The effect of moderate drinking on mood and results during weight loss?
March 15, 2009 9:18 PM   Subscribe

What has been your own personal experience with strictly moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks/night) when engaged in any kind of weight loss regimen you've done? Did it have any noticeable effect on your mood, outlook, and progress? Better yet, what changes did you notice cutting out drinking or adding it back in? (please no crusading or mere speculation, thanks)
posted by crapmatic to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The problem (for me) with drinking one or two beers is that it sometimes turns into three or four (or six.) Throw in some chips or other junk that you wouldn't otherwise eat and you've just blown your diet.

Now if you're talking about cocktails, that can be different because you can avoid lots of calories if you try.

So I cut back drastically on my at-home drinking. I can't handle the calories.

As for mood, etc... I mean, it is a depressant, and over time heavy drinking can affect pre-existing conditions like depression. Further, if you really pile it on you're not likely to go to the gym the next day if you're nursing a hangover. Heavy drinking is a great way to get fat and unhealthy.

But you're not asking about heavy drinking - you're talking one or two drinks a night. That's probably negligible (beyond the calories) to any weight loss regime.
posted by wfrgms at 9:27 PM on March 15, 2009

The problem is, your body loves burning alcohol. Given a choice, it'll burn that first. So the whole time you're processing the alcohol, your body isn't burning any fat at all.
posted by bink at 9:41 PM on March 15, 2009

Personal Experience: No alcohol at all; pounds dropped off like rocks, added the occasional few drinks back in weight loss stopped (while maintaining all other diet and exercise standards).

The thing is a couple of common American beers add up to about 300 calories, which is a significant portion of your caloric intake when you're cutting calories (assume a 2500 calorie/day diet for a moderately active man), but they don't fill you up. They just leave you maybe a little buzzed and still wanting to eat, and depending on your specific tolerance, willpower, and mentality, perhaps more than a little too ready to go for a snack that you haven't accounted for in your diet.

The plus side is that as you cut back you can get buzzed on a lower alcohol intake, the negative side is that if you are susceptible to giving into your diet for a late night pizza, kabob, gyro, or hot wings order while buzzed you will carry that with you as you diet and imbibe.

Set goals. When I drop X pounds and hold that weight for Y days I can then have Z number of drinks (drinks that are actually measured.), and I'm back on my regimen Monday morning at 6 AM no matter what.
posted by Science! at 9:56 PM on March 15, 2009

Any time I've had an alcoholic drink, I notice an immediate uptick in my weight. I pretty much can't drink if I want to lose weight.
posted by bananafish at 9:59 PM on March 15, 2009

My alcohol consumption was usually no more than two drinks a day, but they were two drinks to help me cope with stuff I didn't want to deal with, so I quit drinking Feb. 4 just for some clarity in life. Unexpected and welcome side effects: My muffintop is no more. I also have much more energy and my sugar cravings went away. I'm no longer depressed, either. This has been one of the best things I've done for myself, aside from quitting smoking.

Disclaimer: I am quite petite, so for me those two drinks are probably equivalent to four in a six-foot dude, and everyone's metabolism is different. Regardless, quitting alcohol never hurt anyone.
posted by xenophile at 10:00 PM on March 15, 2009

In my weight loss regimen I made an allowance for one-two low calorie drinks a night. I was still losing weight, albeit slowly, but once I cut down alcohol to once a week I lost an inch off my waistline almost immediately. I think it's definitely improved my mood overall, but that might just be due to no longer being in a situation where I felt like drinking every night.
posted by nextian_geometry at 10:43 PM on March 15, 2009

quitting alcohol never hurt anyone

I know that was just a throwaway line, with no malice intended, but be careful, it can be a bit reckless. For someone with alcohol dependency, quitting alcohol without medical supervision can, in fact, be harmful. Symptoms of withdrawal, up to and including seizures and delirium tremens, are quite common. I know you meant well. Carry on.
posted by netbros at 10:46 PM on March 15, 2009

I started a weight-loss regimen last fall after someone on here recommended the book Eat to Live in a diet thread. The author of that book advocates eating a mostly plant-based diet, specifically lots of leafy greens and other vegetables, fruit, nuts, and legumes. And, of course, cutting out most processed foods, sugar, and oil. This may sound extreme to some people, but it wasn't a huge stretch for me as I eat a mainly vegetarian diet anyway. I think the biggest boon for me was that I stopped eating scones, crackers and cheese, sugared cereals and yogurt, and other junk food.

