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Does Drinking Cause Weight Gain? Alcohol and Resulting Weight Gain

Exerpts – February 2011

Does drinking alcohol and excessive drinking cause weight gain?  Current research says it does.

Alcohol is not a diet food: A 5-ounce glass of wine has around 150 calories, a 1.5-ounce shot of vodka or 12 ounces of light beer, 100. For every drink you have, you have to subtract something else from your diet or log another mile on the treadmill— or risk weight gain. Further, people eat about 20 percent more calories when they drink with a meal, possibly because alcohol interferes with satiety or simply because it makes your judgment fuzzier about whether or not you should have a second helping of doughnuts or potato skins.

On the other hand, when you look at the epidemiological data, alcohol consumption doesn’t seem to correlate with excess weight among women. Numerous studies have found that women who are light drinkers tend to have a more stable and lower body mass index over time than their teetotaling or heavy-drinking counterparts (the same does not appear to be true for men, who seem to steadily gain weight with increasing alcohol consumption). You have to take epidemiological data with a grain of salt—it could be that women who drink moderately have other healthy habits that keep their weight in check despite their drinking, but it could also be that drinking alcohol keeps other appetites in check.

Using data from nearly 90,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, Harvard researchers found that women who drank between two and four drinks a day had lower BMIs and they seemed to eat fewer carbs, particularly in the form of candy, than their counterparts on either end of the spectrum. The authors also noted that “among alcoholics, newly sober patients appear to develop a carbohydrate appetite, or sweet tooth,” and that perhaps alcohol suppresses the craving for carbohydrates.

Scientists have long noted that alcoholics aren’t as portly as you’d expect, given the staggering number of calories they consume in alcohol. Metabolic studies of chronic alcohol abusers have turned up something interesting: If you drink enough, you pass a threshold after which a certain portion of your alcohol calories are “free.” Basically, you do so much damage to your liver that it can’t efficiently process alcohol anymore and you “waste” the calories or store them in your liver, giving yourself a disease called fatty liver, which can lead to cirrhosis and death if you keep at it. “

Still, even if abusive drinkers do get a few rounds on the house, calorically speaking, it doesn’t add up to a knockout physique.  Habitual excessive alcohol consumption has long been linked to an increased waistto-hip ratio (a fancy term for a beer belly). Brand-new research shows, however, that even infrequent binge drinking can thicken your midsection. In a large as-yet unpublished study of more than 28,000 middle-aged men and women in Eastern Europe, Martin Bobak, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology at University College London, found that men who drank 100 grams of alcohol (about seven drinks) and women who drank more than 60 grams (about four drinks) on one “drinking occasion” at least once a month had larger waists than did moderate drinkers.

-Elle

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