As a big advocate for body positivity, the term "beer belly" has always rubbed me the wrong way. To my ears, it carries a negative connotation. There's a whiff of judgment about someone's alcohol intake and body shape that — as a proud member of the "all bodies are bikini bodies" club — has always made me uneasy.
Being a journalist who covers the wellness scene, I started to wonder where the phrase even came from — and whether beer actually had any impact on our bellies. Here are the results of my deep dive.
Others, though, are talking about another torso-related term that grates my ears: belly fat. When they say beer belly, they're referring to a physique that's bigger in the middle, ostensibly due to all the brews that person drinks.
So. politeness aside, is a beer belly a real thing?
Drinking multiple glasses of any type of alcohol, beer included, can ultimately lead to weight gain, says Hillary Cecere, RDN, a nutritionist at Eat Clean Bro. That's because A) it contains calories, and B) it can interfere with the fat burning process. “The liver will burn the alcohol before fat,” she says. That could mean more fat sticks around in the body.
Amy Shapiro, RD, a nutritionist at Daily Harvest, agrees that drinking — or eating — more than your body is burning in a day can increase the amount of adipose tissue it holds onto. But where that tissue ends up on your body, she says, usually comes down to genetics. (Your parents' body types may offer a clue on whether you're predisposed to hold onto fatty tissue in your stomach or elsewhere.)
In general, men's stomachs may be more affected by alcohol intake than women, indicates research from the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke. The study — which included 7,876 cis men and 12,749 cis women — found a link between beer consumption and waist circumference in the men, but not the women.
“Beer can decrease the testosterone in [some] male bodies due to its phytoestrogen content, which can cause weight gain,” Shapiro, who was not involved in the study, says. What's more, abdominal fat cells in men tend to “enlarge more readily” than those in women, Harvard Health Publishing reports. However, the study authors stopped short of confirming "a site-specific effect of beer on the abdomen, the beer belly."
Okay, so, to sum up: Alcohol contains calories, and like anything that contains calories, it has the potential to affect your weight. Whether that weight winds up in your stomach or elsewhere is up in the air.
All that said — who cares? While there are a million reasons you could consider cutting back on alcohol, weight should not be one of them.
So consider banishing "beer belly" to the same island we sent "flat belly" and "bikini body." And let’s raise a glass to "beautiful bellies," instead.