Weight Gain after quitting drinking

Reasons Why You Might Gain Weight After You Quit Drinking

There are so many benefits to limiting or quitting drinking alcohol to include clearer skin, better sleep, and even weight loss. Alcohol contains empty calories, which can add up. Still, some people who quit drinking are surprised to find that they actually GAIN weight, which can be frustrating and confusing. If you find yourself asking, “Why did I quit drinking and gain weight?, read on to learn the top three reasons why quitting drinking can lead to weight gain.

Top 3 Reasons for Weight Gain After Quitting Drinking

1. Replacing Alcohol with Food and Other Beverages

Some people who stop drinking may find themselves reaching for a calorie-rich snack or beverage to replace an alcoholic beverage, which can lead to the consumption of additional calories. Alcoholic drinks contain calories too, but often times the alcohol has fewer calories than the replacement.

Check out the list below to see how many calories each alcoholic beverage contains. Think of your frequency. Then think about a go-to non-alcoholic beverage or snack that you might be reaching for instead of a drink. Knowledge is power. Rather than mindlessly imbibing or snacking, be aware of how these substitutes impact your overall calorie consumption.

List of Calories for Alcoholic Beverages

Alcohol DrinkNumber of Calories
Light Beer Average 150 Calories per 12 fluid ounces

Find your beer calories here
IPA BeerCloser to 200 Calories per 12 fluid ounces

Quick equation:
Beer calories = ABV% (alcohol by volume) x factor 2.5 x ounces of beer
WineAverage is 25 calories per ounce

Find your wine calories here
SeltzerAverage is 100 calories/can
CocktailVaries from low calorie to high

Find your cocktail calories here

List of non-alcoholic beverages and food

Beverage or Snack Number of Calories
Sparkling Juice 140 Calories per 12 fluid ounce
Bag of Microwave Popcorn 425 Calories for the bag
Trail Mix 340 Calories for 1/2 cup
Bar Food/AppetizersVaries, typically 600-1500 calories

In summary, if you opt for calorie-rich substitutes for alcohol, you might consume extra calories, which can lead to weight gain.

2. Internal Organ Repair

When a heavy drinker quits drinking, the body goes into repair mode. In particular, the liver and the GI tract are negatively impacted by alcohol consumption, especially heavy drinking. Once a person stops consuming alcohol, these organs begin healing and functioning in a more optimal way. While this is beneficial for the body, weight gain can be a less than desirable outcome.

Many daily drinkers or even weekend imbibers may not consider themselves heavy drinkers. However, the CDC defines a “heavy drinker” as follows:

  • Men: 15 drinks or more per week.
  • Women: 8 drinks or more per week.

How the Liver May Contribute to Weight Gain After Quitting Drinking

Heavy drinkers tend to have low blood sugar. This is primarily due to the liver having to choose to process alcohol or glucose. When alcohol is present, the liver will choose it over glucose. As a result, when a person stops drinking there is a period of time during which glucose levels will start to normalize. This can increase hunger, especially if your diet has been poor.

How the GI Tract May Contribute to Weight Gain After Quitting Drinking

According to alcohol research, the consumption of alcohol, especially for heavy drinkers, may cause the lining of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract to experience inflammation and decrease of mucosal production These issues can lead to altered gut microbiota and decreased nutrient absorption. As the GI tract heals, improved nutrient absorption can occur, which may lead to weight gain.

3. Addiction Swapping

It’s common for people to replace one addiction with another. Many people find sugary and fatty foods comforting and look for the dopamine boost it brings them, just as alcohol once did.

As mentioned above, those sugary and fatty foods tend to have more calories than alcoholic drinks. This can result in what appears to be a rapid weight gain.

On the other hand, a person with an addiction disorder is also more at risk for disordered eating. Binge eating and weight gain are common during treatment for alcohol addiction, when an underlying eating disorder may become more active.  

Next Steps

You can minimize weight gain or even prevent it with the following tips:

1. Focus on Mental Health

When making big changes, especially if you have been using alcohol to deal with the stress of every life, consider adding a mental health counselor to your health team. A mental health professional can help you manage stress, deal with any addiction tendencies, and improve overall wellbeing.

If you feel that you have an addiction to alcohol, focusing on your mental health is even more critical. Some people may need an inpatient recovery program, while others are successful without this step. There are many resources online for mental health and addiction counseling. You can check out a therapist in your area or find one through a national service like Better Health.

If you are a patient of Anderson’s Nutrition and you do not have a mental health provider, we can refer you to one.

2. Focus on Nutrition

Nutrition plays a critical role in weight management. Good nutrition will ensure that you receive all the positive health benefits of quitting drinking, while maintaining a healthy body weight. Consider scheduling an appointment with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, who will provide you with a customized nutrition and wellness plan.

In the meantime, here are some ways you can avoid gaining weight while adjusting to a life free of alcohol:

Eat a Balanced Diet

Three meals a day with a balance of carbs, protein, and fat is ideal. This balance keeps blood sugar normalized and decreases glucose spikes.

A good goal is to fill half of your plate with veggies at lunch and dinner, providing lots of fiber. When snacking, choose fruit like berries and citrus, which deliver antioxidants to help decrease inflammation.

Pick Low Calorie Beverages and Foods

When picking your alcohol swaps during social gatherings, drink non-caloric beverages or even a low-calorie mocktail. Select salads or a hummus plate rather than ordering calorie-rich bar food.

Avoid Nighttime Eating

If you find that you need a nighttime alcohol replacement, consider a non-food option! Our bodies really do work best without nighttime snacking. Consider other relaxation options like a craft, a puzzle, or a warm bath.

Meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) can be a valuable tool in the recovery process. An RDN can create a customized wellness plan just for you, which factors in nutrition as well as sleep quality and stress management.

An RDN can help you prevent the weight gain that can occur after you quit drinking. When your nutrition is on point, it can improve both your physical and mental health. Click here to use our online scheduling tool to make an appointment.

3. Focus on Fitness

Physical activity is also a key piece of the puzzle. It can produce endorphins that improve mood and mental health. Consider a variety of exercise types such as cardio, strength training, balance and flexibility.

Get a Customized Plan

At Anderson’s Nutrition, our Get Moving Program allows you to meet virtually with a personal trainer, who will design a program just for YOU that takes into account your fitness level, overall health goals, and even WHERE you prefer to work out – at a gym, at home, outside, etc.

Don’t let fear of weight gain dampen your desire to quit drinking, if that’s an important next step for you. We are here to help! Reach out to us today to get started.