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The #1 Worst Thing to Drink If You're Trying to Lose Weight

Cut calories and improve your health in the process.

Food isn't the only factor to consider when it comes to trying to lose weight. No, we're not talking about exercise. (Although that matters, too.) You also have to take into consideration what you're drinking.

Twenty percent of the total calories you consume in a day come entirely from beverages, according to a BMC Public Health analysis. To put that in perspective, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, that 20 percent equates to 400 calories.

Now consider this: If you cut 400 calories out of your diet per day, you'd be able to lose almost one pound—in a week. And that's without making any other changes.

(Related: 8 Grocery Items That May Soon Be in Short Supply.)

Sound enticing? We thought so. If you've ever tried to lose weight (or are currently in the process of doing so), you know how difficult it is to find little ways to cut back on calories without having to completely overhaul your life. And one of the easiest ways to do that is by swapping your sip.

So let's get back to that 20 percent. What beverages are we drinking that are contributing so many calories to our diets? It's coffee and tea (with add-ins, of course), energy drinks, fruit juice, fruit drinks, and milk. But these energy-dense beverages are nothing compared to the two drinks that contribute the most calories to your diet. In fact, the top two beverages are more than twice as caloric as most of the drinks you sip: soda and alcohol.

On average, adult Americans under the age of 50 consume 140 calories of soda and 150 calories from alcohol every day, according to the same BMC Public Health study. That equates to 5.7 and 6.1 percent of your total calorie intake, respectively.

When it comes to weight loss, it's basically a numbers game. The fewer calories you consume, the more weight you'll lose. So if you want to lose weight fast, you should make it easy on yourself by cutting back on one or two of the top sources of calories in your daily diet. And that means you'll have to cut back on soda or alcohol. (In an ideal world, you'd cut back on both—by avoiding them together in a cocktail as well as individually on their own.)

And if you had to choose one, it should be soda.

Soda isn't just bad for your overall health, it can cause weight gain. With around 150 calories and 35 grams of sugar per can, soda is a beverage full of empty calories.

Study after study shows that increasing soda consumption has a direct effect on weight gain. One International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity study even found this to be true despite increases in physical activity—that means that exercising isn't going to help you fend off the weight gain associated with drinking soda.

On the other hand, while alcohol has calories, it doesn't appear to contribute to weight gain as much as soda does.

A recent study published in the journal Obesity tracked men's alcohol consumption habits over the course of 24 years. The results were surprising: men who increased their alcohol consumption by one drink over this time period did gain some weight, but it was "unlikely to be clinically meaningful," according to the authors. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that light to moderate consumption of alcohol can be part of a healthy diet—as long as men keep it to less than two drinks per day. If you go over that number, the study found that this is enough to considerably contribute to weight gain.

Alcohol's minor effect on weight gain has also been found for women. An Archives of Internal Medicine study tracked the alcohol consumption habits of over 19,000 American women for just under 13 years. The results of this study were even more shocking than for the men. Researchers found that for women who were in a healthy BMI range, light to moderate consumption of alcohol (1-2 drinks per day) was actually attributed to less weight gain over the course of a decade compared to women who didn't sip alcohol at all. The authors speculate that the reason why alcohol-drinkers gained less weight over time compared to non-drinkers is that women tend to drink alcohol in place of other calories rather than in addition to. That means that while men are more likely to have a beer with pizza, women are more likely to have a glass of wine with a show.

While these studies show that alcohol can be a part of a healthy diet and may not contribute to weight gain if consumed in moderation (once you go over 2 drinks per day, it's a different story), you should still consider the other health and safety consequences related to excess alcohol consumption, such as liver disease, heart disease, and digestive problems. And if you're just getting started on your weight loss journey, it couldn't hurt to curb your alcohol intake and save those calories until you reach your goal weight.

At the end of the day, if you're looking to lose weight, you need to cut back on calories—whether those come from soda, alcohol, or unhealthy foods is up to whatever works best for you and your personal diet needs.

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Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia