October 9, 2018

Caffeine and Weight Loss – Is That Coffee or Tea Holding Back Your Weight-Loss Plan?

By Elizabeth Holmes, Clinical Nutritionist Educator

Your morning alarm clock goes off – it’s Monday again! All the thoughts of your busy week rush to your brain and then you smell it. The wonderful reason to get out of bed: coffee!

After that first cup of liquid gold, you are ready to take on the world. Caffeine is the most popular drug consumed worldwide, with 80 percent of the world’s population consuming a caffeinated product daily. Caffeine is naturally occurring and found in a variety of sources, but roasted coffee beans and tea leaves are the world’s primary sources.

So, how might your coffee or tea be impacting your weight? Or is it? With any discussion about weight loss, you can’t leave out calories. Most current research regarding weight management and weight loss stresses calorie reduction as the most important part of any weight-loss plan. Simply put: you have to burn off more than you take in. There is always more to the story of weight loss than just what you eat or drink such as sleep, stress, hormonal imbalances, etc.

Back to caffeine and in response to the question of how coffee or tea may be impacting your weight, I will ask a question: what are you putting in it? If you are having a very high-calorie coffee full of sugar and fat, then your caffeinated beverage could very well be increasing your calories above what you are burning off. Some of the larger coffee beverages at popular chains can run as high as 600 calories. If you are keeping your caffeinated beverage at a fairly low calorie level – like 50-100 calories – then there is good evidence to support that it actually may be helping you to lose or at least not gain extra weight.

Caffeine “increases the excitability of the sympathetic nervous system.” This means it is a stimulant for your brain. The sympathetic nervous system is an essential component to maintain energy balance (energy in, energy out) in our bodies through hormonal and neural control. Caffeine in low-to-moderate doses has been shown to decrease energy consumed and increase energy burned. Low-to-moderate doses of caffeine are defined as 3-4 mg/kg body weight – this would be 270-360 mg of caffeine for a person who weighs 200 lbs. One 8 oz cup of brewed coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine on average – that would mean drinking 2-4, 8 oz cups daily. But again, if you are adding 50-100 calories to each cup, that will add on 200-400 calories a day, which would not help with weight loss.

Not only may caffeine help with weight management, there are many other well-documented benefits to caffeine such as decreasing risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, increased physical performance with exercise, increased mental and cognitive performance, increased short-term memory and increased coordination. Coffee and tea also have other beneficial properties like antioxidants, a positive impact on one’s gut biome and increasing total fluid intake.

Final takeaway: caffeine may help one manage their weight – as long as the beverage is not loaded with calories. And with any health recommendation, it is always good to consider your own risk-to-benefit ratio. More than 400 mg of caffeine can have negative side effects on blood pressure, pulse rate, sleep patterns and increased headaches.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a great reference chart for how much caffeine is in different beverages: cspinet.org/eating-healthy/ingredients-of-concern/caffeine-chart.

Elizabeth Holmes, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical nutritionist educator at Mission Weight Management.

To learn more about Mission Weight Management and to sign up for a free information session, call (828) 213-4100 or visit missionweight.org.


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