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Expert Advice Lifestyle

Is alcohol hindering my weight loss? Exploring the effect of alcohol-induced hunger and consuming ‘empty’ calories

Since the dawn of civilisation, human behaviour and alcohol have been intertwined. The act of enjoying an aperitif to stimulate the appetite dates back to at least the 5th century AD.  It may not be surprising to learn that studies have confirmed that alcohol can have an impact a person’s weight. This is likely due to the relationship between alcohol and the hormones in the brain that stimulate hunger. This article delves into the possible link between alcohol consumption and weight gain, shedding light on its effects and emphasising the importance of adhering to recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption when managing your weight.

5 min. read
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Finding hidden calories in what you drink

Unlike most of our food, in many countries, brewers, distillers and winemakers are not required by law to disclose calories on drinks containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol. This could lead to a common misconception that alcoholic beverages don't contribute significantly to one's daily caloric intake. Studies have shown that the majority of people do not realise how many calories are hidden in their drinks.

It's important to highlight that for some, these calories are essentially empty, offering no nutritional value. To put this in perspective alcohol has almost double the amount of calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein.

To manage your calorie intake effectively, it's advisable to seek guidance from a healthcare professional or nutritionist who can help you make informed choices adhering to recommended guidelines.

How Drinking Alcohol Can Change Your Appetite?

While many may be aware of the concept of ‘hidden calories’, there are actually several ways alcohol can impact your appetite.

  1. Impulsive behaviours: For many individuals, alcohol can trigger impulsive behaviours that affect eating habits. Binge drinking, characterised by consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period, can result in binge eating, which involves consuming excessive amounts of food in a short timeframe. This is largely due to the lack of inhibition that alcohol often brings. Additionally, despite alcohol being a source of calories, it sends feedback to the brain that heightens our desire to eat as our brain enters 'evolutionary hunger mode'. This stimulation of appetite will make us more prone to overeating.
  2. Digestion: Alcohol can have adverse effects on digestion and nutrient uptake, potentially leading to hormone imbalances that increase your appetite. For example, alcohol can interfere with the normal functioning of leptin and other appetite-regulating hormones, leading to increased feelings of hunger and reduced feelings of satiety. This hormonal disruption can make individuals more prone to overeating and contribute to weight gain.
  3. Sleep: Moreover, alcohol's impact on sleep can't be ignored. Sleep disturbances caused by alcohol can disrupt the body's hormonal balance, further contributing to increased appetite and weight gain. While alcohol may initially induce drowsiness, it can disrupt the sleep cycle, causing more awakenings during the night and reducing the overall quality of sleep. These sleep disturbances can negatively affect the body's hormonal balance, particularly with hormones like cortisol and ghrelin. These hormones control things like stress and hunger. Increased cortisol (stress) levels can stimulate appetite, and higher levels of ghrelin are associated with increased hunger. Therefore, poor sleep quality resulting from alcohol consumption can lead to heightened appetite and an increased likelihood of overeating, ultimately contributing to weight gain.

What Does This Mean for You?

As you reflect on your alcohol consumption in relation to your weight loss goals, it's crucial to recognise that there are contrasting studies on the subject. Some suggest that you can still lose weight without eliminating alcohol from your life entirely However, it's essential to emphasise that obesity is a highly individualised disease, and its impact can vary from person to person. Therefore, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalised guidance.


In conclusion, the relationship between alcohol and weight loss is a complex and multifaceted one. As you embark on your journey to manage your weight, it's essential to be mindful of the effects of alcohol consumption on your goals. While you may not need to completely eliminate alcohol from your life, moderation and informed choices are key. However, it's important to note that stopping alcohol suddenly can be associated with withdrawal symptoms without proper guidance, particularly if there are concerns about excessive consumption. If you or a loved one are worried about the impact of alcohol on weight and overall health, seeking advice from a healthcare professional is a prudent step. They can provide the necessary guidance and support to navigate this process safely. Ultimately, knowledge and self-awareness will empower you to make the best choices for your well-being.

If you or your loved one is struggling with an alcohol-use disorder, various resources and professionals exist to provide assistance and guidance. The options available will depend on your location. Seeking help is a positive step towards overall well-being and can provide the necessary support for addressing alcohol consumption in the context of weight management.

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