Sorry to crash the party, but too much alcohol isn’t good for you—no surprises there! Consistent heavy drinking can eventually damage your brain, heart, and liver, but even just the occasional big night can lower your immune system for 24 hours afterward—not something you’re aiming for during cold and flu season! Especially during the holidays, when you’re regularly raising a glass of cheer, alcohol can contribute to weight gain, and for more reasons than just the calories it contains. Discover the sobering truth behind how too many alcohol-filled celebrations can impact your weight.
Alcohol Is High in Calories
Gram for gram, alcohol contains more calories than carbs or protein, and almost as many as fat. Additional calories from sugary mixers don’t help, either: A piña colada packs almost 500 calories per 9 ounces—that’s a meal in a coconut shell! Those liquid calories are often overlooked, and if you’re not keeping tabs (or tearing up the dance floor for hours), they can make it harder to shed unwanted pounds.
Tipsy Tip #1: Be selective. Choose a good quality wine, light beer, martini-sized cocktail, or a spirit (like vodka, gin, or whiskey) with a sugar-free mixer (such as club soda or diet tonic). Or go for a diluted drink like wine spritzers or beer shandies (with sugar-free lemonade). Sip it slowly, so you can savor the flavor. Then, match each alcoholic drink with a glass of water—the scale and your head will both thank you in the morning.
Alcohol Makes You Eat More
Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making it harder to stay focused on healthy choices. The tipsy you may be more tempted to add a side of mac and cheese to your steak dinner. And if you’re hitting happy hour straight after work, and skipping dinner completely, the chances are much higher that your night will end with a trip to the drive-thru or a fridge raid on your way to bed. (Let’s be honest, no well lubricated evening has ever ended in salad.) Once you finally hit the sack, your sleep quality is affected. And then when you wake up groggy and perhaps a bit hungover, you’re more likely to end up eating even more calories the next day.
Tipsy Tip #2: Grab a healthy snack before happy hour. Or order food off the menu before you start to drink, when your willpower is still rock solid. Avoid salty foods, which may leave you feeling thirsty and cause you to drink faster. The next day, get back on the wagon at breakfast, with a big glass of water and healthy foods that allow your liver to recover, like a spinach and goat cheese omelette with multi-grain toast, or a smoothie with mango and chia seeds.
Alcohol Makes You Store More Calories
This one is probably the most surprising: Unlike the calories in food, the calories in alcohol can’t be stored. When you drink alcohol, the body views it as a toxin and your liver works hard to remove it from your bloodstream—metabolizing it first, before food. This means, anything you eat while you’re drinking will simply be stored in your fat cells for later, rather than burned for energy. Still, drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea! But it’s even more essential to choose your meals wisely.
Tipsy Tip #3: Learn to make healthy choices, even with your beer goggles on. Choose lighter menu items, and avoid deep fried or creamy foods. Going out for pizza? Skip the pepperoni and share a veggie special with a side salad. Burger and fries? Say no to the fries, which can almost double the calories of the meal, and skip the mayo and cheese.
Is It Possible to Drink and Still Lose Weight?
You don’t have to swear off alcohol during one of the booziest times of year. But if you’re watching your weight, it is important to make smart choices. The CDC’s healthy drinking guidelines suggest sticking to no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men (one drink equals one 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or one 1.5 ounce shot of distilled spirits). That doesn’t mean it’s compulsory to drink every day—if you’re trying to lose weight, keep alcoholic drinks to the weekends or special celebrations only. It also doesn’t mean you can save up your daily allowance for weekend binges. By all means, drink and be merry—just do so wisely and slowly, slipping in plenty of glasses of water, and snacking on nutritious foods.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.