One of the questions I get asked the most is how I can talk about/drink beer while trying to teach people about weight loss. Another question I get asked a lot is “Can you lose weight while drinking beer?”. I thought it would be a good idea to address this subject in an article.
It is possible to lose weight while drinking beer, weight loss occurs while you are in a calorie deficit. So long as you are burning more calories each day then you are consuming, you will lose weight. This can still occur while drinking beer. However, due to beer being high in calories, it can make weight loss more difficult.
In this article, I will attempt to fully explain how weight loss while drinking beer is possible. To do so I will explain how weight loss works, and why most of the beliefs around weight loss are wrong.
Gaining, losing, or maintaining weight is a tricky concept for many. Not because people are stupid, but because it is often poorly explained. The actual science behind it is fairly simple. You burn a certain amount of calories each day, you consume a certain amount of calories each day, and if you burn more than you consume then you will lose weight. If you burn less than you consume then you will gain weight.
I will go into more details later on, but we must be clear on this from the start. It doesn’t matter how unhealthy your diet is. If you are eating less than you are burning, then you will lose weight. Of course, eating healthily is desirable, and has many benefits, but the fact is you could eat nothing but junk food and still lose weight provided you burn more calories.
Beer does not make you fat, your lifestyle choices make you fat. You could drink a beer a day for 10 years straight and still lose weight, provided other aspects of your life are in check. While you could cut beer from your diet and still gain weight if the rest of your diet is bad.
I am not saying that beer is irrelevant when it comes to weight loss. Many people could see a huge drop in weight if they cut their beer drinking down. But beer itself is not to blame.
The beer belly is not a scientific term (shockingly). Which has created a lot of confusion. If you call abdominal fat around the stomach a “beer belly” then you are laying the blame on beer. But it is perfectly possible to have a “beer belly” while never touching a beer in your life.
What you need to understand is that where body fat is stored is influenced by many factors. Men are more likely to store fat around their abdomen, while women are more likely to store fat around their thighs, buttocks, and hips. After the menopause, women tend to store fat around their abdomen in the same way that men do, as their estrogen levels are lower.
The fat that is stored around the abdomen is known as visceral fat, and it is stored around the organs. The reason your body stores fat around the organs is to protect them, but too much visceral fat is incredibly unhealthy.
Visceral fat is different from subcutaneous fat, which is the fat which is just under skin level. Women tend to have a lot more subcutaneous fat than men, who have more visceral fat. Which is why women don’t tend to get beer bellies, even if they are just as unhealthy as men.
Obviously, alcohol abuse can lead to beer bellies, as alcohol is high in calories. Those who tend to drink a lot of beer are also less likely to exercise regularly and are more likely to eat unhealthily. It is easy to see where the idea that beer bellies are caused by beer came from.
Beer bellies form when excess calories are stored as fat around the abdominal area. This is much more common in men than women, as estrogen tends to divert body fat to the hips, thighs, and butt.
The fat around the abdomen is mostly visceral fat, and it surrounds your organs (rather than being underneath the skin). Excess visceral fat can cause you to form a beer belly.
If you are going to take anything away from this article let it be this: Losing weight and being healthy are different things. It is possible to lose weight while eating nothing but lard. It is possible to gain weight while eating the healthiest diet around! The fact that eating healthily makes it easier to maintain a healthy body weight does not mean that weight loss is guaranteed.
It is perfectly possible to lose weight while drinking beer, but obviously how much beer you drink will influence your results. I should also point out that drinking beer is not necessarily unhealthy. In fact, as my article on beer and health showed, moderate drinking may even have certain health benefits.
You could theoretically increase your beer intake and still lose weight, provided you made changes to your diet and activity levels. Obviously, if you are trying to get a six-pack (abs) then drinking a six-pack (beer) isn’t a good idea. But if you are overweight and looking to go on a diet you don’t need to cut out the beers!
While it is possible to lose weight while drinking beer, it takes discipline. If you think that you can sink 9 pints of lager on Friday, 7 pints and a kebab on Saturday, and then spend Sunday admiring your six-pack then you’ve got another thing coming!
Firstly, you need to set your sites on a realistic target. If you’ve read my article on why a six-pack may not be the best goal for you, then you’ll understand how difficult it is to maintain. You’ll also know that it is a pretty difficult thing to achieve.
Having a six-pack does not provide any health benefits than having a little extra body fat. In fact, it can actually be unhealthy. We need body fat for testosterone production, a healthy immune system, and to protect our organs. Here is how I would lose weight while drinking beer:
Before any diet, you need to have a good idea of where you are currently at. If you are 140kg and have never exercised, then the 2021 Mr Olympia is probably not a realistic goal. Sorry to burst your bubble.
