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Updated 23 October 2017

How fat can alcohol really make you?

Could your daily tipple lead to obesity? There is growing evidence for a link between alcoholism and obesity, but more research is needed.

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Why do we drink alcohol? There are so many reasons – and whether you enjoy cracking open a cold beer in summer or indulging in a fragrant glass of wine – the bottom line is, alcohol provides a sense of pleasure.

But at seven calories per gram of alcohol, your daily tipple can wreak havoc on your waistline. We know that we need to lower our alcohol intake and choose our drinks wisely to maintain a healthy weight – but can excessive alcohol intake lead to actual obesity?

The link between alcohol and obesity

Research published in the Current Obesity Reports attempted to establish a direct link between alcohol consumption and obesity. While there are proven factors in alcohol that contribute to weight gain, there were limits in the study that prevented establishing a definite link between alcohol and obesity.

Studies done at the Washington School of Medicine in St Louis looked at data from two large alcoholism surveys. While the first survey showed no link between obesity and a family history of alcoholism, the second more recent survey did indicate that those with a family history of alcoholism were more likely to become obese.

The researchers suggested that this link could be the result of environmental factors – an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the consumption of unhealthy food.

Binge-drinking worse than regular consumption

Another study showed that people who binge-drink are more likely to gain weight as opposed to those who drank regularly, but in small quantities.

There are several factors that can lead to weight gain and eventual obesity if you continue to drink heavily:

1. Alcohol is calorie-dense and void of nutrition

Not all calories are the same. While some calories provide beneficial nutrition, the calories in alcohol have no nutritional value. Some alcoholic beverages are also packed with sugar, especially if you prefer cocktails or hard liquor with a soft drink mixer. If you tend to binge-drink, the situation gets even worse as calories add up pretty quickly. When your body gets too much energy from alcohol, it isn't used and ends up being stored as fat instead.

 cocktails and sunset

2. Alcohol makes us more likely to eat unhealthy and snack impulsively

There’s nothing that makes you throw your inhibitions out the door faster than a booze-filled night. Alcohol makes your blood sugar rise and plummet, leading to the inevitable munchies – and you certainly won’t be craving a salad in your inebriated state. You're more likely to forget all about your healthy diet and choose the greasiest meal on the menu – on top of the calories you already consumed from alcohol. If you make a habit of this kind of behaviour, it will most certainly lead to weight gain.

drunk man on couch eating fast food

3. Alcohol can get in the way of working out

If you regularly binge-drink over weekends, it’s unlikely that you will feel like training for that marathon or go to the gym. You will feel lethargic and sluggish and it will be easier for you to skip your workout session. While the occasional night of debauchery probably won't ruin your exercise plan, habitual indulging could certainly turn you into an overweight couch potato.

drunk redhead girl

4. Alcohol can alter the brain

According to research, there are similarities in the pathways that lead to overeating and dependence on alcohol. Ethanol triggers the brain to signal “starvation mode”, which can lead to an increase in appetite and overeating. 

Image credits: iStock 

 
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