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Can I Drink Alcohol While Trying to Lose Weight?

Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN

If you’re trying to lose weight, then you’re probably feeling restricted by your weight loss diet and are looking for ways to “let loose” and indulge. So, you consider drinking alcohol to give yourself a break and have fun in social situations. But can you really drink alcohol while trying to lose weight?

In this post, we will talk about how you can fit alcohol into an overall healthy diet for weight loss. We will discuss the current alcohol recommendations, how alcohol can affect your weight loss efforts as well as some tips and tricks to enjoy alcohol while still losing weight.

Alcohol Recommendations for Overall Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “moderate drinking” is considered 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. Now, you may be thinking, “I only drink on the weekends, so I can just have all my drinks in 1 or 2 weekend nights, right?”

Wrong! These alcohol recommendations are for someone’s daily alcohol intake, and more importantly, the drinks cannot rollover to the next day or to the end of the week. Just because you decide to not drink alcohol on the weekdays, does not mean that you are “allowed” to consume greater than the daily recommendations on the weekend (and still be considered a “moderate drinker”). Just remember this: When it comes to alcohol intake, you “USE it or LOSE it.”

Why does weekly alcohol timing matter?

Think about how you feel when you drink 1 glass of wine for 5 nights. Then, think about how you feel when you drink 5 glasses of wine in 1 night. We can feel the difference!

Here are several reasons why we cannot consider “5 drinks over the course of 5 days” and “5 drinks over the course of 1 night” as the same amount of drinking:

  1. Our bodies metabolize drinking binges (many drinks in 1 night) differently than the 1 nightly alcoholic beverage.
  2. Binge drinking can also affect our weight and water weight differently than the 1 nightly alcoholic beverage.
  3. Drinking many drinks in 1 night can make us more drunk, which can make us lose our ability to remember that we have weight loss goals. Have you ever eaten late night pizza after a night of heavy drinking? When we drink a lot in 1 sitting, we tend to push weight loss efforts to the back burner.
  4. One word: Hangovers. Heavy drinking often leads to hangovers, and who wants to work out or eat a salad when they have a hangover?

How do I quantify my drinking habits?

When discussing alcohol intake for weight loss and calorie counting (and for when your healthcare team asks), it is important to understand several terms on how to describe your alcohol intake:

Alcohol Intake Keyword Definition Example
Average number of drinks per day This is the average number of drinks you consume on days you actually drink. Let’s say you had 14 drinks in the last 14 days.

  • Scenario A: You had 1 drink per day for 14 days. Your average number of drinks per day is 1 (14 drinks divided by 14 days).
  • Scenario B: You had 14 drinks over the course of 4 days (Friday/Saturday and the following Friday/Saturday). Your average number of drinks per day is 3.5 (14 drinks divided by 4 days).
Average number of drinks per week This is often a great way to describe your alcohol intake to a healthcare provider. Even though you may drink more or less week-by-week, think about the overall alcohol average over the last 4 weeks. Let’s say you thought about all the alcohol you drank within the last 4 weeks:

  • Week 1: 2 drinks were consumed
  • Week 2: 6 drinks were consumed
  • Week 3: 4 drinks were consumed
  • Week 4: 8 drinks were consumed

What is your average alcohol intake per week within the last month? Add up all the drinks consumed in the whole month and divide it by 4. So, your average alcohol intake per week based on this data is 5 drinks.

Your provider’s next step is to determine your average number of drinks per day to determine if you have any binge drinking tendencies.

Alcohol Serving Size Just like food portion distortion our alcoholic beverages can be way bigger than the standard serving size. When counting the number of drinks that you consume, make sure you pay attention to the portion size versus what is considered “1 alcoholic drink.” Next time you have alcohol, measure your intake by using these standard serving sizes. The following are considered “1 alcoholic drink”:

  • 12 ounces of beer is 1 serving of alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine is 1 serving of alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (at 80 proof) is 1 serving of alcohol

If you have a drink that is larger than these servings sizes, you will need to consider these as greater than 1 serving of alcohol.

For example: If you are served a pint of beer, this is actually 16 ounces, rather than the standard 12-ounce serving. So, you are actually consuming 1.3 drinks.

Likewise, if the bartender’s standard pour of vodka is 2 ounces, then you are actually consuming 1.3 drinks.

Knowing how to quantify your drinking habits will help both you and your healthcare team determine how and where you can make changes, especially for weight loss. Keep reading for tips and tricks on how you can be savvy with alcohol while trying to lose weight.

Tips for Drinking Alcohol While Losing Weight

If you’re trying to lose weight, but still want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, there are several things you can do to control your calorie intake while drinking.

Alcohol Tip #1: Save alcohol for special occasions.

Some people may be able to abstain from alcohol better than others. So, if alcohol really isn’t essential to your life, cut it out or save it for very special occasions. Above all, remember: It takes 3500 calories to burn off 1 pound of weight. If you decrease your alcohol consumption, you would be one step closer to losing weight without any additional effort.

Alcohol Tip #2: Spread out your alcoholic drinks throughout the night.

The more alcoholic drinks you have in a night, the more calories you consume. If you’re having dinner at a restaurant, try to spread out your alcoholic drinks. How can you do that?

  • Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage (rather than drinking 2 in a row).
  • Substitute every other alcoholic drink with a low-calorie beverage like soda water, unsweetened iced tea or diet soda.
  • Choose to not have alcohol during dinner and only have alcoholic beverages after dinner (or vice versa).

Alcohol Tip #3: Choose lower calorie alcoholic beverages.

When shopping for alcohol for home, there are several companies that offer lower-calorie wines and beers (i.e. Skinnygirl Cocktails, Miller 64). Look at the labeling to determine the calorie content of each product. If you like hard liquor with mixers and flavorings, try just adding lemon or lime juice for flavor. You can also mix many cocktails with water or soda water. Here are some other drinks you can ask for at the bar:

  • Vodka and soda water with a splash of cranberry juice
  • Gin and soda with lime (tonic water has tons of calories and sugar)
  • Wine spritzer (add soda water or seltzer water to your wine to make it a more filling drink)
  • Skinny margarita (tequila, triple sec, lime juice and a touch of agave if desired)

Alcohol Tip #4: Choose alcohol or dessert.

Alcohol and desserts provide lots of calories with minimal nutrition. So, always just choose 0-1 add-ons. When you drink alcohol, do not have a dessert. Likewise, when you want dessert, avoid drinking alcohol.

Alcohol Tip #5: Disguise your drinks.

If you really don’t care about consuming alcohol itself, but you want to feel included in a social setting, then reach for a low-calorie virgin drink. Many virgin drinks have a lot of calories, however, some can be considered low-calorie without the alcohol. Grab one of these and disguise them as a regular cocktail:

What to have in your hand What the drink looks like
Soda water with a lime wedge Gin and tonic with a lime or a vodka soda with a lime
Orange juice and seltzer water Mimosa
Diet Coke can in a koozie Beer can in a koozie
Grapefruit juice with water and lime juice (add a salt-rim glass and a lime wedge if desired) Patron Paloma
Chilled water in a shot glass with a lime Tequila shot

Drinking Alcohol While Losing Weight

As you can see from the tips above, there are several things you can do to modify your alcohol intake for weight loss. Some of these tips modify the drinks, whereas others modify your drinking habits. Above all, try to find a balance between enjoying your diet while still reaching your weight loss goals.