What I always did with my clients (and with myself) is to take measurements of height, weight, circumference (chest, abdominals, hips, arms, legs, neck, and glutes), and I’d take some “before” pics.
This will give you a good idea of your current situation, and it will also help you to gauge progress as you go along. Often, people struggle to see a difference. But when you can look back and see the changes week-on-week you will feel much more motivated to keep going.
Don’t stop with just measurements of your body shape though. You also want a good idea of your daily step count. This can give you a good indication of your metabolism. You can download a step-counting app for free or purchase a Fitbit. You also want to start tracking your calories. This can be done as you go along, but it will really help you to analyse where your diet can be improved. Use Myfitnesspal or a similar food tracking app.
Now you can create a goal and a timeframe. Your goal is to lose weight, but how much weight? By what date? A realistic target for most people would be around 1kg per week. However, there are all sorts of factors that can affect this. If you are very overweight, then you may be able to lose more than that safely. Whereas if you are only slightly overweight this may be more difficult to achieve.
While BMI is not a particularly useful tool for you as an individual, it does have its uses. Checking out what your BMI is currently, and what it is supposed to be, is a good way of deciding your weight loss target. If you find out that you need to lose 12kg, then you know that you’ll need around 12-20 weeks to hit your target.
You need a calorie deficit of around 7,000 calories to lose a kg. For some people, this could simply be cutting 1,000 calories from their diet. If you are consistently eating/drinking 3,000 calories per day then you could easily drop down to 2,000 calories while still being able to consume enough food to get all of the nutrients necessary.
However, for people who weigh less and consume less, this would be ridiculous. You’ve got three options; you can either prolong the amount of time you will take to lose 12kg. You can reset your goals so that you don’t lose as much weight. Or, you can increase the number of calories you burn through exercise.
If you are planning on drinking beer, then this final option is probably best. Of course, you could do all three options!
One of the most important things to consider while dieting is how nutritious your diet will be while restricting calories. For example, a vegan diet has a lot of benefits, but it can leave you deficient in vitamin B12, creatine, and saturated fat. Most weight-loss diets end up being quite low in protein, which is something that you want to avoid.
Analysing your diet is a great way to make lasting changes that don’t upset your routine too much. For example, looking at your myfitnesspal diary entry each day may highlight just how many calories you are getting from your post-work cake. Swapping this cake for a lower calorie alternative could help you to increase that deficit.
Look at your breakfast, is it high in calories but low on nutrition? Could you make changes there?
Rather than doing your standard diet move (clearing out the fridge and doing a complete diet rehaul). Look at how you can make small changes that you’ll barely notice. A leaner cut of meat in your favourite dish? These small changes can really add up over time.
If you’ve read my article on finding the best beer to drink while dieting, you will understand that the differences between a high-calorie beer and a low-calorie beer aren’t that much. For the most part, I’d recommend looking at your overall intake rather than switching beers. If you would like to drink a lower-calorie beer then check out my article on low-carb beers.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is the number of calories you burn each day performing tasks that don’t quite qualify as exercise. Walking up a flight of stairs while carrying a suitcase isn’t really classed as exercise, but it is certainly going to burn calories. Brushing your teeth may only burn 2-3 calories, but it is still burning calories. Clearing out your spare room, moving furniture, cooking dinner, running to catch a bus, all of these tasks burn calories.
People with higher NEAT tend to be leaner and have less body fat, as their metabolisms are higher. If your NEAT is low (and you can best estimate this through daily step count) then increasing it is important.
Interestingly, studies have shown that the act of dieting can actually lower your NEAT. The calorie deficit causes your body to subconsciously conserve energy. People will fidget less (yes, this makes a difference). They will stand for less, sit down more, and generally be less energetic in their movements.
That is why it is important for you to increase your NEAT, even if you typically have a high NEAT level. Because much of NEAT is performed subconsciously, it can be challenging to increase it. The best way is to boost your step count or to do more chores around the house.
This is where a FitBit (or similar wearable technology) can really come in handy.
While it is perfectly possible to lose weight through diet alone, it is a lot easier to manage if you also exercise. I know that this sounds crazy! Exercise is often portrayed as the most exhausting thing possible. But it does not have to be. You start out easy, with your walking more. Maybe instead of structured exercise you just aim to hit 10,000 steps in a day. That is still exercising (yes, even though I covered it in the NEAT section).
