Alcohol and weight loss don’t usually mix as seamlessly as vodka and club soda but that doesn’t mean socializing and losing weight have to be worlds apart.
Health professionals like myself can rattle off tons of reasons why drinking too much alcohol can impede weight loss but I’m sure you don’t want to listen to that speech with only a few weeks left of summer. So instead, I’ll share my favorite strategy to help you strike the perfect healthy balance whether you’re at Center City Sips, a backyard barbecue or down the shore. All you have to do is ask yourself these questions:
How much of a socialite are you?
One night out is fine, even two isn’t a problem, but if you’re out more nights than you’re home, you’ve got a problem.
Whether you have client dinners, book club (aka drink wine and eat cheese night) or a date, you must make room for grocery shopping, sleep or exercise. Failing at these weekly routines makes losing weight harder than it needs to be.
Choose one of these routines — grocery shopping, sleep or exercise — and make it a priority on the week you have a packed calendar. If you know you’ll be out Sunday night, have Instacart deliver groceries so you’ll have healthy food on hand to start your week. Going on a date? Suggest meeting just for drinks and schedule it earlier in the evening so chances are you’ll be home in time for a decent night’s sleep. If you usually go to the gym in the evening but have an event after work, wake up early to get a short workout in instead of skipping it completely. For every 15 minutes of intense cardio, allow yourself one drink — but reasonably limit yourself to four.
How complicated is your drink?
Strawberry mojitos, margaritas and sangria aren’t waistline friendly. The more ingredients in a cocktail (i.e. simple syrup, triple sec, house made bitters etc.), the more calories. Plus, the additional sugar intake in these cocktails can make you hungrier. When imbibing on these drinks, your blood sugar skyrockets higher than it would from beer, wine, or a shot of liquor mixed with club soda.
So when it comes to cocktails, remember that the simpler the drink, the better. Choose something straight up and simple like wine (rose, sauvignon blanc and champagne is lighter in calories compared to a heavier red), clear liquor (over dark) or light beer.
Do you sip and snack?
What many people fail to understand is alcohol temporarily keeps your body from burning fat. Since alcohol is a toxin, your body can’t store those calories for later, in the way it does with calories from food. When you drink, your metabolic system must stop what it’s doing (burning off calories from your last meal) to get rid of the booze you’re ingesting. Basically, whatever you recently ate gets stored as fat until your drinks are metabolized. That’s why what you eat before and after happy hour is important.
Start your morning off with a combination of protein and fat (eggs with avocado or a protein shake with flaxseed and unsweetened almond milk), keep lunch lighter with protein and veggies and then be sure to have a mid-afternoon snack that includes protein, fiber and a healthy fat (Greek yogurt with berries or an apple and almond butter). This snack will help stabilize blood sugars without slowing down your metabolism pre-drinks. Post happy hour, avoid fried foods and refined carbohydrates.
Have a plan in place before you take you first sip. Research the menu at where you plan to imbibe ahead of time to scout out healthier options. My go-to snack picks for when I’m drinking are vegetable or seafood based options such as veggie and hummus platters or shrimp cocktail.
For those who drink moderately during the week, the above recommendations should help you establish a more balanced social life while still keeping you on track towards your weight loss goals.
Theresa Shank, RD, LDN, is a Philadelphia based registered dietitian and the founder of Philly Dietitian.