Anyway, since the author says that people should feel free to drink moderately if they otherwise follow the diet, I didn't stop drinking alcohol (approx. one or two glasses of wine or beer 4-5 nights per week). I still lost 23 pounds. So, there's my story. Of course, I am sure if I cut alcohol out entirely, as it really is just empty calories, I could lose more, or could have dropped weight quicker. But it's really not fun to cut out everything you like, and in the long run you may be less likely to stick to such a restrictive plan.
posted by JenMarie at 11:37 PM on March 15, 2009

I have on several occasions cut a modest amount of fat to get down to what you might call "fighting weight" - 10-20 lb. I probably would normally drink 2-4 drinks on 3-4 nights a week. Giving up drinking entirely certainly speeds up weight loss. I also noticed a little more spring in my step after about the 1 week mark. If you don't drink at all in the evening, then you can train more, and I find I am more productive and energetic without.

If I don't stop drinking but cut back, I still lose weight, just not as fast.

There is some interesting research that suggests that alcohol changes fat deposition patterns, making it more likely to be stored on your midriff.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:15 AM on March 16, 2009

When I was working out and eating pretty carefully, I found that I could do one night having beers and wings with the boys (too be honest, the drinking probably wasn't moderate and chicken wings are not diet food by any measure) in a week and it didn't have really any effect on weight or conditiong, if I did it twice in one week I would probably erase my gains for that week and any more would provide set backs. This was just my experience and probably not a good measure for most other people.
posted by Deep Dish at 12:32 AM on March 16, 2009

Deep Dish: that's pretty much my experience also.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:55 AM on March 16, 2009

Same experience as Deep Dish. I like a glass of wine with dinner almost every night. When I'm trying to lose weight, having one drink a week is generally fine and the weight stlll comes off, but any more than that and I'm back at square one with the weight loss. I also notice that without the alcohol, I'm much 'fresher' and more excited to work out the next day, which also helps with my weight loss!
posted by Nutritionista at 3:02 AM on March 16, 2009

Similar experiences to those above. With alcohol, losing weight has proven almost impossible for me. Without it, much, much easier.
posted by valkyryn at 3:53 AM on March 16, 2009

My experience is similar to JenMarie.

I lost around 90lbs in less than a year while drinking moderately, but regularly. I avoided beer and wine and stuck exclusively to spirits with diet mixers. Low on spirits and heavy on mixer. It was a pain on a night out having to stick rigidly to the same thing but it worked.

Bear in mind that I had a significant amount to lose and my drinking behaviour during the diet was strictly regulated and far reduced from my behaviour before that. My diet was also very strict, exceptionally effective, and other than occasional alcoholic drinks was followed to the letter. My weight loss did eventually hit a plateau and I dropped alcohol and stepped up my exercise plan. If you are close to your ideal weight and looking to drop just a few pounds I don't think you will get away with consuming alcohol - you need to be strict. If you have a pile of weight to come off then in my experience moderate drinking will not slow your progress significantly. During a diet I would chose a couple of drinks over a chocolate cake as an indulgence anyday, YMMV.
posted by fire&wings at 3:57 AM on March 16, 2009

I just increased to 1-2 drinks a day (from about 1-2 a week), and I put on 10 lbs in about 4 weeks. Confounding factor - I started birth control a couple months back. I recently got off the BC due to other side effects, so I'm hoping that helps with losing the weight. In the past, alcohol has caused me to stall in weight loss attempts. I can't lose weight while consuming alcohol.
posted by degrees_of_freedom at 4:17 AM on March 16, 2009

I went from about 8-10 drinks a week to 1-2 and lost weight so fast that my gf packed me off to the doctor to see if anything was wrong. Cutting out alcohol was great for pretty much every other aspect of my life. My budding wine snobbery died, but if you have something else productive/relaxing to do with the time (most drinking was done while chilling out) you don't miss it at all.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:46 AM on March 16, 2009

I had never really understood the concept of "empty calories" until dealing with the losing weight/drinking alcohol issue. 2 glasses of wine were basically 300 calories. If I'm drinking more than 2 glasses of wine PER WEEK, I don't lose weight. Period.
posted by meerkatty at 4:54 AM on March 16, 2009

Back when I ran obsessively, I would use alcohol as a motivator. I also used food as a motivator.

After a really long run a glass of wine or two would help with keeping my muscles from tightening.

