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Is alcohol belly in women a thing and can you get rid of it?

Although largely associated with beer-drinking men, women can also develop an alcohol belly.

What You Need to Know About Alcohol Intake and Weight Gain | Juniper

We all love a glass of wine (or two) after work, with dinner or on the weekends. But, when we drink alcohol in excessive amounts, we can develop something known as an alcohol belly.

When most people think of an alcohol belly, they tend to associate it with beer-drinking men. But, women can also develop an alcohol belly, particularly in older age thanks to menopause.

So, if you've never heard of an alcohol belly before or you're trying to lose weight and are wondering how to get rid of your alcohol belly, we're rounding up your ultimate guide on alcohol bellies in women, what causes them and how to get rid of them for good.

What is an alcohol belly?

An alcohol belly is basically an increase in belly fat that's linked to drinking a large amount of alcohol. This is caused by a large amount of visceral fat or hidden fat. We have 2 types of fat in the body — visceral fat, which is stored deep inside the belly and subcutaneous fat which is stored underneath the skin and is visible [1].

Most fat in the body is subcutaneous fat and the kind of fat you can feel. But since visceral fat is stored deep inside the stomach it causes the stomach to stick out giving you the appearance of an alcohol or beer belly.

Visceral fat also makes up only one-tenth of all fat stored in the body, producing chemicals and hormones that can be pretty harmful and toxic to the body [1].

Essentially, an alcohol belly or more visceral fat in the lower abdomen is caused by excess calories from a poor diet, drinking heavily, and little or no physical activity.

What are empty calories?

Empty calories are calories that don't have any nutritional value or benefits. Calories are units that represent the ability of food to be converted by the body into energy [2]. All food that we eat contains calories and we need to be eating a certain amount of calories each day to live.

Aside from calories, food contains other ingredients that are important for our overall health like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more [2]. But, when food only gives you calories and no other nutritional value and benefit to your health, then they are considered empty calories.

So what foods and drinks are considered empty calories? Empty-calorie foods and drinks include:

  • Sugary drinks like soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit drinks with added sugar
  • Alcoholic drinks such as wine, beer, cider and spirits
  • Foods like pastries, cakes, cookies and doughnuts
  • Junk and fast food
  • Candy and sweets.

Empty calories also contain extra calories than other foods that offer better nutritional value so you're consuming extra calories with no added benefits. This, in turn, can lead to weight gain.

Why does fat tend to accumulate in the belly?

In general, belly fat is a more common issue for men. While men and women start off with similar fat storage patterns, with age this changes. Men tend to accumulate and store fat around their abdominal region meaning they are more apple-shaped and are prone to developing beer bellies.

On the other hand, women tend to store fat around their thighs and bum, giving them more pear-shaped bodies [3]. Women are also more likely to have subcutaneous fat, whereas men tend to have more visceral fat.

But, this doesn't mean women can't accumulate fat around their bellies. The obvious reasons for fat around the belly are consuming too many calories throughout the day and not burning them off through exercise. If you're eating or drinking high-energy items and not exercising enough you're likely to develop excess weight which is then stored in the stomach.

But, getting older is another reason women can start accumulating stomach fat. For a lot of women, this can start to happen more so after menopause, when body fat shifts to the abdomen [4].

Loss of muscle mass also decreases with age and women may see an increase in belly fat even when they aren't gaining weight. This occurs as a result of decreasing levels of estrogen which influences where fat is stored in the body.

How much alcohol consumption gives you an alcohol belly?

Alcohol intake and weight gain are still pretty unclear but there are a couple of ways alcohol can play a part in the development of an alcohol belly and weight gain that goes beyond just how much alcohol you consume.

Let's take a closer look.

One study found that alcohol consumption and body weight are stronger in men and women because of 2 factors: the amount of alcohol they drink and the type of alcoholic beverage consumed [5].

On average, men consume alcohol 3 times higher than women and they are more likely to be drinking beer which has higher carbohydrates than other alcoholic beverages such as red wine [5].

This means the more alcohol you drink the more likely you're going to gain weight and develop an alcohol belly. Plus, if you're consuming alcoholic beverages that are high in calories and carbohydrates (like beer), the more weight gain you're likely to experience.

But, alcohol also plays another role in weight gain. Higher alcohol consumption (especially binge drinking) stops your body from burning fat, leads to more hunger and less satiety (the feeling of being full) and it leads to bad food choices like getting a big takeaway after a night out [6].

All of this combined causes weight gain amongst both men and women and if done consistently causes people to consume more calories, gain weight, develop stubborn fat and other health problems like heart disease.

Wine belly versus beer belly

Wine belly and beer belly are basically the same things — no matter what alcohol you drink it still contains calories that can cause weight gain. But, studies have shown that red wine drinkers have less stomach fat. One study found that red wine drinkers had less visceral fat which therefore reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome [7].

But, this doesn't mean you should crack open a bottle of red wine and drink the whole thing. On average, a standard serving of wine has around 123 calories (which is lower than beer) but if you're knocking down a few glasses of wine a night, that's still a lot of extra weight.

The key really is moderation, drinking less alcohol and taking care of your overall health with a good diet and enough exercise.

Does wine make you bloated?

Everybody is different so wine will have a pretty different effect depending on your individual body type. But, for some people drinking wine can cause bloating despite it being low in calories.

This is because wine contains yeast which causes a 'rising' effect and yeast can also cause an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the body which leads to bloating [8].

What's the difference between an alcohol belly and a hormonal belly?

An alcohol belly is caused by drinking too much alcohol and consuming alcoholic beverages with too many calories. On the other hand, a hormonal belly is a lower abdominal weight gain that's caused by a hormonal imbalance with hormones either being too high or too low.

Generally, there are a few reasons why you may experience the development of a hormonal belly including:

  • Menopause: Significant changes in hormone levels during menopause lead to weight gain especially in the belly region because of lowered production levels of estrogen.
  • Slow thyroid: The thyroid gland can stop producing enough hormones that your body needs. This means your body decreases the amount of energy burned by food, resulting in weight gain.
  • Increased cortisol levels: Cortisol is the hormone that responds to and helps manage stress. When you're overly stressed or anxious your body produces increased cortisol levels meaning your body stores more belly fat, making it harder to lose weight [9].

What's a holistic way to approach alcohol belly weight loss?

The good news is there are plenty of ways to lose an alcohol belly that start with making lifestyle adjustments so you're consuming fewer calories, cutting out unnecessary drinking and ensuring you burn more calories by exercising more.

Let's dive into some healthy habits you can start incorporating into your weight loss journey and get rid of that alcohol belly for good.

A balanced diet and increasing daily exercise

We're not here to tell you that you can't drink alcohol at all (there's nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of wine with dinner on occasion). Instead, if you want to lose weight opt for alcohol that contains fewer calories like red wine instead of beer and white wine.

It's also important to have a healthy, balanced diet so you're not storing more fat in your body and focus on eating lean proteins, whole grains and vegetables to keep you fuller for longer, reduce snacking and curb your hunger (especially when drinking).

Increasing your physical activity by incorporating exercise into your routine is also important, whether that's going for a swim after work, taking a Pilates class, daily walking or hitting the gym.

Holistic weight management programmes

Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme combines proven medication, health coaching and ongoing support to help you lose weight and keep it off. We prescribe a GLP-1 medication called Wegovy, which contains the active ingredient semaglutide.

Semaglutide is clinically proven to reduce your appetite and make you feel fuller for longer, while also reducing cravings by targeting the rewards centre in the brain. For long-term success, changing your eating and movement habits is also crucial, which is why we offer a comprehensive programme that includes 3 core pillars of lifestyle change with the assistance of our UK clinicians.

We can help you break habits that might be impacting your weight and help you hit your weight loss goals sooner.

Ultimately, women can experience an alcohol belly, particularly later in life. But, we're not here to tell you to cut the alcohol out for good. Instead, if you want to lose belly fat, the best thing you can do is make smarter choices, cut down on your drinking and focus on your diet and increase your daily exercise.