The weather is getting colder, the house is getting warmer, the holidays are approaching, and the drinks will start flowing. Without a plan in place, this time of year can allow our weight and training to spiral out of control quickly. While alcohol is said to have some health benefits, antioxidants in red wine for example, it can lead to weight gain if you’re not mindful.
These past two weekends for me have been full of football, travel, beer, pizza, wings, you name it! With no travel or long distance obligations for the remainder of the year, now is my time to dial in my nutrition, scale back significantly my alcohol consumption, and start focusing back on my nutrition goals.
Let’s start at the beginning. Alcohol is a toxin which explains why our bodies react to it the way that they do. So, as soon as you consume alcohol your body is looking to get rid of it as quickly as possible. This is a good thing, right? Sure, but at the expense of burning fat or other energy to make us slimmer, the body is focused solely on attacking that alcohol. If you’re consuming alcohol a regular basis, this will make losing fat a bit tougher and also slower.
Beyond the slower fat burning process, drinking alcohol also loosens our inhibitions. We open ourselves up to overeating, over-drinking, and again slowing down our weight loss progress. Our judgement becomes clouded and we’re more susceptible to binge eating. That adds calories to our waistlines along with the calories from the beer, wine, or cocktails we’d been drinking already.
Alcohol Consumption Action Plan
Drinking is a non-negotiable for many people, and there’s really no reason to eliminate it completely. Almost all of us enjoy drinking to some degree. It’s fun, it’s livens us up, allows to meet new people, share stories, and the list goes on. So how do we build it into our nutrition routine without allowing it to derail our progress?
Have a plan: If you’re planning an evening out with friends set yourself a limit. “I’m only going to have X drinks tonight.”
Tell others about your plan: By telling yourself and others around the table, you’re more likely to stick to it.
Hold yourself accountable: If your plan goes array and your two drink limit ends up being 10 drinks and a pizza, OWN IT and move forward. Recognize where you may have started going off course and be better prepared for those situations next time.
At the end of the day, mindfulness is key as with everything else. If you’re able to have casual drinks with friends and not let it negatively affect your nutrition goals, then there’s no reason to avoid alcohol. However, if drinking leads to bingeing on both food and drink then may it’s time to recognize these situations and use the steps above to develop an action plan.
Determine your alcohol consumption
The US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee classifies “moderate drinking” as:
For women: up to seven drinks per week, with no more than three drinks on any single day.
For men: up to 14 drinks per week, with no more than four drinks on any single day.
And drinks mean:
Study after study has shown that people routinely under estimate the amount of alcohol they consume. It’s the same story with calories. We all believe, or at least want to believe, that we’re eating and consuming less than we actually are. So calling yourself a moderate drinker might not be entirely accurate, unless of course you’re measuring wine and liquor pours accurately. Who takes the time to do that? Not many people. Here’s a way to better gauge your alcohol consumption:
Even moderate drinking comes with its health risks. It’s unrealistic to think that we’ll drop drinking altogether. It’s fun, like I mentioned above. But we should be drinking because we truly enjoy it, not because we’re stressed, it’s a mindless habit, we’re pressured to do it by peers, or believing that the health benefits vastly outweigh the negative affects… because they don’t.
Some of the most basic nutrition advice is to not drink your calories. Therefore, the lowest calorie options for alcohol is the vodka and club soda with a lemon or lime wedge. A “drink” of this (see chart above) is less than 100 calories. If you toss in regular soda the calories shoot up quickly. The calories start to add up when you consume beer and wine as well. Miller Lite for example is 96 calories, but there are IPAs and other dark beers that are over 300 calories in a single glass. Wine tends to run in the 200 calories per glass range. Keep this in mind when scanning the drink table at your next holiday party.