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Can you drink and still lose weight?

by | Nov 10, 2015 | Last updated Feb 25, 2023

It’s no secret that the holidays prompt many of us to drink more — like, a lot more. According to one study, 50% of people have seen a coworker over-share after drinking at a holiday party, and 60% have seen a family member act inappropriately after drinking at a family event. Moreover, there’s greater incidence of drunk driving and all-around irresponsible drinking behavior around the holidays.

But, that doesn’t mean booze is all bad. As Dr. John M. Grohol, a psychologist and publisher of PsychCentral.com, told Forbes, “When done in moderation, drinking can be a positive component of any holiday gathering. It can help people relax and, for many, relieve stress.” It could even offer potential heart health benefits (in moderation, of course).

But the big question for those who are trying to stay trim this holiday season: Can you drink and still lose weight?

Consider the calories

Like all macronutrients, alcohol has calories. Seven calories per gram, in fact, compared to 4 calories per gram in carbs and proteins and 9 calories per gram in fat. In short, it’s pretty calorie dense compared to other macronutrients.

Moreover, unlike healthy fats, proteins, and carbs, alcohol isn’t exactly a necessary part of a balanced diet. Essentially, drinking booze adds empty calories to your diet, increasing your calorie intake without making you feel full.

Does that mean you can never have a glass of wine? Of course not! It’s just important that before imbibing you work those calories into your daily calorie budget. As long as you’ve planned in advance, there’s no reason a drink or two needs to derail your progress.

Understand portion sizes

If you decide to drink, it’s important you understand exactly how many calories you’re consuming. Below, we’ve provided a few standard drink measures and their calorie counts.

  • 12 oz. light beer (1 can or bottle): 100 calories
  • 16 oz. light beer (1 pint glass): 150 calories (Note: this is more than a single serving of alcohol)
  • 12 oz. regular beer (1 can or bottle): 180 calories
  • 16 oz. regular beer (1 pint glass): 250 calories (Note: this is more than a single serving of alcohol)
  • 5 oz. wine (1 standard-sized glass): 120 calories
  • 1.5 oz. liquor (1 standard-sized shot): about 100 calories

If you’re drinking liquor, mixers can also be a sneaky source of added calories. Try sticking to calorie-free mixers, like water, seltzer water, and diet soda. Fruit juice, soda, and cocktail mixes (sweet and sour mix, margarita mix, daiquiri mix, etc.) can all add lots of sugar and calories.

Avoid the drunk munchies

Scientists have shown that drinking makes us want food — specifically, we want junk food and we want it right now. Basically, drinking messes with your blood sugar levels, making your body crave quick and easy calories (read: processed, high-calorie food) in large supply. Plus, drinking makes us more relaxed (i.e. more likely to say “who cares?” to all of our healthy eating intentions) and more likely to form positive emotional associations around “drunk eating” activities like late-night pizza with friends.

That’s a powerful combination of factors, but that doesn’t mean bingeing on junk food is unavoidable. For starters, eat before drinking, so your body has some sugar supplies to draw on. You can also plan a healthier snack in advance, so that you’re less likely to default to unhealthy options. And finally, avoid creating or perpetuating the unhealthy habit of drinking and eating unhealthy foods; coordinate with a friend to stop each other from dialing Dominos or make a conscious effort to stay sober enough that you can turn down nachos. It’s hardest the first few times, but with practice you’ll weaken the mental connection between drunkenness and junk food.

Temper your intake

Of course, the easiest way to consume fewer calories when drinking is to just drink less. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Drink less frequently: You can still imbibe like you did before starting your journey toward health (assuming you weren’t endangering yourself or others), just do it less frequently. Try cutting out one drinking occasion per week each week, until you can keep your calorie consumption within your budget.
  • Drink less on each occasion: If you still want to unwind every Friday with a post-work Happy Hour, that’s fine. Work on cutting back one drink each time you drink, ’til you’re down to just one or two drinks.
  • Exchange high-calorie drinks for low-calorie drinks: If the two previous options won’t work for you, try swapping your margaritas for vodka sodas, or regular beer for light beer. These swaps can save you 100 calories or more per drink.

Here are a few more tips for keeping your intake safe this holiday season. And remember, if you go a little overboard, that’s OK. You’ve been working hard during this weight loss journey and deserve a bit of holiday cheer. Just be sure to continue tracking, have fun, and stay safe.