Wine and Your Waistline: Why You Aren’t Losing Weight

Find out if liquid calories are crashing your party and your diet
Hand holding a glass of wine atop a wooden counter, with wine and bread in background

You’re humming along on your diet, losing one or two pounds per week and feeling good about yourself. In fact, you’re feeling so good that you’re congratulating yourself with a glass (or two) of wine in the evenings.

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Suddenly, you hit a weight loss plateau. You’ve been eating healthier and exercising, so what could it be? The culprit may be the wine, unfortunately. You may be thinking “wine is just grapes, right?” Wrong. Wine has more calories than you might think.

We hate to spoil the party, but it’s important to be aware of how much wine you’re drinking. One 5-ounce glass of wine averages at about 125 calories, no matter red, white or sparkling.

Multiply that by two or three glasses, and now you’re up to almost 400 calories. Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD helps break down what you need to know.

How your body processes alcohol

Alcohol is metabolized differently than food. “First, it can’t be stored, and second, it has to be converted from its ingested state to one that is not so poisonous,” says Zumpano.

It passes through your stomach and enters the bloodstream and the brain. But ultimately, alcohol must find its way to the liver, which is the only organ that knows what to do with it.

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There, it takes center stage. Your liver lets alcohol go to the front of the line, before other nutrients, because it simply needs to break it down into CO2 and water and get it out of your body.

Is all this science making you want to pause and take a sip of wine yet?

The pathways and mechanisms by which alcohol metabolism occurs read like they’re straight from a chemistry textbook. But on the most basic level, alcohol metabolism involves the breakdown of enzymes and the elimination of the byproducts.

“Your gender, age, body size and genetics all play a role in how quickly alcohol is eliminated from your body,” says Zumpano.

How to avoid making even unhealthier choices

Alcohol also clouds your judgment about healthy food choices. This is a problem when you’re watching your weight. Pairing a glass of wine with cheese and crackers, or chips and dip, can seem not only harmless but, when you’re tipsy, can also seem like a great idea.

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If you really want to cut down on liquid calories, Zumpano shares five tips for doing so:

  1. Set alcohol aside for a while. Cut out alcohol for a few weeks and see what the scale says. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.
  2. Cut your consumption. Go from two glasses to one per night. Or drink every other night or just on weekends.
  3. Reduce your pour. Stick to American Heart Association limits of one 4-ounce glass daily (for women) and two 4-ounce glasses (for men). Measure out 4 ounces in your favorite wine glass so you know when to say “when.”
  4. Switch up your drinkware. Invest in 3- or 4-ounce wine glasses instead of 5-ounce or larger glasses.
  5. Have water on hand. Alternate between sipping your wine and sipping this zero-calorie beverage. Or, make a spritzer – add 1-2 ounces of carbonated water to your wine and cut the wine down to 2-3 ounces. 

Treat your body to a healthy snack instead

For the same number of calories as a glass of wine, you could be nourishing your body with a healthy and tasty snack. Again, wine isn’t just grapes. Some of Zumpano’s favorites are:

  • 1 small square of 70-85% cocoa dark chocolate.
  • 4 whole-grain crackers with 1 ounce of cheese.
  • 1/2 ounce of cocoa-dusted almonds.
  • 6-ounce plain yogurt with 1/2 cup of raspberries.

Take a look at your wine consumption, then try some of these ideas to see if they help get you back on your weight-loss plan!

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