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Does Alcohol Make You Gain Weight?


Q: Does alcohol make you gain weight? Can you drink and still lose weight if you work out on a regular basis?

A: Yes, you can drink alcohol and lose weight—as long as you're smart about it. When looking at the whether you'll be able to lose weight and still drink your favorite wine there are two things you need to consider: calories in alcohol and alcohol content.

Calories in alcohol 
Forget about the calories in wine or your favorite beer for a second, because for most people, the calories in the mixers of their favorite cocktails pose a far greater barrier to weight loss than the actual alcohol. Just 4oz of some daiquiri or margarita mixes can contain upwards of 35 grams of sugar—that’s 7 teaspoons of sugar! (Just one reason you should make your own homemade grown-up daiquiris instead.) Plus, these drink mixes have more than double the amount of calories than the shot of rum or tequila included in the drink (that is, if you're only served half a cup of mixer). What's worse, the calories from mixers are the worst kinds of calories, simple and refined sugars. When they're combined with how alcohol affects metabolism, it gets even worse.

Alcohol content in drink
One myth about alcohol is that it will make you fat. (Will vodka make you fat? What about beer? Your favorite red wine?) But the truth is, it's the combination of alcohol and sugars found in mixers (or the bar food often consumed with alcohol) that causes weight gain problems. Alcohol does contain calories, but it's safe to assume that no one gains a lot of weight by throwing back shots of straight vodka. Instead, it is the metabolic priority that your body places on alcohol (over carbohydrates and fats) that causes the damage. Your body wants to process alcohol before anything else, which has been shown to create a metabolic environment that is almost the opposite of the environment your body creates following exercise—one of high circulating levels of fat and inhibited fat burning.

While this may sound all doom and gloom, there are benefits of alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink per day for women) increases your HDL (good) cholesterol, and studies show that people who have a couple drinks each week live longer. So, here's how can drinking alcohol and lose weight work together.

When you drink, know your alcohol serving size. A glass of wine is not a glass filled to the brim, but 5oz (red wine glasses can hold 12-14oz when filled).

Minimize the calories from mixers. Make margaritas with real lime juice, use diet tonic water, or even the naturally calorie-free club soda instead of regular tonic water and other high-calorie carbonated drinks. (These skinny margaritas will satisfy your craving, but still keep your weight loss program in check.)

If you are aggressively pursuing a weight loss goal, corral any drinks to your splurge meals to reduce their impact on your overall fat burning.

Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, is a nutritional consultant known for his evidence-based approach that transforms complex nutritional concepts into practical nutritional habits and strategies for his clientele, which includes professional athletes, executives, food companies, and top fitness facilities. Dr. Mike's work can often be found on newsstands, leading fitness websites, and at your local bookstore. He is the author of Dr. Mike's 7 Step Weight Loss Plan and the upcoming 6 Pillars of Nutrition.

Connect with Dr. Mike to get more simple diet and nutrition tips by following @mikeroussell on Twitter or becoming a fan of his Facebook page .