How to Drink Without Spoiling Your Weight
Alcohol isn’t usually considered a “healthy” part of a weight loss program, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a few sips without ruining your progress.
First, let’s talk about why we are addressing this topic at all. Given that drinking alcohol inhibits fat loss and adds extra calories, wouldn’t it make sense to cut it out altogether?
If possible, great. There is no shortage of articles ( such as this one ) on how alcohol physiologically harms your efforts.
But weight loss isn’t just physiology. If that were the case, everyone could just “ eat less, move more ” by wearing skinny jeans. In fact, the environment is just as important to weight loss as your physiology, and few things are more natural than alcohol. It has played a central role in nearly all cultures since the Neolithic , and there is even evidence that it played a key role in human evolution .
When you try to get rid of something that is so ingrained in your environment or in your habits, for example, alcohol, carbohydrates, you often set yourself up for failure . Instead, it may * be better to intelligently integrate these casual treats into your weight loss program.
* There are several exceptions to this rule, such as clinical alcoholism. We will discuss this at the end of the Next Steps section.
What the research says
Drinking alcohol is not automatically bad. In fact, it has many health benefits in small to medium doses. Fitness author and nutritionist Martin Berkhan states :
Moderate alcohol consumptionimproves insulin sensitivity , lowerstriglyceride concentrations, and improves glycemic control. Not only in healthy people, but also intype 2 diabetes . There is no clear consensus on the insulin sensitization mechanism of alcohol, but one viable explanation might be that alcohol promotes weight loss bystimulating AMPK in skeletal muscle . It is not hard to imagine that this could have a beneficial effect on nutrient distribution in the long term.
If the effect of alcohol consumption on insulin sensitivity is not impressive to you, consider the fact that research has consistently shown that moderate drinkerslive longer than non-drinkers. This is mainly due to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. However, alcohol also promotes a healthier, disease-free life by protecting againstAlzheimer’s ,metabolic syndrome ,rheumatoid arthritis , colds , variouscancers , depression, and many other Western diseases. There is no end to this list.
However, alcohol does physiologically reduce fat loss, so it should hinder your results, right? According to nutritionist and frequent Vitals writer Alan Aragon, the study is surprisingly flimsy :
One study found that men who consumed an average of 56 grams of ethanol per day (four glasses of beer) consumed 16 percent more calories than the corresponding non-drinker group. Two groups – drinkers and non-drinkers – had the same physical activity. Thus, logically, one would think that the drinkers gained a few pounds. They didn’t. Both groups had the same BMI despite all those extra calories for drinkers.
This research was not just a coincidence. Alan continues:
Another study compared two weight loss diets (1,500 calories per day, or the equivalent of crumbs from one of John Berardi’s morning snacks). On one diet, subjects got 10 percent of their total calories from white wine – 150 calories, or just over a glass per day. Another group got 10 percent from grape juice. After three months, the white wine group lost almost a kilogram more than their total body weight (kilogram equals 2.2 pounds), although the difference was not statistically significant.
In other words, when it comes to your waistline, alcohol is a bit of a substitution: some people may be affected and some may not. For those with a more sensitive waist, alcohol may be the culprit, not the substance itself. According to a 2013 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , subjects consumed more calories and saturated fat while drinking moderately.
Knowing this, we can formulate a plan to have a drink here or there and feel that your life is in control of your diet, and not the other way around.
How to make alcohol fit your program
I mentioned that it may be better to drink alcohol in moderation than to abstain from it completely. There are two exceptions to this:
First, you can be completely happy to abstain from alcohol. If you don’t need it and have no problem with abstaining altogether, that’s okay too, no matter what your friends and family say .
The second exception is true drug addicts in the clinical sense. When it comes to moderate consumption, alcohol is very different from food. Dr. Todd Ivan, a psychiatrist who assists alcoholics in his practice, explains:
The current standard of care for alcoholics (and people with other substance use problems) is to encourage abstinence and seek help in the form of therapy and medication. There are people who want to embrace a harm reduction model in which we do not insist on 100 percent abstinence. Unlike eating, when a relapse occurs, it is usually a dramatic event.