Or you can take up cycling, or maybe you can join your local 5-a-side football team. Even golf can burn calories! If you can replace a time during the day where you sit around watching tv and grazing on snacks with an activity that burns more calories and may even build some muscle, then you’re making a positive step.
Joining the gym is a great way to burn a lot more calories. But it is not the only form of exercise out there. If the global pandemic has taught us anything it is that home workouts are better than most personal trainers said they were!
Look, the whole point of this article is to promote the idea that you can lose weight while still drinking. But that is within reason. How much are you currently drinking? If it is a lot then you may want to consider cutting down. I know that me writing this must feel like the ultimate betrayal. However, I am trying to promote drinking beer in a healthy way. 20 pints of lager a week is not healthy!
But it isn’t just your drinking, it is what comes with it. One or two beers per day isn’t too bad (though that would work out at 14 pints per week). But prolonged binging sessions on the weekend is the real problem. If you’re drinking 12 pints, then you’re probably sitting down doing very little for 8 hours! That is a very long time to be inactive for. Even if you weren’t drinking 2,400 calories worth of alcohol (give or take).
Finding places where you can drink while performing an activity (darts, snooker, pool, bowling) is a great way to 1) reduce the amount you are drinking, and 2) increase the calories you burn during that time. Without you even noticing! Just standing up instead of sitting can burn more calories.
Go to the pub later than you used to, or leave earlier. Let’s face it people, we’re not 19 any more (unless you are, in which case do what you want … for now). There is nothing to be gained from 12 hour pub stints that can’t be done in 3 hours. You’ll save money, you’ll wake up fresher the next day, and you’ll save a tonne of calories.
Weigh yourself every week, on the same day each week (I always like Mondays). Record your weight. Do the same with your circumference (use tailor’s tape to measure the circumference of the body parts I mentioned earlier). Then record that too. Take progress photos (same distance from camera/mirror, same lighting, same pose) every two weeks.
Use this information to gauge your progress. Don’t worry about week to week, your weight fluctuates (like the stock market). But look for trends over 3-4 weeks. Are you making progress? Are you on track?
If you are, then keep going. If you are losing too much weight, then add some more protein to your diet, or another beer! If you aren’t losing enough weight then you will need to look at your diet and see if any changes could be made. Maybe drop your calorie target by 100.
Just remember that weight loss is not always linear. Your weight won’t drop by exactly 1kg every week for 12 weeks. It might not do anything for 3 weeks, then you’ll drop 2kg in a week, then gain 0.5kg the next, before dropping 3kg the week after. It fluctuates. That’s why I said 3-4 weeks for trends to emerge. Even that might be a bit short term.
In some ways, this is the most dangerous step. Achieving your goal is ironically one of the worst things that can happen to you. Because people fall off the wagon. This is less likely if you have only made small edits to your diet, and haven’t pushed yourself too far. Incidentally, this is why I always try to get my online clients to create longer-term goals.
What you need to do when you hit your target is to create a new one, and act like you’ve just finished one chapter of a book. Rather than having finished the book itself. Hope that makes sense! So many people regain weight after a successful diet because they assume it is over. But you will be dieting forever. I don’t mean to say that to alarm you, but you’ve got to eat. You’ve got to breathe, you’ve got to move. These things are still going to happen 30 years from today. Maybe 60 years. Maybe 100.
If you’ve lost all the weight you wanted, then your new goal should be about maintenance, or (better yet) looking to improve your strength and fitness. You could even begin to consider building some muscle (which requires a calorie surplus).
If you love drinking beer then it would be silly to remove it from your life completely. By doing so you are putting a time-limit on your diet. You’re saying, on 31st of January things will return to normal.
But it was “normal” that got you into this mess in the first place! You can’t spend the rest of your life continually swapping between ultra-restrictive and laissez-faire. Not only can this be harmful, but it is eventually going to end up with you giving in. Nobody is going to be bothered to go on an ultra-restrictive diet when they are 70. So you’ll either end up overweight for the rest of your life, or you’ll end up following a diet that you don’t even enjoy!
You need to find that balance, and the sooner the better. Beer is not the cause of weight gain, it can contribute, but it is not the cause. Neither is sugar, neither are carbohydrates, neither are fats. All of the foods and drinks that have been vilified in the past, are innocent. Provided you don’t over-indulge.
If you are currently overweight and reading this, then deep down you know things have to change. Believe me, I’ve been there. When the guys behind the counter at KFC knew me by name. When I realised I had gone to the pub every day for an entire month (first student loan payment at the age of 19). I’ve had this moment of clarity and the first few times, I ended up right back where I started.
But being smart about it, looking for ways to make big changes while causing as little disruption as possible, can really help you to stay the course.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.