I also allowed myself to eat anything I wanted the day after a run. Not the day I did the run. So if I didn't run yesterday I watched what I ate.

The kicker on both these is that after a really long/good run I generally didn't want to undo what I'd accomplished. So while I was actually out running I'd be imagining the wine and cheesecake, but once I got mack home I didn't care so much. But having a reward I could play through my head while on the trail was helpful.

I didn't notice a lot either way, but then I wasn't plotting my weight loss (it was happening, I just didn't keep track). I did plot the distance/time. I kept improving in this area so wasn't as worried about calories. I am sure I would have lost weight faster without high calorie items, but I am not sure I would have kept up the running without the mental reward.

Emotionally you'll probably feel better. Exercise generally makes you feel better and feel better about yourself. Alcohol generally adds to lethargy and depression (not crusading or lecturing, just stating a fact).
posted by cjorgensen at 6:31 AM on March 16, 2009

When I started working out about seven weeks ago, I was drinking about four nights a week, probably in total about 12 beers a week. I dropped it down to 2 nights of drinking, about 4 beers a week and then started seeing that I was actually beginning to lose weight. I have now dropped to between 1 and 2 beers a week or two cocktails to get buzzed when know I will be able to take the next day off from exercise.

The real problem was not my overall drinking, but the associated eating. Drinking made me crave all of the foods I should not have been eating and when I was drunk at a bar on my way home I would grab a bag of cookies at the store and scarf the whole thing like there was no tomorrow. Now, I might have two really indulgent bread-heavy meals each week and limit the rest of my intake to veggies and proteins. Since cutting my alcohol intake four weeks ago, I have lost eight pounds from 220 to 212.
posted by parmanparman at 7:43 AM on March 16, 2009

My experience has been the same as a lot of people above--when I cut out the nightly beer with dinner and do nothing else differently, it's almost effortless to drop 5-10 pounds. When I'm having one drink with dinner most nights, but up my exercise intensity, it doesn't seem to make a comparable difference, even when the calories expended seem to more than compensate for the drink.

The other major change I've noticed when I take a break from drinking for a couple of weeks: my sleep is much, much better. When I have even a little bit to drink at night, 7.5 hours will leave me feeling tired and groggy the next morning; with no alcohol, that amount of sleep or even a bit less feels very, very restful. I know back in 2004/2005 there were some studies that got a lot of press that linked sleep deprivation and weight gain, and I've always wondered whether the strong link alcohol seems to have with my waistline is related to how it affects my sleep patterns.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:00 AM on March 16, 2009

I exclusively drink spirits straight-up. I've found a few drinks a week haven't done too much harm, but if I start making it a regular habit then weight-loss slows (and it starts affecting my workouts and feeling of well-being, too). A friend of mine who drinks wine and beer always gets leaner when he scales back how often he drinks.

Even a few drinks can start interfering with testosterone production, thus interfering with muscle gain and weight loss. You're definitely going to be affecting your weight-loss, you just have to find out for yourself whether the effect is great enough to make the sacrifice of drinking less.

Now, if you have over ten pounds to lose, you can probably include moderate alcohol intake in with your diet, though it would be better if you stick to low-calorie, lower-carb stuff like spirits rather than beer, wine, and mixed drinks. However, if you're trying to get moderately to very lean (probably less than 13-14% body fat for men or less than 22-23% for women) you have to start getting much more careful about your diet which may include cutting out alcohol.

Ultimately, you're going to have to find out for yourself. Maintain the same exercise and diet regimen for four to six weeks, except for two to three of these weeks don't drink at all, and for the other two to three up your intake. See what happens.
posted by schroedinger at 8:53 AM on March 16, 2009

I haven't had any problem with fat loss since reintroducing a beer or 2 per night into my diet. But I count all my calories on and adjust the rest of my diet to compensate for the extra calories I'm getting from the beer.

Haven't noticed any mood changes.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:32 PM on March 16, 2009

A couple of things to think about-

As others said your liver wants to get alcohol out first and foremost so if you drink all the time it takes your body to process that it isn't going to be processing other things (like burning fat).

Alcohol is essentially empty calories.. if you are substituting food out of your diet to make space for beer thats nutrients, vitamins,etc. you aren't getting from food.

I was drinking 1-2 beers a day for a long time and quit for some blood tests and after 2 months of not drinking I drank half a beer and hated it. YMMV.

Long story short here I think alcohol is counter-productive to losing weight but everyone's body is different.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:09 AM on March 17, 2009

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