Ask Amelia Nutrition Tips

Can You Drink Alcohol and Still Stay Slim?


Question: I eat pretty well but I think its the alcohol that gets me.  Do you have any recommendations or recipes for alcoholic drinks that don’t have too many calories and that my body can burn off?

The Simple Answer: Nope.

The Longer answer: While drinking alcohol can fit into a healthy eating routine, there’s one reality we just can’t change: alcoholic drinks are just another source of extra calories.  There’s no magic drink that we can easily burn off, because all alcohol is digested in the same way.  Still, there are ways you can maintain your shape and health, even if you drink alcohol:

  1. Pick a few days a week when you will avoid alcohol, and stick to it.
    Many people find it easiest to just say no drinking Monday-Thursday.  Think about your life and your routine, and come up with at least 3 days of the week when you won’t drink.
  2. Develop non-drinking means of relaxation.
    Many adults get in the habit of having a drink after work, to relax and take a load off.  But if you do this every night, it’ll pack on the pounds (and be habit-forming, not a good idea when it comes to alcohol).  Think about other activities that are relaxing and enjoyable to you – working out, taking a walk outside, playing with your kids, reading, etc – and schedule those into your life as a means of unwinding.
  3. When you do drink, plan ahead to account for the calories. This could mean eating extra healthy, avoiding sweets or white carbs, or scheduling in an extra hard workout on the day you’re going to drink.  Think of each drink as about 150 non-nutritious calories you’ll have to cut out elsewhere.  By the way, one drink = 5 oz wine (but a typical restaurant pour is 6-7 oz), 12 oz beer (but a typical draught beer is a pint, or 16 oz), or 1.5 oz liquor.
  4. Watch what you eat while you drink.
    It’s easy to let the munchies get control of you during or after you drink.  And can you recall a time when you started drinking and all-of-the-sudden craved a salad?  Me neither.  Snacks while drinking tend to be high calorie, as do meals people eat when they’re hungover.  And since drinking lowers your inhibitions, you’re much more likely to overdo it on nachos & wings when you’re drinking.  (This is how much drinking makes you eat: patients who’ve just undergone chemo are encouraged to drink a little before a meal, so that they eat more).
  5. Skip the “low-carb” or “light” drinks.
    If you’re gonna drink, just do it.  As is true with food, if you pick the “diet” versions of drinks, you’re more likely to consume more drinks than you would otherwise.  Part of this is mental, and part of it is because you won’t get as full.  And in the case of alcohol, getting full is helpful, because it slows you down and makes you less likely to drink more.
  6. If you have a hard time with moderation, choose beer (regular, heavy beer).
    It’s much harder to throw back 5 pale ales than 5 vodka-sodas, because of the sheer volume of beer, and the calories from carbs that go along with it.  When you drink hard alcohol without a mixer that contains carbohydrates, you get drunker faster, and may overcompensate with extra calories later.
  7. Drink in moderation.
    I know, duh.  But it’s just not possible to drink everyday, or binge drink on weekends, and still be healthy.  That type of drinking makes you less likely to exercise, less likely to eat healthy, and more likely to cause harm to your body (higher risk of some cancers, liver disease, metabolic problems, accidents, etc).  Plus, most of us don’t need the calories.  Think of alcohol as junk food – it’s fine to indulge, just not in excess.
  8. Enjoy yourself, without guilt or worry.
    In many cultures, people enjoy a daily drink and are able to maintain good health and a reasonable weight.  So be like the French, Italians, or Greeks: just sit back, have a little something, and enjoy.

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  • Kristin
    May 18, 2010 at 9:33 am

    I’ve found for my “non” drinking days that a I can get the same psychological effect of an after-work G&T by making one with “diet” tonic and a lot of fresh lime (No gin).
    I still get the tonic flavor and the satisfaction of a fizzy beverage in hand without all the calories! The best part – I can have two or three without any guilt. 🙂

    Meels – You suggest above to avoid the “diet” beers. Should I also avoid diet tonic (due to artificial sweeteners, etc)?

  • Amelia
    May 18, 2010 at 9:52 am

    I love your idea! What a great tip.
    Re: avoiding light beers — I actually think light beers are great, if you’re planning to have one or two. But if a person is drinking Light beer so that he can drink 10 without feeling too full, that person in particular should probably change his ways.
    Re: artificial sweeteners — such a complicated topic! I’ll address in a future post, but for now, if you’re aiming for calorie control, a diet soda/tonic is fine. I’d just limit it to one per day.

  • Erica
    November 9, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Great Post! Especially #5 – so true! That’s what I say in general about food. If you try to eat less calories but never really satisfy what you want you end up eating more in the long run. Oh how media & marketing have destroyed peoples thoughts/knowledge of how to eat healthy!

  • Talia
    March 18, 2011 at 7:04 am

    I love tip number five. I’ve been saying that same thing (in regards to food) for years! It makes me angry to see all this low-fat mayo/sugar-free candy products. You’ll end up eating more because they don’t actually taste good!

    This is the first time I’ve seen someone reflect my own views! Thank you!

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