Coffee and weight gain: Sorting fact from fiction to help you make healthier choices

Explore the link between your daily brew and weight with Pilot.

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Team Pilot
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Last updated
April 3, 2024
min read
Coffee and weight gain: Sorting fact from fiction to help you make healthier choices
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Whether you like it bulletproof, whipped, over ice, or just a no-frills long black — coffee is a major part of our culture. Take one look at Etsy and you'll find millions of mugs and T-shirt slogans dedicated to our love of the brew. They don't call it the daily grind for nothing!

But what's our favourite thing to swig in the mornings got to do with the scales? The jury's still out. In this article, we'll explore how coffee can influence weight gain (or weight loss), and finding healthy ways to meet your weight loss goals.

What are the benefits of drinking coffee?

It tastes delicious and is an excuse to buy a cool travel mug? In all seriousness, coffee has been part of our lives since ancient times. Like, Ancient Ethiopian Forest times [1].

After it made its way to Arabia, then to Persia, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, people were beginning to frequent coffee houses — lives became structured around grabbing a caffeine fix while having a chat with your mates [1].

At one point, the good old cup of Joe even got Pope-level approval. Now it's the second-most sought-after commodity in the world, after oil [1].

So, what does it do for our bodies? Everyone is different, so how coffee affects you won't be the same as the next person. For some of us, small amounts of coffee can increase alertness, concentration, and energy. For others, the same amount might cause the java jitters — anxiety, trouble sleeping, and restlessness [2].

In general, researchers agree that drinking coffee in moderation can have the following potential health benefits:

  • Lowers risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's, and certain types of cancers
  • It can reduce feelings of depression [3]
  • It is a rich source of antioxidants [4]
  • It helps regulate metabolism [5]

Not everyone should be consuming caffeine with abandon — people with high blood pressure, and other health conditions might want to watch their coffee intake [2]. If in doubt, chat with your GP.

How does caffeine affect weight?

The short answer is — there is no short answer. Your caffeine intake can either lead to weight gain or might even influence weight loss, but this depends on a few different factors.

Researchers have spent loads of time exploring the connection between caffeine and body weight [6]. Things that impact the relationship between your morning coffee and weight gain/loss include:

  • How you prepare your coffee (e.g. whether you're adding sugar, milk, or other sweeteners and toppings)
  • How many caffeinated drinks you're having in a day
  • Your sleep patterns and hormones
  • Your overall baseline health and stress levels [6].

What does that actually mean for your day-to-day life and trips to the cafe? Let's delve deeper.

Can drinking coffee make you gain weight?

Let's be real. How many times have you rolled up to the cafe counter, and had a sweet treat catch your eye while ordering your cup of coffee?

You're not the only one. Drinking caffeine has been proven to change the way your tastebuds experience sweetness — this means the more coffee you drink, the more sugar cravings you might have [6].

Pastries and other snacks that go hand-in-hand with a coffee order are adding extra calories, which can then promote weight gain [6]. As much as we wish they didn't.

When coffee isn't making us crave sugary things, we're often adding sugar to it. Unless you're a hardcore long-black-no-sugar drinker, most coffee drinks we consume have added sugar or other sweet ingredients.

We love whipped cream on top of our iced coffee as much as the next person, but it's all these tweaks we make to our favourite drinks that can cause weight gain.

Research suggests that sugar-sweetened drinks like fruit juice, soft drinks, coffee drinks, and tea can all affect our metabolism and lead to gaining weight [7].

Last but not least is the way coffee influences our sleep. Most of us know that if you drink a cup of coffee in the late afternoon, your sleep is probably going to be a little whack that night. But did you know it can affect your weight?

Drinking too much caffeine can lead to reduced sleep time or a disrupted sleep cycle. This can lead to daytime sleepiness, less physical activity, and changes in metabolism.

Who feels like working out after a night of tossing and turning? Unfortunately all of the above can, you guessed it, cause weight gain [8].

How can coffee encourage weight loss?

It's not all bad news, we promise. Some studies suggest that caffeine consumption can actually encourage weight loss in healthy adults.

