Blog ofVanessa Schmitz

Registered Dietitian · DT033649

Cultivate success through daily discipline.

Alcohol & weight gain, it's not about calories.

Monday, April 15, 2024

When people ask me about alcohol and weight gain, I usually tell them not to worry too much about the calories in alcohol itself because they aren't stored in the traditional sense.

Although alcohol provides about 7 calories per gram, these aren’t your biggest concern. It’s not really about the calories being stored because, interestingly, they can’t be. Instead, it’s how our bodies handle alcohol that brings a twist.

Your body sees alcohol as a toxin and prioritizes getting rid of it. This process happens mostly in your liver, and it disrupts the usual way your body processes other nutrients. So, while your liver is busy dealing with alcohol, the calories from carbs and fats you've eaten might end up being stored as fat. This is because alcohol changes the liver’s chemical environment, increasing levels of NADH, which interferes with essential processes like making new sugars and burning fat. Just so you know, NADH helps your body produce energy.

Drinking also messes with your appetite. It plays around with the neurotransmitters and hormones that control how hungry you feel, often making you want to eat more. Alcohol can increase cortisol, which boosts hunger, and messes with leptin, which is supposed to help you feel full. So, you might end up eating more than you normally would, leading to excess calories.

Moreover, when your body breaks down alcohol, it creates a substance called acetyl-CoA. Your liver turns this into fatty acids, which are the building blocks for fat in your body. These are then stored as triglycerides in your fat tissue, especially since alcohol reduces your body’s ability to burn fat. Sometimes, alcohol can even cause your blood sugar to drop, making your body store more fat as a safeguard.

Alcohol doesn’t just affect your waistline; it also impacts how well you absorb other nutrients. It can damage the lining of your digestive system, reducing your ability to take in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. This leads to less digestive enzyme production, affecting your digestion and nutrient absorption and might cause you to eat more to meet your nutritional needs.

So, understanding how alcohol interacts with your body’s processes shows why it can indeed contribute to weight gain, beyond just the calorie count.

Here are the key takeaways to keep in mind:

1. Alcohol Processing: Alcohol is broken down first, leading to other nutrients being stored as fat.

2. Liver Disruption: Alcohol increases NADH, which disrupts crucial processes like sugar creation and fat burning.

3. Appetite Increase: Alcohol can increase your appetite and mess with hormones that help you feel full.

4. Fat Storage: Alcohol metabolites are turned into fat instead of being burned for energy.

5. Nutrient Absorption: Drinking alcohol can harm your digestive system, impairing nutrient absorption and potentially leading to increased calorie intake.

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Vanessa Schmitz
Vanessa Schmitz
Registered Dietitian · DT033649
Cultivate success through daily discipline.