Alcohol. Booze. Hooch. Liquid courage. Yum yum sauce. (← this may be something else.)
Whatever you call it, is there any room for it when you’re trying to lose weight?
If so, how much is ok? And should you stick to a certain type of drink?
I’m going to take a shot (see what I did there?) at answering each of these questions.
I’ll start with the bad news. So grab a drink if it’ll help.
How Drinking Can Hurt Your Efforts
When you diet to lose weight, drinking beer, liquor, wine, etc., won’t derail you simply because they contain alcohol.
These drinks aren’t liquid witches casting fat spells on your body when you drink them.
However, most people have trouble not overeating as it is.
Here are just 3 ways alcohol can make this more difficult.
1. Liquid Calories
They’re not as filling as solid food. And even if you do get full, you won’t feel full as long.
2. Drinking & Eating
The more you drink, the harder it is to make good decisions. (Or so I’ve heard…)
Even after a couple drinks, it makes it that much easier to say yes to another slice (or box) of pizza.
3. Empty Calories
When you try to lose weight, the most effective way to do so is not by simply cutting a ton of calories, but by eating the appropriate portions of protein, carbs, fats, and veggies. (Here’s a way to do this without busting out a calculator.)
When you have an adult beverage, you replace your already limited nutrient rich calories with empty calories.
Not to say that it can’t still work, but it complicates things.
That said, if having a drink is something you enjoy, your diet should be flexible enough to allow it, at least to some extent.
How Much Is OK?
To know how much you can drink and still lose weight, it’s helpful to consider why you’re drinking.
For Social Gatherings
You’re at a shindig and you want a drink. Maybe the company sucks, or maybe you just want to enjoy yourself.
The questions here is, will you have just one? Or is this a weekend blowout, and you’re about to forget everything you hate about the weekdays?
If it’s just one (or even two), go for it. But only if you’re being honest with yourself.
It’s far too common to do great with your diet all week only to destroy your progress every weekend.
For Taste or To De-stress
This is where the familiar response “everything in moderation” can be confusing.
It’s easy to see how one or two drinks a week at social gatherings could be ok. But what about one or two a night?
What if most nights you get home from work and like to take the edge off?
Or you’re a wine enthusiast, or beer aficionado, and you enjoy a glass with dinner…
Is that ok?
Strictly from a weight loss point of view, it’s possible to make this work. But…
Again, you have to be honest. Are you the type of person who struggles with sticking to a diet? (Who isn’t?) In that case, having a drink or two every night could be exactly what’s stalling your weight loss.
You don’t have to abstain, and I wouldn’t recommend it. But could you commit to cutting back for a few weeks?
You might find that one or two drinks each night is totally doable for maintaining a healthy weight. But for now, for you personally, do you need to make weight loss more of a priority?
Since this is an article about weight loss, and not health specifically, I won’t cover this topic. But I did want to mention it in case you drink for the health benefits.
Here’s an excellent look at the health risks and benefits of alcohol from the Harvard School of Public Health.
What Should You Drink?
Just like with food, some drink choices are better than others.
A pour of scotch (my personal fav) can be less than 100 calories.
A whiskey & soda can be 2-3x that amount, plus the extra sugar, carbs, and whatever questionable ingredients are in your soda of choice.
On the flip side, many regular beers are within a 50 calorie range of light beers. (Did you know a Guiness is only 15 calories more than Bud Light?)
With such an insignificant difference, it’s hard to call light beer a better choice.
Even from a health perspective, it turns out wine doesn’t seem to offer more cardiovascular benefits than anything else. (Which you can read about in the article I linked to above.)
The point is, if you’re having several drinks, or drink regularly, it’s probably a good idea to consider the calories, as well as what you’re putting in your body.
But for general weight loss, view the occasional drink as the indulgence it is and have what you want. Just don’t go overboard.
Certainly don’t think, “Since I had one I might as well have a few more.” Have the one, know it’s ok, and move on.
A big issue with alcohol is that most people underestimate how much they’re drinking.
If you’re going to drink, that’s fine. But know ahead of time how much you’ll allow yourself, and keep track to make sure you follow the plan.
If you only have a couple drinks a week, don’t worry about what kind of drinks they are. Just enjoy them.
If you have 1 or 2 drinks a night, what you’re specifically drinking becomes more important. It’s also critical that you stay on point with your diet. For many people, it’s probably more realistic to cut back a bit, at least temporarily.
Any more than 1 a night for women, or 2 a night for men, and it’ll be near impossible to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable manner.