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Alcohol and weight

96c_r96c_r Member Posts: 11 Member Member Posts: 11 Member
This may have been posted about before but I just wanted to share my experience and maybe get some insight from anyone who has had a similar experience, or is knowledgeable about this topic.

I'm 24 years old, biologically female, 5'5, weigh 8.5 stone (~120lbs) and lead a sedentary lifestyle since getting a desk job at the beginning of this year. I seem to be maintaining my weight, or gaining very slowly (1lb a month or less), on 2500-3000 calories a day, which quite frankly seems ridiculous. The thing is, around 1000 or more of those daily calories come from beer and cider. On the rare days I don't drink, I usually eat around 1500-1800 calories. I'm well aware that I need to change these habits for the sake of my health, regardless of the effect on weight, but I'm just curious about why I haven't been gaining at the rate I would expect. I do wonder if alcohol really "counts" the same as other sources of calories, as everyone always insists it does. From what I've read, the upshot seems to be that alcohol can't be stored as fat, but prevents other calories from being burned while it is being metabolised, meaning food eaten before/after drinking gets stored as fat. I also know that beer and cider do contain carbs, but the calories in these drinks from carbs alone would be far less than the total calories I am logging them as.

I guess I'm wondering if maybe we should be calculating calories from alcohol differently, since their capacity to make you gain weight is dependent on other factors like what you eat before and after and - I'm assuming - the timing of this. This isn't the case for me personally, but let's imagine someone ate their maintenance calories very early in the day and then drank later on, could alcohol still cause those calories eaten hours ago to be stored as fat, or would the alcohol just be metabolised/excreted "separately", meaning the person would ultimately maintain their weight?

I'm not going to try this as I don't actually want to gain weight (or replace one unhealthy habit with another!) but I am pretty confident that if I swapped my 5 pints of beer for 1 pint of ice cream, containing the same number of calories, I would see rapid weight gain. I suppose without trying this I won't know for sure, but does anyone else have experience of not gaining when getting a lot of calories from alcohol? Also, please feel free to correct my understanding of the science behind this - I'm not a scientist and find it all very interesting but also quite confusing!

Replies

  • shirazum2023shirazum2023 Member Posts: 36 Member Member Posts: 36 Member
    cwolfman13 wrote: »
    You should still count them, but calories from alcohol can't be stored...they are metabolized in favor of anything else...meaning, while you're drinking alcohol, your body is metabolizing those calories, but whatever you're eating does not get metabolized while alcohol is in your system. Your body has to rid itself of the alcohol before it will metabolize anything else. This is one of the reasons why many alcoholics are nutrient deficient...their body isn't metabolizing nutrients when they have alcohol in their system and not absorbing essential vitamins and minerals.

    I am not OP but I have this question, suppose someone had 5 shots of vodka which fit their calorie intake for the day (not getting into macros here). So is it the food gets stored as fat despite that? I mean I am not sure how long will the alcohol be in the system. But till then, all food intake gets stored as fat and not metabolized?
  • spyro88spyro88 Member Posts: 388 Member Member Posts: 388 Member
    Good question! I have no idea of the answer but watching with interest...
  • AnnPT77AnnPT77 Member, Premium Posts: 17,054 Member Member, Premium Posts: 17,054 Member
    OP, my life includes some alcohol, but well short of your consumption level. I've been calorie counting for over 5 years. Personally, I've found no significant difference to my bodyweight when I consume a couple of hundred calories of alcohol, or a couple of hundred calories of something else. (I've seen other people here say they gain more weight when drinking alcohol, compared with eating nutritious food for the same calories. I can't recall having seen anyone else say they gain *less* weight when alcohol intake is a big factor. Doesn't mean no one observes that, in themselves.)

    This may be just me, but what I do notice is that if I get in a regular habit of alcohol consumption (talking an IPA with dinner every night, say - not huge amounts), it cumulatively has an impact on my energy level, probably via some combination of slightly reduced sleep quality, and reduced nutrition (because I'd personally otherwise spend most of those calories on things like fruit or cheese or something reasonably nutritious, not just eat it all in chocolate or nutrient-poor cookies or something). I'd expect that eventually that energy hit would result in less movement in everyday life, and lower all-day calorie burn a bit.

    You're drinking quite a lot, quite consistently, it sounds like, and that's a bad thing for your long term health, as you clearly know. Your plan to stop doing that is a good one.

    For a person your size and age, it's not impossible for your maintenance calories to be 2500-3000 (or a bit less than that, since you say you're gaining around a pound a month). SInce the drinking seems to coincide with your job change, I'd assume there's possibly been some changes in daily routine (movement on the job, transportation, maybe job-related social activity, etc.). Changes in those kinds of things can have a surprising impact on all-day calorie burn, and most people don't give them the credit (or blame) they deserve.

