People often ask me what drinks are “healthiest,” or how they can drink alcohol without gaining weight.
Alas, there’s no easy answer here.
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.
The holiday season is a great time to practice at least a few of these eight tips:
- 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.
- 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, listening to music, reading, etc – and schedule those into your life as a means of unwinding.
- 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.
- 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. Drinking also lowers your inhibitions, so you’re much more likely to overdo it on nachos & wings when you’ve had a few.
- 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’ll likely consume more drinks than you would otherwise. Part of this is mental, and part of it is because you won’t get as full. In the case of alcohol, getting full is helpful, because it slows you down and ensures you won’t drink as much.
- 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, plus 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.
- Drink in moderation.
Duh, I know. But the truth is: it’s 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.
- Enjoy yourself, without guilt or worry.
In many cultures, people enjoy a daily (small) 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.