy sources and these will then tend to be stored, which can lead to weight gain.
While we can store protein, carbohydrates, fat and other nutrients in our bodies, we can't store alcohol, which is why our bodies use it up first in an attempt to get rid of it.
Furthermore, alcohol decreases our inhibitions.  The result of this relaxed thinking, especially around food, could mean more calories are consumed than our body needs and we are likely to make poorer food choices at this time too. Some studies have also shown that alcohol may also have an appetite stimulating effect  - another reason we may end up consuming excess calories.
Because alcohol is made from sugar or starch, it contains lots of calories – seven calories per gram to be exact. That’s almost double the 4 calories per gram from protein and carbohydrates and almost as many as the 9 calories from fat. Unlike macronutrients from whole foods, alcohol doesn’t provide any feelings of satiety (fullness), so you’re likely to drink these calories in addition to what you’re eating.
If you prefer your alcohol with mixers such as soft drinks and sugary syrups, you’ll be consuming the calories from those too.
Consider a 150mL glass of wine contains approximately 115 calories, yet a 240mL margarita cocktail contains 360 calories, which, for someone on a weight loss plan, could equate to one meal’s worth of calories!
One full-strength stubby (375mL can) of beer contains as much as 140 calories, which is around the same amount as a deep-fried dim sim. A 500ml bottle of cider contains up to 209 calories, which is around the same as a traditional cinnamon Krispy Kreme doughnut. To put this further into context, a man’s average daily calorie intake is generally around 2,600 calories and a woman’s is around 2,000 calories.
We’ve all heard it said a million times and it still rings true – moderation is the key. The above information has hopefully provided you with a reality check about alcohol – and may have even surprised you – but it certainly doesn’t mean that you need to give up drinking altogether. Rather, get smart about how to incorporate alcohol into your diet and look at ways to cut down rather than cut out so you don’t feel completely deprived. Here are some tips to consider:
1. Have a plan – Before you start drinking set a limit on how much you’re going to drink.
2. Know what your daily calorie intake should be – Knowing this will help you plan for the days you do want to drink and help you understand how much you can reasonably consume without ruining your weight loss plans long term.
3. Set a budget – Only take a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol if drinking out.
4. One day at a time – Cut back a little each day. That way, every day you do is a success.
5. Gradually go smaller – Go for smaller sized drinks, for example, a small glass of wine instead of a large one.
6. Stay hydrated – Have a glass of water before you have alcohol and alternate alcoholic drinks with water.
7. Eat before drinking - If you have a special night out and intend to drink more than usual, then make sure you eat plenty of food before drinking. It will prevent you from getting too drunk and you'll be less hungry later.
8. Cut down with a friend – The moral support of a friend can be motivating and help you better stick to your plan.
9. Reduce drinking days – Rather than drinking daily cut down to 1-2 days per week and avoid binge drinking on those days.
 Christiansen, P., Rose, A., Randall-Smith, L., & Hardman, C. A. (2016). Alcohol’s acute effect on food intake is mediated by inhibitory control impairments. Health Psychology, 35(5), 518-522.
 Cains, S., Blomeley, C., Kollo, M., Rácz, R. and Burdakov, D. (2017). Agrp neuron activity is required for alcohol-induced overeating. Nature Communications, [online] 8, p.14014. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14014 [Accessed 1 Dec. 2017].