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Do You Need To Give Up Alcohol If You're Trying To Lose Weight?

Here's the verdict.

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The internet is loaded with opinions on what will ~guarantee~ you weight-loss results, and it seems like the consensus is you have to give up alcohol if you actually want to see progress.

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But what's the deal? Do you really need to stop drinking alcohol in order to lose weight?

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To get to the bottom of this, BuzzFeed Health spoke with Ben Sit, an Ontario-based registered dietitian and president of Evolved Sport and Nutrition, and Albert Matheny, a registered dietitian for ProMix Nutrition and cofounder of Soho Strength Lab, to figure out whether or not alcohol has to go if you want to see the results you're looking for.

Keep in mind that this is general advice — everyone's body is different and everyone has different goals. Whether you want to cut down specifically on body fat, or just want to fit into your favorite clothes again, remember that what may work for someone may not work for someone else.

Okay, here's everything you need to know.

First thing's first: Yes, alcohol is empty calories, similar to candy, soda, etc., and can sometimes pack a decent amount of carbohydrates.

"There is really no nutritional value in drinking alcohol, except for maybe wine, and you'd have to drink a lot of it in order to get enough antioxidants and nutrients for it to make a difference," says Sit.He also says that beer, wine, and mixed drinks — depending on whether they're mixed with things like syrups and juices — can be really high in calories and carbs, which can set you back from achieving your weight-loss goals depending on how much of them you're drinking.
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"There is really no nutritional value in drinking alcohol, except for maybe wine, and you'd have to drink a lot of it in order to get enough antioxidants and nutrients for it to make a difference," says Sit.

He also says that beer, wine, and mixed drinks — depending on whether they're mixed with things like syrups and juices — can be really high in calories and carbs, which can set you back from achieving your weight-loss goals depending on how much of them you're drinking.

Drinking can also slow down your ability to recover from exercise, which will hinder your results.

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"You get stronger when you're recovering from exercise," Matheny says. "So if you're drinking a lot of alcohol and it's preventing you from recovering the way you normally would, then your fitness isn't going to progress as quickly and you're not going to build the fat-burning muscle that's going to help you reach your goals."

Here's more info on that if you're curious.

It can also mess with your quality of sleep, and being exhausted will probably make you less likely to exercise and stick to your eating plan.

Matheny also explains that drinking can interfere with your sleep and simply make you tired and not feel good — affecting your ability to work out as hard and for as long as you normally would, or maybe making you decide to skip working out altogether. Plus: being sleep-deprived messes with your hunger hormones, which will make you want to overeat and crave calorically dense foods.
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Matheny also explains that drinking can interfere with your sleep and simply make you tired and not feel good — affecting your ability to work out as hard and for as long as you normally would, or maybe making you decide to skip working out altogether. Plus: being sleep-deprived messes with your hunger hormones, which will make you want to overeat and crave calorically dense foods.

But that being said, just because you're trying to lose weight doesn't mean you need to give up alcohol altogether.

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In general, both Sit and Matheny advise against cutting alcohol out cold turkey.

"Being healthy and fit doesn't mean you can't have fun and can't eat or drink the things you enjoy in moderation," Matheny says. "It doesn't need to be one extreme or another, especially because a little alcohol isn't going to make or break your goals."

In fact, living by a strict ~all or nothing~ rule could make it harder for you to ultimately meet your weight-loss goals.

"If you go by an ~all or nothing~ principle, like quitting carbs, it creates an impossible goal that will only make us feel bad and get down on ourselves when we can't maintain it," Sit says. "It's all about finding a balance and taking care of yourself mentally, as well as physically."While it's going to depend on the individual case (allergies, metabolism, weight-loss goals, etc.), he says having a couple of drinks is generally not going to wreck your goals. He actually recommends that you make time to be social, have fun, and enjoy yourself, because without balance you're just going to burn yourself out and make yourself miserable, which will make it harder to stay committed to your weight-loss journey in the long run.
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"If you go by an ~all or nothing~ principle, like quitting carbs, it creates an impossible goal that will only make us feel bad and get down on ourselves when we can't maintain it," Sit says. "It's all about finding a balance and taking care of yourself mentally, as well as physically."

While it's going to depend on the individual case (allergies, metabolism, weight-loss goals, etc.), he says having a couple of drinks is generally not going to wreck your goals. He actually recommends that you make time to be social, have fun, and enjoy yourself, because without balance you're just going to burn yourself out and make yourself miserable, which will make it harder to stay committed to your weight-loss journey in the long run.

Instead, if you decide you want to drink, try limiting yourself to two alcoholic beverages per night.

Yes, drinking will begin to keep you from seeing weight-loss progress if you're going overboard and having six or more drinks in a night, Matheny says (with one drink being a 12-ounce beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of liquor, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). But one or two drinks per night is fine and won't make a big difference."Don't split hairs about the amount of calories a drink is, if it's something you really enjoy," he explains. "Because calorically it isn't really going to make a difference if you choose to drink wine vs. beer. But, if you're throwing back shot and beer combos, those calories and carbs will add up and that, along with all the physiological effects of binge drinking alcohol will negatively affect your progress."
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Yes, drinking will begin to keep you from seeing weight-loss progress if you're going overboard and having six or more drinks in a night, Matheny says (with one drink being a 12-ounce beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of liquor, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). But one or two drinks per night is fine and won't make a big difference.