    I'm about your size (5'5", aboug 125 pounds right now), and my before-exercise calorie burn with a quite sedentary daily life is around 2000-2200 calories. One difference is that I'm 64 years old, 44 years older than you. I admit I'm a good calorie burner for unknown reasons, but I'm saying this to tell you that 2500-3000 may not be as impossibly high as you think.
    cwolfman13 wrote: »
    You should still count them, but calories from alcohol can't be stored...they are metabolized in favor of anything else...meaning, while you're drinking alcohol, your body is metabolizing those calories, but whatever you're eating does not get metabolized while alcohol is in your system. Your body has to rid itself of the alcohol before it will metabolize anything else. This is one of the reasons why many alcoholics are nutrient deficient...their body isn't metabolizing nutrients when they have alcohol in their system and not absorbing essential vitamins and minerals.

    I am not OP but I have this question, suppose someone had 5 shots of vodka which fit their calorie intake for the day (not getting into macros here). So is it the food gets stored as fat despite that? I mean I am not sure how long will the alcohol be in the system. But till then, all food intake gets stored as fat and not metabolized?

    If someone consumes nothing but alcohol over a long period of time, they will sicken and die. Along the way, life will not be pretty. Keep in mind that many forms of alcoholic drinks include storable nutrients (carbs, usually, in mixed drinks, beer, wine).

    For regular people who might have a day here or there with kind of stupid-high alcohol consumption, presumably some of the food will be stored as fat, but note that all the calories from food are not harvested the moment the food goes in our mouth (takes many hours), and bodies don't reset at midnight. Our bodies are constantly storing and releasing fat in response to demand; over the long haul, we'll lose fat to a degree we can see on the scale if the cumulative calorie intake is lower than the cumulative calorie output.

    There's always a lot going on metabolically, and it's pretty dynamic. I'd assume there's some maximum rate at which the body will metabolize alcohol calories (i.e., it does take time). There's very likely more to it than that those calories go into the furnace and are output as we move/burn with our activity level being the rate-limiting factor. I don't know whether other metabolic pathways are processing food in parallel and storing the calories, or harvesting some nutrients, or what. Getting the alcohol processed out of our system becomes the highest priority, until it's gone, because it's essentially poison. While (as I understand it) it's true at a level of generality that the alcohol calories would be burned, and the food calories stored, in the scenario you outline, that's bound to be a pretty simplified view.

    I'd submit that it's a pretty bad plan for anyone to consume their TDEE in alcohol calories for a day, and the implications for fat storage are not the biggest reason to avoid it.
  • ChickenKillerPuppyChickenKillerPuppy Member Posts: 137 Member Member Posts: 137 Member
    Fascinating!! I had no idea that alcohol calories were not stored as fat, but I have also noticed that when my calories are up for the day due to alcohol and not food, I do not tend to gain weight, but I never understood why or thought maybe I was imagining it. Especially because I generally am planning on drinking alcohol, so I build the calories into my day ahead of time, so the calories from food are lower than they would be because I have made room for the alcohol calories (in other words, on a normal day I may eat around 1800-1900 calories in food, but if I know I'm drinking I'll have 600 calories from alcohol, and 1300-1400 in food). I am totally learning something new!

    The biggest risk for me, of course, is that if I drink too much it's easy for me to "rationalize" (drunkenly) eating a lot of treats, so then I will have the food. But it has always been the case that if I stick to my plan and just drink but eat less to compensate so my overall calorie total is not too high, I do not gain weight, even if my calorie total is higher than it might otherwise be.
  • sgt1372sgt1372 Member Posts: 3,727 Member Member Posts: 3,727 Member
    Cals are cals.

    Doesn't matter if they come from solid foods or beverages (including but not limited to alcohol).

    Alcohol cals are nutritionally deficient (no protein, carbs or fat) but that is another matter
  • chocolate_owlchocolate_owl Member Posts: 1,517 Member Member Posts: 1,517 Member
    Here's some older information discussing the phenomenon of gaining less than expected with alcohol. Some highlights:
    -Replacing X number of calories of carbs with the same number of calories of alcohol results in weight loss (Pubmed study)
    -Alcohol is 7.1 calories per gram, but its thermic effect translates into only being 5.7 calories per gram (LeanGains article)
    -If you don't eat a lot of fat prior to or while you're drinking, the pathway of converting calories into stored fat is somewhat shut down while you're drinking (LeanGains article)

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1957830/

    https://leangains.com/the-truth-about-alcohol-fat-loss-and-muscle-growth/

    I haven't really looked for newer studies lately, but these were interesting reads back in the day. My personal experience: I had no problem drinking like a fish and not gaining weight in my 20s, but as I've aged alcohol has had a lot more adverse effects, including increased hunger signals and less energy. I've gained weight, but I'm not going to blame that directly on alcohol since my calorie intake in general went up and my activity went down.
    edited October 19
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