Kim Yawitz, RD
It’s after Labor Day, and that means two things. One: You might get some judgey looks for dressing in white. And two: You’ll probably start to see lots of references to Sober October on the internet. If you’re sober-curious, you might be wondering, “How much weight will I lose if I stop drinking alcohol for a month?”
As with most things nutrition, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward. In this post, I’ll explain why that’s the case, as well as what you might expect if you stop drinking for a month.
How Much Weight Could You Lose? The Mathematical Answer
Weight loss occurs when you consistently burn more calories than you eat.
And I love a nice glass of wine or a good Manhattan as much as the next girl, but I gotta tell you: Alcohol has a lot of empty calories.
At a minimum, you’re looking at about 65 calories per cocktail (that’s one ounce of vodka on the rocks or with a calorie-free mixer).
Let’s say you have two of those every night. You could lose a little over a pound in 31 days.
What happens if you replace vodka with other drinks?
- Cutting out two, 12-ounce light beers per night could help you lose almost 2 pounds in 31 days.
- Skipping your nightly 2 glasses of wine would spare you 7750 calories in 31 days, which could help you lose a little over 2 pounds.
There’s a catch, of course. These estimates assume that every other variable in your life is the same. You do the same workouts as before and at the same intensity, your diet is exactly the same, and your sleep and stress levels are consistent.
Yeah, that’s actually pretty unlikely to happen. And Imma tell you why.
Why It’s Not Just About Math
Weight loss would be so much easier if calories in, calories out were a nice, tidy formula. But sadly, that’s not the case.
If you’re here to figure out, “How much weight will I lose if I stop drinking alcohol for a month?” here are some other factors to consider.
Alcohol and Food Intake
If you’ve ever had a few sips of alcohol, you know it tends to dull your inhibitions.
Alcohol crosses into the brain pretty quickly and impacts the regions of your brain responsible for impulse control. This is why post-midnight runs for the border seem like such a good idea after nights out with friends.
This is also why drinking is such a double whammy for weight loss. You have the extra calories from the drinks themselves, but also collateral damage in the form of decreased inhibition around food. In one small study, subjects who drank alcohol at lunch consumed 30% more calories than those who abstained!
This is one reason why it’s difficult to project how your weight will change if you give up alcohol for a month–because going sober can also change your behavior around food.
Booze and Energy Burn
Let’s just say that you carefully track your calorie intake and that you’re consistently eating only as many calories as you burn in day (or even a little less).
You’ll still lose weight, right?
Maybe, maybe not.
To lose fat, your body needs to burn your fuel reserves (aka, fats and carbs you keep in storage).
But here’s the thing: Your body views alcohol as a toxin. And because your body has your back, it prioritizes burning alcohol for energy over stored fats and carbs. Ugh, the nerve, right?!
If you drink alcohol and aren’t losing weight even in a calorie deficit, this could be one reason why.
Alcohol and Sleep
Remember how alcohol impacts your in-the-moment willpower around food?
Sadly, your willpower hangover can last into the day after you drink.
It’s true that a nightcap can help you fall asleep faster. But having more than a drink or two disrupts your sleep cycles, resulting in fewer hours of high-quality sleep (and often, less sleep overall!).
I gotta tell you, this ain’t good for your fat-blastin’ aspirations.
Studies suggest that even one night of poor sleep can throw your hormones that regulate hunger and satiety out of whack, making you more likely to overeat.
In this way, cutting out alcohol for a bit can help you to nip food cravings in the bud (and give you more energy in the process). This could help you lose more weight during a dry month, at least in theory.
Alcohol and Your Feelings
Willpower, cravings, and hormones aside, there’s another common reason why you might not lose weight by giving up alcohol.
Think about the reasons why you drink in the first place. Do you ever drink to numb your feelings, to combat boredom, or to take the edge off?
I get a lot of messages from prospective clients who are frustrated that they didn’t lose a single pound after taking a month off from drinking. And a lot of times, the reason for this is that they replace one coping mechanism with another (usually, food).
There will always be stress, and anxiety, and sadness, and loneliness, and boredom. And you’ll never have a healthy relationship with alcohol (or with food) until you learn healthier coping strategies.
What does this mean for Sober October, if you want to lose weight? It means being proactive with your mental health, and more specifically, learning to sit with your feelings.
Don’t try to numb yourself if you’re feeling sad, or stress, or anxious. Get it out. I’m a huge fan of storywork (a mindset coaching framework I happen to be certified in!), but journaling or talking to a friend can also help.
A trained mental health professional can help you to process bigger, deeper feelings–ones that impact your quality of life. Never hesitate to seek help if you are in a serious funk that you can’t escape, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or someone else.
How Much Weight Will I Lose if I Stop Drinking Alcohol for a Month
Back to the million-dollar question: How much weight will you lose by giving up the booze?
Honestly, the best way to know the answer to that question is to try.
Even if you don’t lose a single pound, there are so many great reasons to cut back on drinking. You’ll feel better, look better, sleep better, and perform better at the gym, among other benefits.
Need a little help with cutting back? I’ve got you covered! And if your needs are beyond my scope of practice as a dietitian and mindset coach, I have other professionals in my network who can help. Click here to schedule a free 15-minute call. Don’t see a time you love? email me at [email protected] and we’ll find a time that works for you!
Kim Yawitz is a registered dietitian and the owner of Two Six Fitness. In addition to her work at the gym, she’s also the author of the Renaissance Periodization guide to Nutrition for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. She’s also been featured on Reader’s Digest, SHAPE, MyFitnessPal Blog, Vitamin Shoppe Blog, Diet vs. Disease, The Food Network, VeryWell Health, Elite Daily, Eat This, Not That, and Simplemost.