Most people enjoy many benefits after they quit drinking, including healthier skin, better sleep, more energy, and clearer thinking. Another common benefit is losing a few pounds without really trying. Alcohol has a lot of empty calories and it’s easy for a heavy drinker to drink an extra 1000 calories a day. Alcohol also changes your hormones, making it harder to lose weight. Once you stop drinking, it’s easy to lose a few pounds pretty quickly. However, some people actually gain weight once they quit drinking. What’s going on and what can you do about it?
There are a number of reasons you might gain weight after you quit drinking. Perhaps the most common is using food to replace alcohol. This might be a case of substitution. For example, if you reach for a soda every time you would have previously reached for a beer, you’ll end up consuming a lot of calories, possibly more than before. Many people find food, especially sugary or fatty food gives them a dopamine boost and serves some of the same purpose alcohol used to. This can lead to a transfer addiction, from alcohol to food. Finally, heavy drinkers typically have chronically low blood sugar, which can persist into recovery. When your blood sugar is low, you instinctively try to correct it with sugary food. This boosts your blood sugar temporarily, but then it tends to crash again, leading to a cycle of sugar boom and bust. It’s common for people recovering from alcohol use disorder to develop a raging sweet tooth and put on weight as a result.
There are other ways quitting drinking may lead to weight gain too. Alcohol use disorder often occurs with depression, which typically reduces appetite. In the case of a dual diagnosis, depression and alcohol use should be treated together. As your depression symptoms decrease, you may find you have more of an appetite. Whereas the calories from your alcohol consumption used to be offset by eating little, you may now have the opposite problem of not drinking but having a much stronger appetite. It’s also common for excessive drinking to damage your gastrointestinal tract, leading to poor absorption of nutrients and malnutrition. As your gut heals, you may gain weight from increased appetite and increased food absorption. Often, this is a good sign, especially if you were underweight before. Since excessive drinking can also go along with eating disorders, weight gain might be a sign of a healthier relationship with food.
If you do find you’ve put on weight since you stopped drinking, it’s not an insurmountable problem. The first thing to do is watch your sugar intake. If you’ve been drinking a lot of soda, replace it with low-sugar substitutes, preferably water. If you’ve been eating a lot of candy or pastries, replace them with healthier snacks like nuts or fruit. If you also follow a sensible diet of mostly whole foods, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep, you should be able to get back to a healthy weight pretty quickly.
Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance abuse, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.
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