Alcohol and weight have a tricky relationship. Night caps and a glass of your favorite wine after dinner are usually the first things to go when you go on a diet. Yet the research out there isn’t as clear as the anti-alcohol diet programs would have you believe.
But first the potential negatives.
Alcoholic beverages are often loaded with calories from both the alcohol and the extra ingredients in cocktails (check out VinePair’s cocktail calorie guide for exactly how many calories are in your favorite drinks), and those calories are used for fuel. The human body targets the alcohol calories before other calories — protein, fats, and carbohydrates — which are then stored in the body until you need them. So to balance out the extra calories from alcohol, a person has to exercise more or consume less other calories.
Like all things in life, however, it’s not as simple as it seems.
A review published in 2015 in the journal Current Obesity Reports was recently dug up by The New York Times. It was done by Gregory Traversy and Jean-Philippe Chaput, who work with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Canada. A multitude of different alcohol studies were examined and analyzed to establish the true relationship between drinking and weight gain.
Here’s what they found:
In the cross-sectional studies, or studies that assessed the link at one moment in time between how much alcohol a person drinks and that person’s body mass index. They found that drinking wasn’t associated with body mass index in men, and it actually had zero to a negative effect for women. In other words, women who drank in moderation sometimes had less body mass index than women who didn’t drink.
That insight relied on a very specific age and drinking level, however. Moderate drinking means two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. People who drank more than five in one sitting or who were heavy drinkers (classified as four drinks a day for men, three a day for women) had a higher risk of obesity.
In prospective studies, which examine a group of people over a long period of time. Traversy and Chaput looked at cases that followed people from several months to 20 years, and they found that the studies were inclusive.
Finally, the review looked at controlled experiments, which Chaput labelled as the “most reliable” and “providing the strongest evidence.” The studies they looked at found that two glasses of wine a night with men didn’t increase weight gain, and one glass of wine a night for women didn’t increase weight gain.
The problem with studies on other people is that everyone’s different. Genetics play a huge role, as does stress, eating patterns, and exercise. And the drunchies. Never forget the very real drunchies. So what works for one person may be detrimental to another person.
In the end, when it comes to alcohol and weight management, everyone has to find their own sweet spot. Moderation, however, is always key.