In other words, you can kill someone for drunk driving, while no one is likely to die when you peek into Girl Scout Cookie Season.
If you feel like you really have a problem with alcohol, seek help and refrain from drinking altogether. Otherwise, follow the rules below.
Step one: make your diet plan
The first thing you need to do is determine what and how much to eat. You can do this in one of two ways. If you’re new to calorie tracking, you can follow the instructions at the end of our Exercise or Diet article:
- Determine how many calories you burn each day. You can use the ExRx calculator here . Calculate this from your body fat percentage for accuracy. If you don’t know your current body fat percentage, check out this helpful article by Lee Peel .
- Reduce your calorie intake by 20% of your maintenance calories. Every time you decrease your calorie intake, it is helpful to increase your protein at the same time to stay full. (Protein also has a higher thermic effect of food than any macronutrient, which means your body needs more energy to digest it than carbohydrates or fats.)
- How much protein should you eat in a calorie deficit? Nutritionist Alan Aragon recommends determining your target body weight and calculating it in grams. For example, if you are a 200 pound woman looking to lose up to 120 pounds, consume at least 120 grams of protein per day.
More advanced dieters may find it helpful to target their daily intake of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, which fitness enthusiasts affectionately refer to as ” macros .” If it suits your macros (IIFYM) there is a great tool here. I also created a calculator that takes into account different difficulty levels.
Step two: determine the days you will drink
Determine in advance the days of the week that you will drink and determine if they are “casual” or “free” drinking days. (We’re not so much suggesting the latter as telling you what steps to take if you’re going to do it anyway.)
Regular drinking days are for times when you don’t drink more than a few drinks – think happy hour with coworkers or dinner with a bottle of wine.
Follow the same dietary guidelines these days, except for one thing: count every alcoholic beverage you consume as 10 grams of fat, plus how many carbs they contain.
For example, a glass of red wine would count as 10 grams of fat and 3 grams of carbohydrates. A serving of whiskey will only have 10 grams of fat (it does not contain carbohydrates).
Free drinking days consist of events such as bachelor parties, weddings, or this year’s Super Bowl if you’re a Sehawks fan. These days we will be using the following tutorial from Martin Berkhan:
- On this day, limit your dietary fat intake to 0.3 g / kg body weight (or as close to this figure as possible).
- Limit your carbohydrate intake to 1.5 g / kg body weight. Get all carbs from vegetables and extra carbs from some protein sources. You will also want to limit carbohydrate-rich alcohol sources, such as drinks made with fruit juices and beer. 33 cl / 12 fluid ounces of beer contains about 12 grams of carbohydrates, while regular Cosmopolitan contains about 13 grams.
- A good alcohol selection includes very low carbohydrate dry wines, approximately 0.5–1 g per cup (4 fl oz / 115 ml). Sweet wines are much higher – 4-6 g per glass. Cognac, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, vodka and whiskey contain virtually no carbohydrates. Ideally, you should drink dry wines and spirits. Take them straight or mix them with diet soda. (You don’t have to be super-neurotic about this. After all, you have to enjoy your drinks. Just know there are better and worse options.)
- Eat as much protein as you like. Yes, it is right. Plenty. Due to the limitation of dietary fats, you need to get your protein from lean sources. Protein sources such as low fat cottage cheese, protein powder, chicken, turkey, tuna, pork, and egg whites are good sources of protein on this day.
Thinking about free alcohol days should be aimed at reducing harm throughout the day , rather than ensuring a calorie deficit. By following his rules – keeping your fat intake low and protein intake high – you are less likely to accumulate extra fat in the event of an excess of calories.
We’re not telling anyone here to become alcoholics, and there is certainly a risk of using this knowledge to justify drinking more. (Hint: it is not necessary.) But that’s why this skill can be incredibly important, one of the biggest problems with weight loss is that the success of one day is very often determined by whether or not you think that he was successful. If you feel like you “ruined your diet” just because you drank one beer, you are more likely to act in ways that ruin your diet. With a flexible protocol that makes casual drinking “part of the plan,” you always have the opportunity to stick to the plan.