It has been witnessed at colleges across America for decades. Students attend their first year of college and inevitably gain the “freshman 15.” Although some articles claim to debunk the myth of the freshman 15 (shifting the blame to school cafeteria buffet-style food) the phenomenon actually can be explained. There is in fact a link between alcohol and weight gain.
First Things First: Alcohol Has Calories
Not only does alcohol cause the body to store excess fat because of its chemical makeup (see below), alcohol has a double-whammy effect due to the fact that it has calories — a lot of calories. This means that if you are going to drink an alcoholic beverage, you need to keep numbers in mind while consuming food throughout the day. If you don’t figure the number of calories you are drinking into your daily count, you will likely go over your target caloric intake, which will cause (you guessed it) weight gain. Additionally, the calories that come from alcohol are empty calories — they have no nutritional value. So keep in mind that when you are removing food to add in alcohol, you are losing out on nutrients and satiety. Alcohol does tend to have a greater effect as far as weight gain goes on men than on women. This could be due in part to the fact that women tend to calculate their daily caloric goals when consuming alcohol, or because they are fearful of developing the freshman 15.
How to Avoid Weight Gain
Despite the fact that weight gain can be tied to alcohol consumption, you don’t have to cut out all alcohol in order to avoid the seemingly inevitable freshman 15. Studies have found that those who drink alcohol infrequently or in smaller amounts do not usually gain excessive amounts of weight.
Where the Problem Really Lies
Although the fat content of alcoholic beverages isn’t really much to make mention of, the risk of weight gain still exists. It is found hidden in the components that make up alcohol — or those that alcohol turns into. When you consume alcohol, it turns into acetate. When acetate is present, the body will burn it up as calories before anything else. This often leaves undesirable things behind, like sugar and fat. As a result, anything you ate prior to drinking your alcoholic beverage(s) will be stored as fat. Your body got all of its needed energy from the beer you shot-gunned. Alcohol also makes it harder for the body to burn fat that is already present by slowing down a process called “lipid oxidation.” Studies have shown that people who consume a high fat diet with high amounts of alcohol on a regular basis are heading down the road that leads to weight gain. It is more likely to happen to individuals who drink more than one to two drinks per day — you know, the party-all-night, drink-until-you-drop kind of consuming that many college freshmen fall into. This is good news for those who enjoy an occasional drink. As long as you don’t drink like the stereotypical college freshman, keeping your intake at a moderate level and avoiding falling into alcohol addiction, you shouldn’t have to worry much about the effects on your body caused by alcohol and weight gain. Resources: National Institute of Health: Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338356/ Medline Plus: Weight Loss and Alcohol: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000889.htm