There are a couple of ways this can happen, including:

  • Coffee intake can increase 'thermogenesis' — a process where the body burns off energy and can sometimes promote weight loss
  • Caffeine can also increase our metabolism and fat-burning/oxidation
  • With more energy after drinking caffeine, our physical activity might increase. In fact, studies have shown that caffeine can increase athletic performance. Handy for maintaining a healthy weight!
  • In some people, coffee can have appetite-suppressing effects (it can impact your hunger hormone), but there's not a huge amount of research to support this [4]

Keeping your daily cup of coffee without the extra calories

We're not saying you have to kick your coffee habit completely, but there are ways to drink coffee that don't mean more calories.

If you're a bulletproof coffee lover, you could try switching out the butter for coconut oil or another healthy fat.

Choosing alternatives to full-fat milk also means fewer calories — something like coconut milk or almond milk can be just as tasty.

Make your coffee at home, or stick to brewed coffee — those fancy drinks at coffee shops might look amazing, but often have tonnes of added sugar. And if you are adding milk, swap out your large coffee for a smaller size. You could even try an occasional green tea so it's not all milky lattes and cappuccinos.

The most important one is limiting added sugar where you can. If you're a sweet tooth for life, you can try sweetening your brew with natural sweeteners instead: try stevia, a few drops of vanilla extract or maple syrup, or some cinnamon powder.

Holistic ways to approach weight loss

In a nutshell, coffee isn't a weight loss hero in its own right. It might help some people with weight loss, but it can also make you gain weight.

Instead of trying to work out the complexities of caffeine and weight management, here are our top tips for approaching your weight loss goals in a holistic way.

Eat your breakfast

Seriously, don't skip it. If you do, you'll end up more hungry and snacking more regularly throughout the day. Your overall calorie intake will end up being higher! [9]

If you really can't stomach an early meal, you could try a shake instead — Pilot's Weight Reset Shakes are a great way to get your morning nutrition sorted without needing to fuss too much over breakfast.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water can actually help with weight loss, as sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between feeling thirsty or hungry. This means we end up snacking when what our body really needs is a glass of h20 [9].

Stay active

We know, we know, you've heard it all before. Regular exercise will help you lose weight, but that doesn't mean you have to torture yourself.

Find an activity that fits in with your lifestyle — bonus points if you kinda enjoy it. Not only can it improve your mood and overall health, but it's also difficult to lose weight just by watching your diet [9].

Eat regular meals

Some of the dodgier weight loss guides would have you believe this is the opposite of what you should be doing. But eating regular healthy meals can help your body burn calories more quickly, and keep your metabolism moving as it should.

Adding in fruit and veg is another top tip — they've got plenty of fibre, and are low in calories/fat. All the right ingredients to help lose weight. Keeping track of your daily calorie intake and portions can also help achieve your goals [9].

Don't ban yourself from eating something

The more you restrict yourself from eating something, the more you'll want it. Instead of flat-out banning a food your love, enjoy it as an occasional treat instead.

You could also stop keeping the less healthy snacks in the house, and keep the pantry stocked with healthier alternatives. If you're usually a potato chip fiend, that might look like grabbing some unsweetened/unsalted popcorn instead.

We've gotta mention another culprit — alcohol. An occasional glass of wine might not do much to the waistline, but drinking too much or too regularly can definitely cause weight gain (among other health risks) [9].

Next steps for maintaining a healthy weight

If you've been on your weight loss journey for a while and have hit a bit of a plateau, or you just need some extra inspiration or guidance — it could be time to get some more advice.

Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program is here to help. Instead of going it alone, you'll get expert advice, coaching, and access to an online community that is on the journey with you. Most importantly, there are no fads or quick fixes — every part of the program is backed by science and our expert team of practitioners and dietitians.

No matter where you're at (or how much coffee you've had today) there's support out there to help you meet your goals. And to be clear, we're not talking about photoshopped/social media curated bodies here. Your goals are always your own and should be based on what helps you feel your healthiest.

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