If we've heard it once, we've heard it a thousand times before: If you want to lose weight, you should really cut out alcohol. That's because not only do we take in tons of additional calories when we drink (often without realizing it), but also because our food habits while intoxicated are usually well...less than stellar. (Don't worry, you can drink alcohol and still lose weight, as long as you're smart about it.)
So why is that anyway? Well, past research has shown that alcohol can indeed increase our appetite and make us want to eat more high-calorie foods (hello, greasy french fries!), but a new study gives another explanation. Alcohol may be linked with increased calorie consumption (and subsequent weight gain) not because of heightened cravings, as some researchers have argued, but because of impairment in self-control that causes us to act impulsively, according to new research published in the journal Health Psychology. Makes a whole lot of sense to us. Who can say no to a second slice of pizza two drinks deep?
In order to test their theory that alcohol-induced eating in caused by a specific impairment of our inhibitory control—that is, our ability to control our thoughts and behavior, and override our automatic reactions—the researchers had 60 undergraduate women first complete a food craving questionnaire and then drink either a vodka drink or a placebo drink misted with vodka on the glass so that it would smell and taste alcoholic. (A brilliant new way to limit your friends when they're getting a little too tipsy at your next party?!)
The women were then asked to complete yet another food craving questionnaire and a challenging color conflict test that required a high level of self-control. Afterwards, the fun part: The women were given chocolate chip cookies and told they could eat as many or as little as they wanted for 15 minutes.
Not too surprisingly, the women who had the alcoholic drink performed worse in the color task compared to the women in the placebo group and also chose to eat more cookies, therefore consuming more calories. (Not to mention the calories from the alcohol itself!)
The worse the women performed in the color task, the more cookies they consumed, demostrating a connection between inhibitory control and alcohol-induced unhealthy eating, explains lead study author Paul Christiansen, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Liverpool.
Interestingly, the study found that the alcohol had no affect on the women's self-reported hunger or actual desire to eat the cookies (as determined through the before and after craving questionnaires)—despite previous research that alcohol can stimulate our appetites.
There was one silver lining, at least for some. For women classified as 'retrained eaters' (those who reported limiting how much they ate to watch or maintain their weight in an initial dietary restraint questionnaire), the alcohol had no affect on how many cookies they ate—even though the woman still experienced the same impairment in their inhibitory control.
Christiansen explains that this may be due to the practice these 'restrained eaters' have with controlling their calorie intake, allowing them to resist food automatically.
"These findings highlight the role of alcohol consumption as a contributor to weight gain and suggest that further research into the role of restraint in alcohol-induced food consumption is needed," the study concludes.
So where does that leave you if you don't fall into that 'restrained eater' category? Don't worry, all hope is not lost. We've got you covered with these 4 Plan-Ahead Ways to Prevent the Drunk Munchies (and while we're at it, here are 5 Healthy Hangover Cure Recipes for the next morning!).