Is Alcohol Really Off Limits For Weight Loss Goals?

5 min read

When you are actively pursuing a weight loss goal, it’s easy to get stuck in all of the things you should be avoiding. You’re already trying to avoid poor food choices, which typically involves a pantry overhaul. You’ve tossed out all the cheese, sugar, and unhealthy snacks. Now here we are talking about how alcohol affects weight loss. Can the buzzkill get any worse?

Let’s face it; an occasional alcoholic drink can help unwind a stressful day, lighten the mood, or enhance social gatherings. Even still, too much alcohol can work against your weight loss efforts. Before you give up hope and decide it’s all too much, hear me out.

Even as a fitness professional who loves intense workouts and thrives in the struggle, I’m also a big fan of moderation. Anything too strict is unsustainable, which ultimately defeats the purpose of trying in the first place. So I live by the 80/20 rule, which is easy – do right 80% of the time, and relax 20% of the time.

This mindset goes for alcohol too. But (this is a big but and I cannot lie), drinking alcohol does affect weight loss. So let’s unpack what your body does with alcohol and how to minimize the negative impact it has on your goals.

How Your Body Processes Alcohol 

Everything you put in your body has to be processed. Your overall health depends on your body’s ability to burn, store, and eliminate what you consume. The same way we focus on healthy carbs, fats, and lean protein for our daily eating habits, we must scrutinize alcohol intake.

Calories Count

It’s always important to be mindful of the quantity and quality of calories in your diet. Especially when you’re in weight-loss mode, you never want to restrict calories (a common mistake). Instead, we need a substantial amount of high-quality calories.

Alcoholic beverages are considered “empty” calories. This means you are consuming calories but with very little nutritional value. What’s worse, these drinks are usually in addition to your regular daily calorie intake, including meals and snacks. As a result, it can quickly push you over your target calorie count without realizing it.

Smart Alternative: Choose drinks where the alcohol is lower in calories on its own, and cut the mixers and fillers that add even more calories to the drink.

Metabolic Focus

Metabolism is an unavoidable topic with losing weight. Every body burns a certain amount of calories when you’re at complete rest, when you’re working out, and when you’re processing food. Many factors determine metabolic rate from genetics, weight, diet, and muscle mass to mental health.

Alcohol plays a big role in metabolism. For starters, your body identifies alcohol as a toxin, so it gets processed first. That means the glucose and carbs that are typically quick fuel sources are ignored, and the fat you’re desperately trying to shed isn’t touched at all.

Smart Alternative: Consume up to one drink per day, and give serious consideration before indulging in that second drink.

Impact On Your Body

We tend to reserve severe impacts of alcohol consumption to alcohol abuse. Many people fail to realize that there is a pretty wide gray area where someone may not be considered an alcoholic but is certainly not doing their body any favors. Excessive alcohol consumption will impact your ability to lose weight, and it also takes a toll on your organs.

The liver plays a vital role in filtering out toxins from the body. The more alcohol your liver has to process, the higher risk for health conditions like fatty liver disease, which affects how your body metabolizes and stores carbohydrates and fat. High alcohol intake also causes stress to your stomach and intestines, decreasing digestive function and nutrient absorption.

Smart Alternative: Be honest with yourself and know when it’s time to cut back. We’re focusing on weight loss goals, but alcohol abuse is serious. There are a variety of resources available, some even completely online.

Alcoholic Drinks With Minimal Weight Loss Impact

If you’ve decided that you’re willing to sacrifice many things to lose weight, but the occasional adult beverage isn’t one of them, we can work with that. Remember, if you stick to the 80/20 rule, make alcoholic drinks part of the 20% in your balance. One of the primary goals is to look for lower-calorie options. Here are five drinks that would get the pass and minimize your goal to lose weight.

Red Wine

You’ve probably heard or read that a glass of red wine has heart-healthy benefits. Unfortunately, after a lot of research, I couldn’t find any long-term trial to prove the health effects. However, dry red wine is one of the lower-calorie options available. A 5-ounce glass of red wine is about 105 calories.

Liquor On The Rocks

Whiskey, vodka, gin, and tequila have similar calories and carbohydrates. Whatever your preference, it’ll be about 100 calories per 1.5-ounce serving. Often, these are the base for some mixer, but that can easily triple the calories. Keep it neat or use sparkling water or club soda to maintain the calories.

Light Beer

Beer is naturally heavy in carbs and rarely a single-serving beverage. If this is your drink of choice, go light or ultralight. You’ll cut as much as 55 calories per serving and keep it around 100 calories per 12-ounce serving.

Dry Vermouth

This is another alcohol that has been linked to health benefits due to its high amount of polyphenols – naturally occurring compounds shown to regulate metabolism, weight, and even chronic disease. But again, there aren’t substantial scientific studies linking dry vermouth to improved health. A 3-ounce serving comes in at 105 calories.


Certain moments call for celebration – whether it’s a wedding, holiday party, or just making it through the week! You can save a few dozen calories over certain wines with a 4-ounce glass of champaign, which is about 85 calories. Going for the bubbly over a flat drink can also make you feel fuller due to the carbonation and may help you turn down that second drink.

Conclusion: Alcohol Is Fair Game If You’re Smart

While you may have started out fearing the worst, the big takeaway here is that, like all things, moderation is critical to progress. Stay too restricted, and you won’t be able to stick to all the rules and ultimately slide back into weight gain. Stay too lax and workouts won’t matter because you’re working against yourself the other 23 hours in the day outside of the gym.

Stay smart, trust the process, and do what you can sustain as a lifestyle. The tribe at McClure Fitness is here to support your workout goals in person or online, and we’ll keep you accountable with our group environment. You’ve got this!Is