We've all heard it before:
Alcohol on a diet or cut is a huge no-no!
Alcohol is supposed to be full of empty calories that make you feel bloated and puffy, destroy your workout progress and recovery, and make you put on excess fat.
So how it's such a common experience while dieting to have a few glasses of wine or some vodka and wake up feeling skinnier the next day? Those of us who've experienced this have undoubtedly asked ourselves:
"Does drinking alcohol make you lose weight?"
The answer: Maybe, but probably not in the way that you think.
Let's dive in to this phenomenon, sometimes known as the Alcohol Whoosh Effect.
A quick recap of the Whoosh Effect
You might have heard of the mystical and sought-after Whoosh Effect.
In short, when you're on a diet and losing body fat, your fat cells often fill with water before they shrink down.
This can lead to you feeling bloated, squishy, and possibly even heavier, despite your diet and exercise.
Eventually, that extra water literally "whooshes" away, sometimes overnight, and you 'magically' lose a bunch of weight all at once.
That's the Whoosh Effect in action.
What triggers a whoosh?
As far as we know, rapid loss of extra water weight during a diet can sometimes be brought on by a carb refeed... (You could also think of it as a cheat day or cheat meal.)
But there's some evidence, and a lot of anecdotal evidence, that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol might do the same thing.
(And hey, if you've got a decent amount of fat to lose and want a program that makes it fast and enjoyable, check out my top recommended fat loss program for men and women.)
Why you feel skinny after drinking alcohol
This has definitely happened to me, and maybe you can relate:
You've been working hard on your diet and in the gym. You've been doing great! So you decide to reward yourself (or maybe you just breakdown) and enjoy a couple of alcoholic beverages one night.
You go to bed buzzed but feeling a little guilty, hoping you haven't wrecked your progress.
You'll get back on the wagon tomorrow, you promise!
When you wake up the next morning, you're shocked to find that (despite a mild headache), you feel SUPER lean, tight, and toned.
Not only did having a few drinks not make you fatter, it seems to have had the opposite effect.
So what's going on?
A few key summary points before we dive in to the research and anecdote:
- Alcohol is a powerful diuretic, meaning it flushes water from your system and dehydrates you.
- That's why you wake up the morning after moderate drinking often feeling svelte and tight... much of your water weight is gone!
- This effect is often temporary, and your body will regain water weight when you begin eating and drinking fluids again.
- You may sometimes find yourself MORE bloated than usual after a night of drinking once your body begins to restore water
- However, some people hypothesize that some of this water loss can be relatively permanent as a result of a whoosh effect
If you've been burning fat through diet and exercise, but not losing weight due to water storage inside those shrinking fat cells, it's very possible that a kick of alcohol could flush that weight out of your system for good (or until you regain the weight through overeating).
What does the research say about alcohol and weight loss?
For a long time, it's been commonly excepted that alcohol is the enemy of health and weight loss.
But newer evidence shows a moderate amount of drinking may be just fine, or may even be helpful.
One recent study found that moderate wine drinkers were less likely to gain weight over time compared to non-drinkers. The working theory is that regular, moderate drinking conditions your body to better metabolize the alcohol and other ingredients, and can also speed up your metabolism.
Another recent literature review found that in men and women, being a regular moderate drinker was typically not associated with higher body weight, or was sometimes associated with LOWER body weight, when compared to non-drinkers and heavy-drinkers.
In fact most recent studies point to very little relationship, or even a mildly positive one, between moderate alcohol consumption and weight.
In other words, if you're not a heavy binge drinker, alcohol is probably not having a major negative impact on your weight loss progress.
Tips for maintaining or losing weight while drinking alcohol
So what we can learn from all of this?
It seems that most of the evidence supports the idea that most of us can enjoy a few drinks now and then and still lose weight through diet and exercise, or maintain our current bodyweight.
But here are a few tips that might help:
- Avoid too much beer or heavy craft beers, which are extremely high in calories and empty carbs
- Red wine and liquor drinks in low or no calorie mixers are your best friends
- Regular, moderate drinking is best. Don't go too hard... and don't be too hard on yourself either by sticking to one glass of wine a month. If your body is used to handling alcohol, it'll handle it better.
- For weight loss, the most important thing is going to be hitting your food calories and nutrition properly. If you've dialed in your calories and aren't allowing alcohol to trick you into binge-eating junk, a few drinks here and there won't derail your progress.
I've personally found much of this to be true. In fact, I rarely count alcohol calories at all as long as I drink in moderation, and have had no trouble losing 15 pounds through intermittent fasting and strength training.
(Check out the exact workout program I followed to finally get lean.)
So is the alcohol whoosh real? Yes... probably.
The whoosh effect itself is a very difficult thing to study, and is not supremely well-documented.
But we do know this...
Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol will not prevent you from losing weight, provided your nutrition and exercise are on point.
And we know the whoosh effect itself is real... Periods of squishy, jiggly fat that suddenly and inexplicably disappear overnight due to water loss.
So yes, it seems highly likely that a diuretic like alcohol could kickstart a whoosh effect in your body and cause you to lose weight.
It's important to note that the alcohol is not CAUSING the weight loss... your diet and training are. The alcohol merely comes in at the end to evict the water so you can see the results of your hard work.
Everybody is different and will react differently to different training and nutrition styles, but it seems pretty safe to say that a few glasses of wine here or there might just be a great weight loss tool to throw in the tool box.
Just don't overdo it!
(And, psst, if you're looking for a new workout and nutrition program to help you get lean and strong, check out all of my top recommended workout programs right here.)