I vividly remember looking down at my bloated belly following a night out during college and wishing I hadn't drunkenly consumed three slices of pizza at 2 am.
It was a pretty regular occurrence in my college days.
"Did I really need to eat that pizza?" I would ask myself, cursing my tendency for drunk munchies.
My frequent frustration would inspire me to swear off alcohol... until the following weekend. Then, I'd wake up that Monday morning, feeling like crap, and the vicious cycle would start all over again.
The thing is, as a former dedicated drinker, I never paused alcohol consumption long enough to see the actual results of cutting it off in my body.
So, we decided to ask two health experts about alcohol's effects on the body and how long it really takes to feel or see noticeable changes in your body after you stop drinking.
Registered dietitian at Nutrition Works NY, Sammi Haber, MS, RD, CDN, tells us if you don't want to completely stop drinking, but you still want to feel healthier, just cut back.
You don't necessarily have to stop drinking altogether to reap any benefits. Instead, it might be helpful to simply cut down on the amount you drink. The effects of alcohol run on a J-shaped curve, meaning a moderate amount (i.e. one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men) can be healthy, but as you increase the amount you drink in a day, the negative effects of alcohol quickly increase as well.
While the body processes alcohol within a few hours, there are lasting negative effects on the body, ranging from a bad hangover to more serious health risks.
In terms of the long-term effects of alcohol, Haber says,
It depends. The risks of drinking build over time as you continue to drink, putting you at risk of developing different diseases. That said, if you're generally healthy otherwise (eating well, exercising or getting enough sleep), those healthy behaviors can help negate the risks.
However, healthy habits alone may not completely negate the negative effects. And more exercise doesn't exactly cancel out long-term damage done to the liver.
But if you can keep up a workout regimen that includes at least five hours of moderate exercise per week, the effects of alcohol won't be as harsh on your body.
Regardless, if you do more shots compared to pull-ups, cutting alcohol completely can help you de-bloat, and you may see a positive difference fairly soon after.
If a college student who drinks a few nights stops drinking as a means to be healthy, he or she will likely see a decrease in bloating after a day or two. Students might even lose weight when they stop drinking, as they'll lose water weight and get rid of a good amount of excess calories from alcohol.
Healthy lifestyle and business coach Katie Proctor, MBA, RDN, also weighed in on how long it takes to see and feel the benefits of cutting alcohol, and she stressed the importance of considering the big picture when it comes to drinking behavior.
According to Proctor, it's not just about the amount of alcohol that the body can process. We also have to keep in mind what else happens during a night out, like not sleeping enough or consuming extra calories from alcohol and food.
The liver can metabolize approximately 1 ounce (or one standard drink) of alcohol per hour. However, there are other factors that determine the rate of absorption and how it affects your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), such as weight or body-fat composition.
Proctor also explains that even if the alcohol is out of your system, your body might need more time to recover after a week of partying:
As with most nutrition-related questions, it's really not so simple. It can take hours, sometimes even days, before someone feels back to normal after heavy drinking — not only ridding their system of alcohol, but also catching up on sleep or bouncing back from improper eating habits, which may have occurred simultaneously.
So apparently, the more frequently you drink, the more dramatic changes you'll see after a couple of weeks off booze.
As for me, I don't drink like I'm in college anymore, and I tend to keep my alcohol consumption pretty low. So as someone who only has one to three drinks per week at maximum, I probably wouldn't see huge changes in the appearance of my body currently.
Although, according to Proctor, the changes are different for everyone.
Even one to two glasses of wine nightly adds up calorically, and you may notice some positive benefits within just a few days of giving up this habit. I'd say (very generally) that it would take at least two to four weeks of consistently not drinking to see noticeable physical results assuming all other factors stay the same.
Basically, if you're planning to slim down for an event and want to look extra lean, you might want to give up your drinks at least two weeks in advance and not just the week before.
Just know, if you're a heavy drinker, it's going to take more than skipping alcohol during the work week to effectively get your body feeling 100 percent.
And when you're consistently feeling bloated, tired and generally gross, it's probably a sign from your body that you should slow the drinking down.
Granted, you can also just ignore it and party on. Whatever floats your boat.