Booze & Dieting: Are They At Odds?

Published on Author GG RayLeave a comment


As we move out of the season of holidays spirits and into the slump of January promises to lose weight, several usual lifestyle choices are held up to scrutiny. Things we don’t even question when we are in our usual moderate lifestyles are considered for their potential in contributing to or working against fighting the holiday pudge.

We question whether we really need the butter on our bagel (let alone cream cheese), or whether our bagel itself shouldn’t be scrapped for a more healthful whole grain bread. We consider drinking diet drinks instead of soda pop, and we may even go so far as to consider the extra, empty calories that booze is adding to our diets.

Many of us know the usual black list items on a diet: deep-fried foods, saturated fats, heavy carbohydrates, dairy products, and sugar. When we think about these items, we consider the usual suspects: french fries, butter, bagels, cheese, and chocolate. We strive to cut out the obvious stuff for as long as we can while trying to maintain somewhat of a normal life. We follow the usual philosophy of cutting our calories and fat intake, while struggling to start up and maintain a regular exercise regimen.

One thing that often slips past our radar, however, is alcohol. Granted, with the passing of the holiday season, and the consequent reduction in amount of social engagements (especially those involving egg nog), our drinking tends to drop to the normal level experienced throughout the rest of the year. But how much does alcohol consumption contribute to weight gain, and consequently, inhibit weight loss? Are all beverages created equally?

To Drink Or Not To Drink

When you are following a calorie-reduced diet, one of the biggest factors to consider, and one of the most neglected, is how you can get the amount of nutrients you need in a day while following a reduced diet. One of the dangers of concentrating on just eating low-calorie is eating the wrong low-calorie foods. You should be stocking up on fruits, vegetables, proteins and fibre, not simply fuelling your body with nutritionally void processed foods that are low in calories.

The same argument can be made for alcohol. Booze can take up a chunk of the calories you are allowing yourself every day, and you have to think about how you are going to supplement the nutrients you won’t be getting if you substitute a meal for booze.

Another side effect of drinking is that it loosens your inhibitions and also your resolve. You are much more likely to stop for a pretzel or a smokie, or to dip into bar nuts if you have had a few and are not thinking consciously of your diet. Just as likely, you may simply lose your resolve, convincing your drunk self that you’ll stay an extra hour at the gym the next day (nothing like working out extra hard with that hang over!).

What To Drink

If you don’t want to give up liquor entirely while you are restricting your diet, then you are going to want to restrict the unnecessary calories in your beverages as much as possible. Consumer groups are trying hard to get the government to force liquor companies to list the nutrient values on their products (as is demanded of food manufacturers), but in the meantime, here is a rough idea of drinks and their corresponding calorie and carb content:

DrinkQuantityCaloriesCarbs (g)
Regular Beer (4-5%)12 oz. (standard bottle)15013
Light Beer12 oz. (standard bottle)1004.8
Spirits (rye, Rum, vodka, gin)1 oz.640
Sparkling Wine3.5 oz.700.8
White Wine5 oz.121n/a
Cosmopolitan2 oz.1267.3
Margarita5 oz.33134
Egg Nog10 oz. (1 oz. liquor)30616

In the beer category, calorie and carb counts are an average of several different brands of beer. Regular beers range from 140-165 calories; light beers range from 90-110. Surprisingly to some, stout such as Guinness is actually lower in calories than lagers or ales, coming in at only 125 calories (as it is lower in alcohol content).

In the spirits category, mix is not taken into account. Keep in mind that if you add non-diet soda or juice to your choice of hard liquor, you could be adding 100-150 calories to the 64 calorie beverage. Tips for controlling your consumption:

  • 12 oz of light beer has about 100 calories to regular beer’s approximately 150 (give or take, depending on the brand). If you like stout, it is a happy medium at 125 calories for one 12 oz Guiness. (Note that 12 oz of beer is a standard bottle. A pint of draft is 16 oz of beer, consequently about 1/3 more calories.)
  • When drinking wine at home, avoid using big fishbowl glasses. Use small, 6 oz glasses, filled to within an inch of the brim. This will help you keep track of how much you drink so you know how many extra laps of the pool you’ll have to do in the morning.
  • When drinking hard liquor, use a shot glass to measure out one ounce per drink instead of just free pouring. Consider club soda as a mix, or a diet soft drink. (Note that there have been studies that have found that artificial sweeteners in diet beverages are potentially harmful. Also, new studies have shown that drinking alcohol with a diet mix can speed up the effects of the booze, making you feel drunker faster than if you are used to non-diet mix.)
  • If you are going to use a chunk of your restricted calories in a day for booze, take a multi-vitamin to make up for the nutrients you are losing by consuming empty calories
  • Eat a healthy, filling meal before you go out drinking. Move any snacks, such as appetizers, nuts, or pretzels out of your reach so you are not tempted to indulge.
  • If you don’t want to give up drinking, limit yourself to one drink a day, or a couple of drinks on the weekend, leaving your weekdays alcohol-free.

Studies have shown that people who drink in moderation (1 drink per day for women, 2 drinks a day for men) actually live longer lives than those who abstain from alcohol. Logically, if you are on a diet to drop some weight, then you would be smart to cut out high, empty-calorie foods like alcohol, at least for a while.

If what you are after is a longer term lifestyle change, then you have to balance your health and weight loss maintenance with your general happiness and lifestyle. Living a joyless life as a slim person only makes you feel good for so long.

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