"Don't split hairs about the amount of calories a drink is, if it's something you really enjoy," he explains. "Because calorically it isn't really going to make a difference if you choose to drink wine vs. beer. But, if you're throwing back shot and beer combos, those calories and carbs will add up and that, along with all the physiological effects of binge drinking alcohol will negatively affect your progress."

And while you shouldn't obsess over what type of alcohol is ~healthier~, if you're drinking liquor, try not to go overboard on the mixers and decadent cocktails.

Yes, liquor is lower in calories and carbohydrates, but most people aren't drinking hard liquor straight. A typical beer can range from 140 to 200 calories, while a shot of whiskey would be around 70 to 90 calories. But once you add in whatever mixer you're using to make the liquor a cocktail, it will probably have around the same amount of calories as a beer, Sit says.Matheny recommends minimizing cocktails with sugary mixers. Maybe, instead of a night of margs, you can have one marg and then switch to wine or beer, or have a tequila with lime juice or a vodka soda. In general, he says club soda is the best mixer route to go, and advises avoiding diet sodas.You can learn more about how sugar contributes to body fat here.
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Yes, liquor is lower in calories and carbohydrates, but most people aren't drinking hard liquor straight. A typical beer can range from 140 to 200 calories, while a shot of whiskey would be around 70 to 90 calories. But once you add in whatever mixer you're using to make the liquor a cocktail, it will probably have around the same amount of calories as a beer, Sit says.

Matheny recommends minimizing cocktails with sugary mixers. Maybe, instead of a night of margs, you can have one marg and then switch to wine or beer, or have a tequila with lime juice or a vodka soda. In general, he says club soda is the best mixer route to go, and advises avoiding diet sodas.

You can learn more about how sugar contributes to body fat here.

Get in a good meal before drinking so that you're not tempted to eat things you normally wouldn't once you have alcohol in your system.

Another good reason to drink in moderation is because when we're drunk, we're less inhibited and tend to make poorer eating decisions (Or is that just me?). "If you've been drinking, there's a chance you won't make the same food choices you would've if you weren't drinking alcohol," Matheny says. "To me, eating a really greasy, salty food before going to sleep, or right when you wake up, has more impact than the actual drinking itself." He recommends getting in a hearty meal, made up of whole foods, before drinking, or having a plan for food before you start drinking, so that you'll be less tempted to get late-night pizza or tacos on your way home from the bar.
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Another good reason to drink in moderation is because when we're drunk, we're less inhibited and tend to make poorer eating decisions (Or is that just me?).

"If you've been drinking, there's a chance you won't make the same food choices you would've if you weren't drinking alcohol," Matheny says. "To me, eating a really greasy, salty food before going to sleep, or right when you wake up, has more impact than the actual drinking itself."

He recommends getting in a hearty meal, made up of whole foods, before drinking, or having a plan for food before you start drinking, so that you'll be less tempted to get late-night pizza or tacos on your way home from the bar.

And a little bit of pre-drinking planning and being committed to not staying out too late will go a long way in helping you stick to your goals.

Sit says that instead of obsessing about which drink is lowest in calories, it'd be more beneficial to think about staying hydrated and getting enough sleep. That way, you can be functional the next day and get in things like your workout or your meal prep for the week or whatever you have scheduled that's related to your goals."If you're going to go drinking, it may be a good idea to not have a heavy or intensive workout planned for the next day," Sit says. "Or make a commitment to not stay out late, or work on post-drinking hydration strategies, so that you're not waking up hungover and have the energy to be out and about the next day so all your plans aren't ruined."
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Sit says that instead of obsessing about which drink is lowest in calories, it'd be more beneficial to think about staying hydrated and getting enough sleep. That way, you can be functional the next day and get in things like your workout or your meal prep for the week or whatever you have scheduled that's related to your goals.

"If you're going to go drinking, it may be a good idea to not have a heavy or intensive workout planned for the next day," Sit says. "Or make a commitment to not stay out late, or work on post-drinking hydration strategies, so that you're not waking up hungover and have the energy to be out and about the next day so all your plans aren't ruined."

Another strategy is to make drinking your treat for that day or week.

If you know you're going to be drinking later in the day, Sit suggests skipping the sugary and/or calorie-dense snacks that might ordinarily be your “treat” for the day.
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If you know you're going to be drinking later in the day, Sit suggests skipping the sugary and/or calorie-dense snacks that might ordinarily be your “treat” for the day.

And remember, every case is different and it's up to you to decide what's best for your body and your goals.

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If your body reacts poorly to alcohol, resulting in migraines, nausea, and little sleep, or you have a naturally slow metabolism or you just don't even really enjoy alcohol, you may decide that drinking just isn't worth it to you.

The bottom line is: Alcohol isn't going to help you get to your weight-loss goals, but it also shouldn't hurt them if you're drinking in moderation.

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"If your weight-loss goal is the most important thing in the world to you, and you want to achieve it as fast as possible, then you can consider cutting out drinking," Matheny says. "But I really don't recommend it."

"My goal is to get my clients to learn how to maintain their weight and health, without sacrificing happiness," Sit says. "Don't deny yourself social situations because you can't drink. Eating a salad with friends may not feel the same for you as going to happy hour and catching up with friends."

Both say it's good to be realistic and understand what's a good balance for you so that you can make an actual lifestyle change. Extreme diets usually result in only temporary weight loss because they're unsustainable in the long run.

The more you know!

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