A study from Penn Nursing suggests that, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you might want to think about cutting back on drinking.
The study, led by Ariana Chao, an assistant professor of nursing who studies obesity treatment and binge eating, examined how drinking affected weight loss among 4,901 people with type 2 diabetes who participated in the Action for Health in Diabetes study. That study compared weight loss for people who underwent an intensive lifestyle intervention that focused on improving diet and exercise with those in a control group.
The people in the intervention group were told about the calories in alcohol and advised to decrease drinking to reduce caloric intake. On average, people in the intervention group lost considerably more weight during the first year (around 9 percent of total weight) than those in the control group, who lost less than 1 percent of body weight.
Nondrinkers in the intervention group had kept more weight off at four years — 5.1 percent of initial weight — than those who drank at any level. Heavy drinkers, defined as men who drank more than 14 drinks a week or women who drank more than seven, had lost 2.4 percent of initial weight at four years.
Alcohol abstainers were also considerably more likely to lose 10 percent or more of their weight. Twenty-seven percent of nondrinkers attained that goal compared with 4.8 percent of heavy drinkers. Twenty-four percent of light drinkers lost 10 percent or more of their body weight.
Losing 5 percent or more of your weight can improve your health even if you’re still overweight, Chao said.
People in the study were 45 to 76 years old. One limitation of the study, Chao said, is that people tend to underestimate their drinking. Drinking may undercut diets in several ways, she said. One is that alcoholic drinks tend to be extra calories. People add them to meals rather than, say, substituting them for a side dish. The calories can be substantial.
Beyond the calories, studies have shown that people who are drinking tend to eat more and make poorer choices about food when they’re drinking.