If you’ve been trying to lose weight, but aren’t making as much progress as you’d like, you could be making this common mistake: drinking your calories.
When it comes to weight loss, it’s really all about numbers. You need to take in fewer calories than you burn. Drinking rich, sugary beverages is one of the quickest ways to add to your daily calorie count, without adding any actual nutrition to your diet.
Drinking sugary beverages add up
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30% of people in the US consume one sugar beverage every day. The average soda contains about 150 calories and 35 grams of sugar, but relatively no nutritional value. By cutting those calories out, you could fuel yourself with something actually filling, like an afternoon snack.
“Liquid calories do not help you feel full. Fiber, healthy fats, and protein help us feel full,” nutritionist Elizabeth Boham said.
On top of that, according to a BMC Public Health analysis, on average, 20% of the total calories you consume in one day come from beverages. For the average person, that comes out to about 400 calories per day. By cutting that out, it’s estimated that you could lose about one extra pound per week!
When it comes to drinking “empty” calories, the worst culprits are soda and alcohol. And yet, these two beverages are very common in most American diets.
The BMC Public Health analysis reported that the average adult American under the age of 50 consumes between 140 and 150 calories from alcohol and soda every day.
What you can do, instead
Cutting, or at the very least limiting, these two beverages could make the impact you need when it comes to weight loss.
When it comes to Soda, you could switch to diet to avoid the calories, but you’re still looking at little to no nutritional value whatsoever. And if you stick with the real deal — aka sugar and calories in a can — you’re really not doing yourself any favors.
“Whenever I counsel someone about nutrition, I always focus on nutrient density,” Boham said. “What does this mean? You want to get the best bang for your buck — so choose food that has the most nutrients per calorie. A good example of nutrient-dense food is broccoli. Broccoli is packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and is low in calories. On the other hand, a frappuccino” — or a soda — “is a good example of a nutrient-poor, high-calorie food.”
A study from the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that, even with increases in physical activity, soda consumption is directly correlated to weight gain. In other words, you can’t work off the calories that come from soda as easily as others.
“Despite being so readily available, soda is far from healthy,” Geisinger dietitian Gina McArdle said. “In fact, soda and other sugary soft drinks may be one of the leading causes of obesity. While having an occasional soda isn’t going to have lasting long-term effects, having one or more sugary drinks every day will.”
Soda really should be viewed more as a treat than a beverage you should consume regularly. In fact, McArdle points out that it isn’t even very effective when it comes to quenching your thirst.
“Soda contains caffeine, which is a diuretic,” she said. “As a result, drinking soda will actually dehydrate you. This can strain your body to find sources of water—which puts a good deal of stress on your kidneys. If you need something to quench your thirst and rehydrate, water is always the best choice. If you prefer something with more flavor, try adding fresh fruit to your water.”
Alcohol isn’t much better when it comes to these things, although depending on what you’re drinking, you could at least reduce the sugar content. It also isn’t linked quite as closely to weight gain as soda is.
Studies on both men and women have revealed that light alcohol consumption (no more than 1-2 drinks per day) does not have a very meaningful impact on weight gain. However, if you’re exceeding two drinks per day, it’s an entirely different story.
It’s also worth noting that men are more likely to eat in addition to drinking alcohol, while women tend to drink in place of eating their calories. For men, this means the chance of weight gain increases even more.
That’s not to say that it’s unusual to want a little extra fuel in your belly while drinking. In fact, scientists have found that this is a very normal response. Animal studies revealed that, when given ethanol over a period of three days, mice showed a significant increase in food intake. This tells us that alcohol actually does trigger a hunger response in our brains, which is why you may be craving that 2 am pizza after a night out bar hopping.
Besides the empty calories and the food cravings that come from alcohol consumption, drinking alcohol can also lead to liver damage over time. Other than the obvious health concerns related to this, damage to your liver can also affect the way your body metabolizes and stores carbohydrates and fats, making it extremely difficult to lose weight.
Overall, experts say it’s best to limit alcohol consumption as much as possible, not only for your overall health, but especially if you want to lose weight. And when it comes to soda, it’s best to just cut those calories all together if you can live without it! Instead, opt for water and nutritionally dense foods that will actually keep you full and healthy.