The question I’m most often asked from folks wanting to achieve health and weight loss goals is “can I still have my wine? My cocktails?” Below are 8 ways alcohol can derail those goals.

1. Alcohol consists of “empty” calories. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (more than twice that of carbs) and offers NO nutritional value. Just adds empty calories to your diet. Alcoholic drinks are often referred to as “empty” calories. This means that they provide your body with calories but contain very little nutrients.

There are about 155 calories in one 12-ounce can of beer, and 125 calories in a 5-ounce glass of red wine. A night out with several drinks can easily lead to consuming a few hundred extra calories.

Drinks that have mixers, such as fruit juice or soda, contain even more calories. (155 calories in 12 oz coke!).

2. Alcohol is metabolized differently than other foods and beverages. Under normal conditions, your body gets its fuel from the calories in carbohydrates, fats and proteins. But, when alcohol is consumed, it’s used first as a fuel source before your body uses anything else. This includes carbs and fats.

Why is that? Because it is viewed by the body as a toxin. Your body wants to get rid of this so it will be metabolized first. When the body is focused on processing alcohol, its unable to properly break down foods containing carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, these calories can be converted into and stored as fat.

On an empty stomach, the alcohol gets through the stomach wall quickly and can reach the brain and liver in minutes. If you drink slowly, all the alcohol is collected by the liver and processed immediately, avoiding all other body systems. If you drink more quickly, the liver cannot keep up with the processing needs and the alcohol continues to circulate in the body until the liver is able to process it. That’s why drinking large amounts of alcohol (or drinking alcohol quickly) affect the brain centers involved with speech, vision, reasoning, judgment and reaction time. In general, the liver can process one standard drink in one hour. If you consume more than this, the additional alcohol will accumulate in the blood and body tissues until it can be metabolized.

3. Alcohol affects judgment calls and lowers inhibitions which is detrimental to weight loss plans. If you drink alcohol before or during a meal, inhibitions and willpower are reduced. This means you are more likely to overeat—especially greasy or fried foods. (That deep dish pizza looks more appealing than a salad!). Alcohol also stimulates the appetite.

4. The Big QUESTION. Which are more important – calories or carbs – when it comes to weight loss? You might think drinking liquor is more diet-friendly because it contains no carbs while wine (4 gr carbs per 5 ounces / 125 calories in 5 ounces) and beer do contain carbs.

But it does add a high number of calories and, when mixed with other drinks, adds even more empty calories. Hard liquor contains around 100 calories per shot, so adding a mixer increases calories even more. If mixing liquor with anything, opt for a diet or club soda instead of fruit juice or regular soda. Sweeter drinks, whether liquor or wine, tend to have more sugar, and therefore more calories.

NOTE: for clients on our 5 and 1 fat burning program (body using fat as a prime source of fuel vs. carbs), that alcohol is metabolized as FAT, so if you have a glass of wine, you may still stay in a mild fat burning state, but your body will use the calories from wine as fuel instead of body fat. Result? SLOW weight loss.

5. Alcohol can affect digestion and nutrient uptake.

The primary role of the liver is to act as the “filter” for any foreign substances that enter your body, such as drugs and alcohol. The liver also plays a role in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Intake of alcoholic beverages can inhibit proper digestive function altering the way the body metabolizes and stores carbohydrates and fats. This makes it difficult to lose weight and can lead to impaired digestion and absorption of key nutrients.

6. Alcohol can negatively affect your sleep. Drinking may help induce sleep, but the sleep you get isn’t deep. As a result, you get less rest, which can trigger you to consume more calories the next day. (This is the connection between weight gain and poor quality sleep.)

Sleep deprivation, whether from lack of sleep or impaired sleep, can lead to an imbalance in the hormones related to hunger, satiety, and energy storage.

7. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes water loss and dehydration. Along with this water loss, you lose important minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc, which are vital to the maintenance of fluid balance, chemical reactions, and muscle contraction and relaxation.

8. Alcohol can contribute to excess belly fat
The “beer gut” isn’t just a myth. Excess calories are converted to and stored as fat. The stomach area is the prime area for weight gain.

I hope this information is helpful when considering whether to include alcohol in your weight loss and health program.