January 1, 2024

Does Beer Really Cause a ‘Beer Belly’?

Getting rid of excess abdominal fat will take more than just cutting back on cold ones

male with beer belly on treadmill, with giant mug of beer next to

You love an occasional ice-cold beer or two … but is your penchant for brews to blame for the so-called “beer belly” you’ve started to develop?

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Excess abdominal fat can pose a danger to your health, though the term “beer belly” is a misnomer, as it’s not a byproduct of booze alone. Even sober folks can develop the type of extra abdominal fat that’s sometimes associated with drinking beer — but alcohol certainly doesn’t help.

Family medicine physician Daniel Allan, MD, explains what causes a beer belly, the risks it brings and how to work on getting rid of it.

What causes a beer belly?

There’s no evidence to show that drinking beer contributes specifically to weight gain around the abdomen area, aka the beer belly. But there’s plenty of evidence that beer and other types of alcohol play a role in weight gain in general — and you don’t have to be a heavy or frequent drinker for beer to lend itself to extra pounds.

Let’s take a look at what alcohol does to your belly (as well as the rest of your body).

Adds extra calories

“Consuming too many calories — whether from alcohol, sugary foods or just a lot of extra food — can lead to extra belly fat,” Dr. Allan says. And because an average can of beer runs you more than 150 calories, it doesn’t take long for the calories (and the belly) to build.

Alcohol also stimulates your appetite, which can lead you to eat more than you might otherwise — and it can impair your judgment, leading you to make less healthy food choices. (Hello, late-night fast food after hitting the bars.)

Interferes with fat-burning

Alcohol gets in the way of your body’s ability to burn fat. Your liver plays an important role in metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates and fats so your body can use them — but if given the choice, your liver would rather burn off alcohol than fat.

Advertisement

“Your liver will preferentially burn alcohol instead of fat when it is consumed,” Dr. Allan explains, “so beer can interfere with fat burn.”

Genetics

Your genes play a role in so much of your health. In the case of beer bellies, Dr. Allan says that your sex assigned at birth may be the biggest genetic factor in where your body stores fat.

“In general, women tend to store fat in their arms, thighs and buttocks, as well as their bellies, while men tend to store more in their bellies alone,” he clarifies. (Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, and your experience may vary.)

He adds: “Women tend to start out with smaller bellies, but all of us become more likely to store fat in our midsections as we age and our hormone levels decrease.”

The health risks of having a beer belly

Having extra weight around your midsection — sometimes also known as a “spare tire” — is linked with an increased risk for a variety of health problems, including:

“A person with a very firm beer belly is at even higher risk for health problems because it’s typically caused by a high accumulation of visceral fat,” Dr. Allan warns. “This fat is located in the organs themselves and between the organs inside your abdomen.”

Visceral fat is tightly packed, and as it builds up, it pushes the abdominal wall outward, exaggerating the appearance of a beer belly. The abdominal wall itself is made of muscle and tough fibrous tissues, which makes it very firm. That leads to a belly that feels hard.

Advertisement

For women and people assigned female at birth, a waist circumference of 35 inches indicates increased risk; for men and people assigned male at birth, it’s 40 inches.

How to get rid of a beer belly

This isn’t what you want to hear, we know, but here it is: “There is no magic formula,” Dr. Allan says. “Losing weight requires consistent attention to a balanced diet and appropriate portions, combined with regular physical activity.”

But there are some specific steps you can take:

  • Go light: “Lower-calorie beer is a place to start,” Dr. Allan advises. Nonalcoholic beer and mocktails can be a good option, too.
  • Find the right fitness combo: Doing crunches, sit-ups or planks won't speed up the process beyond the calories you burn by doing them. “For losing belly fat, weight loss is most effective when you combine both strength and cardio fitness programs,” Dr. Allen says.
  • Scale back or quit entirely: If you’re struggling with addiction, help and support are available. And even if you’re just a casual social drinker, it can be really hard to stop drinking — but it’s doable, we promise.

Here’s some good news: “Visceral fat can be broken down quicker than other types of body fat,” Dr. Allan says. That means that when the weight does start to come off, you’ll notice it disappearing from your midsection first.

Your frame isn’t the only part of you that will benefit from cutting back on booze. Alcohol also affects your brain, heart and liver, and it can increase your risk of certain cancers.

As you put in the hard work to tackle your ”beer belly,” just know that the rest of your body will appreciate it, too!

Related Articles

Glasses of alcohol on wooden stump outside in the snow, with bottle nearby
February 16, 2024
Drinking Alcohol in the Cold? 5 Tips on How To Stay Safe

A cold one out in the cold can cause a false sense of warmth and increase your risk of hypothermia

Closeup of people holding up shot glasses
February 15, 2024
What Does Alcohol Do to Your Body? 9 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health

Alcohol affects your whole body, from your liver and immune system to your brain and mental health

Two bariatric surgery options: grastric bypass and gastric sleeve
February 14, 2024
How To Know Which Type of Bariatric Surgery Is Right for You

Gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy are different procedures that offer similar benefits, including significant weight loss

Teal awareness ribbon in doctor's hand, symbolic bow color for supporting patient with PCOS
February 7, 2024
Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Genetic?

While this hormonal condition can be hereditary, there are other risk factors to also consider

healthcare provider speaking with older female in office
February 6, 2024
How Estrogen Supports Heart Health

Your natural estrogen levels support a healthy heart by improving your cholesterol, increasing blood flow and reducing free radicals

Person eating healthy bowl of noodles with fitness items floating around head
January 17, 2024
How To Shed 10 Pounds — For Good!

Actively choose healthy habits not only when it comes to food and nutrition, but also physical activity and your mental health

person in wheelchair lifting weights in gym
December 26, 2023
7 New Year’s Resolutions To Improve Your Heart Health

Resolve to move a little more, drink a little less, eat a little healthier, sleep a little better and destress a lot

close up of green coffee beans
December 14, 2023
Should You Go Green? What To Know About Green Coffee Bean Extract

There’s no evidence to prove this supplement can help with weight loss, and it may come with risks

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad