Medically Reviewed by Ana Reisdorf MS, RD on January 21, 2020.
Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular lifestyle and dieting trends out there right now. Unlike most other diets, IF has one big advantage, you can eat whatever you like.
The goal of intermittent fasting isn’t to shed calories by restricting your food choices. You’re simply limiting the hours you eat, which restricts calories naturally and with less thought.
But, does that freedom extend to drinking? If you’re considering intermittent fasting one of your first questions is probably whether you can still enjoy the occasional drink. In this article, we’ll explore intermittent fasting and how alcohol can impact IF diet.
Can You Drink Alcohol While Fasting?
Intermittent fasting uses several natural body processes to help you lose weight. Eating healthy foods will help your IF program be more successful, but you aren’t forced to eliminate certain food groups. That extends to alcohol.
But alcohol is a calorie-rich drink with a variety of health consequences. While you can drink when following an intermittent fasting diet, it does take some know-how.
One important thing to remember: any alcoholic drink breaks your fast. If you’re going to drink, you need to do it during the times you would normally be eating.
So, we’ve answered the main question: drinking alcohol will not break or ruin your diet. But, doing so does have consequences. Let’s take a more in-depth look at what that means.
Why Intermittent Fasting Can Be Effective – And How Alcohol Impacts IF
Alcohol consumption is thought to have long-term effects on fat burning, metabolism, and other weight-related body functions. But, to fully understand the implications of those changes, you need to know why and how intermittent fasting works.
Intermittent fasting only works if, by limiting the amount of time you’re eating, you’re also limiting your calorie intake for the day. Since alcohol is calorie-dense, a little alcohol can easily make up for the calories you’re not eating during your fast.
If you’re interested in learning more about what are the benefits when you use an intermittent fasting diet, read this article.
Increasing your calorie intake on occasion won’t prevent your diet from working. But, if you choose to drink occasionally, you should know that doing so will likely put you over your ideal calorie consumption.
Your diet will be most successful if you moderate and limit your alcohol consumption. But, drinking alcohol won’t, by itself, prevent intermittent fasting from being effective.
Alcohol Consumption and Fat Burning
There are some indications that alcohol may have a more direct impact on fat burning. The studies on the relationship between alcohol consumption and metabolism aren’t conclusive. There haven’t been any direct human trials on the subject.
We do know that moderate too heavy drinking is correlated with weight gain and obesity in humans. The reasons for that correlation are still not well understood. This 2015 study by Gregory Traversy and Jean-Phillipe Chaput explores the conflicting data and recommends further study on the subject.
Because alcohol does alter body metabolism, there is a possibility that drinking alcohol will prevent your body from entering cellular autophagy.
Short-term cellular autophagy helps your cell recycle old proteins and can help optimize cellular health and function. Entering this process regularly, but under controlled circumstances, improves weight loss outcomes.
Controlled cellular autophagy, of the type seen with intermittent fasting diets, is also associated with improved energy levels and reduced inflammation.
It’s also worth noting, alcohol consumption decreases your inhibitions and makes it more likely you will also engage in other diet-adverse behaviors. For instance, you’re more likely to decide to eat junk food or to choose to continue eating or drinking into your fast period, while under the influence of alcohol.
Are Some Alcoholic Beverages More Compatible with IF?
You’re probably wondering what types of alcohol you can drink while intermittent fasting. Some drinks are certainly healthier, in terms of sugar and calorie content. Even low-calorie alcoholic beverages will have some impact on your diet and short-term metabolism.
As a general rule, dry wine and hard spirits are less calorie dense than sweet wines, beers, and hard cider or lemonade. If it tastes sweet, it contains more calories than a drier drink.
If you’re concerned about calories while you’re drinking, avoid mixed drinks, dessert wines, and alcoholic desserts. A mixed drink with club soda and some lime is going to be more calorie friendly than a fuzzy navel or a long island iced tea.
Reducing the calorie count of your drinks doesn’t mean you can or should drink more. Reducing calorie count only makes the alcohol less likely to put you over your caloric goal for the day.
How Much Alcohol Can You Drink?
The amount of alcohol you can drink varies quite a bit from person to person.
According to the NIH, heavy drinking for men is defined as more than 4 drinks in a day. In women, the number is slightly lower. Heavy drinking for women is defined as more than 3 drinks in any one day.
Even if you only drink on occasion, you should try to stay at or under these limits while intermittent fasting.
Regular drinking also has slightly different limits. Heavy drinking over time is measured as 14 or more drinks per week for men, and 7 or more drinks per week for women.
While those NIH guidelines are helpful, you should also know that alcohol affects individuals very differently. You may experience the symptoms and health consequences of heavy drinking even if you don’t meet those qualifications.
Because there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, per WHO guidelines, any level of alcohol consumption comes with some risk and health consequences.
Limiting how much you drink does two things. It limits the calories you receive from the alcohol, and it allows your body to return to normal function sooner. The sooner you’re functioning normally, the sooner you’re likely to receive the benefits from intermittent fasting.
Alcohol consumption always has health impacts, regardless of whether you’re using an intermittent fasting diet or not. But, if you choose to drink, you can drink and follow an intermittent fasting diet.
Alcohol consumption may make your diet less effective or may mean it takes longer to reach weight loss goals. Still, since intermittent fasting does not directly limit the foods or beverages you consume, alcohol isn’t treated differently from other beverages.
Just like any caloric drink, you can only drink alcohol when you would normally be eating or drinking. If you consume alcohol during your fasting period, the alcohol breaks your fast and has an immediate effect on your metabolism.
You should also avoid drinking on an empty stomach and never replace meals with alcohol. While doing so can decrease your overall caloric intake it also increases the risks associated with drinking.
Hopefully, this article will help you make an informed decision about including alcohol in your intermittent fasting lifestyle. If you include alcohol in your diet, moderation is the key.
For more information on the effects of alcohol consumption, and the associated risks, take a look at this article discussing the UK alcohol guidelines, and the study used to develop them.