Drinking alcohol is one of those vices many just can’t give up — even in an effort to lose weight. Alcohol is more calorie-dense than most other drinks, which can start to add up when you’re out having a good time with friends.
If you’re serious about losing weight, avoiding alcohol as much as possible is one way to start shedding pounds. However, you can still enjoy a few drinks without gaining any weight at all. These tips will help you avoid a beer belly without cutting alcohol completely out of your meal plan.
1. Eat before you drink
Alcohol gets a bad rap, not because of its calorie content, but because it negatively impacts how much fat your body is burning. When alcohol intake slows down fat burning, we can’t break down the fats in other foods we consume as easily. Not only this, but alcohol decreases the amount of leptin we have in our system. According to research, leptin is a hormone responsible for controlling weight and metabolism. Eating before you drink can activate the release of this hormone before you get any alcohol into your system.
Don’t reach for foods high in fat, though. Snack on some protein before you go out, or eat a high-protein meal before relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine.
2. Pick drinks with more alcohol and less sugar
This doesn’t mean chug a bottle of Everclear, but it does mean choose wisely. When it comes to picking your poison, sugary drinks like margaritas will have double or triple the amount of calories of whiskey or tequila. So, pick drinks with a higher alcohol-to-calorie ratio.
You can never go wrong with liquor, red or white wine, champagne, or light beer, according to Thrillist. If you’re curious which alcohols are best, check out this list here, and choose from anything with a B-rating or higher to stay on the safe side.
3. Stay hydrated
After a few drinks, your body’s going to try telling you it’s thirsty. Listen to it. For every drink you finish off, follow it up with a glass of water. This not only discourages you from drinking more — it also keeps you hydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic — the more you drink, the more you pee. And if you don’t replace that fluid loss — or continue drinking more alcohol — you become dehydrated. Mayo Clinic’s list of common hangover causes puts dehydration right at the top. It’s hard enough to distinguish between hunger and thirst when you’re sober and headache-free. Don’t put yourself through the agony of trying to make this distinction when you’re hungover.
4. Limit yourself to two drinks at a time
Drinking alcohol comes with plenty of side effects — many of which may lead you to gain weight. While you don’t have to say no to alcohol completely, limiting the number of drinks you order at the bar or the times you refill your wine glass can steer you away from these consequences. The more you drink, the harder it is to avoid them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol consumption becomes binge drinking when men consume five drinks, four drinks for women, or more in two hours or less. Limiting yourself to two drinks in one sitting distances you from this threshold without ruining the fun.
5. Space out your drinks
The faster you drink, the harder it is to stop. Once you get into binge-drinking territory, your chances of gaining weight start to climb along with your blood-alcohol levels. If you wake up with a hangover tomorrow, healthy eating and exercise probably aren’t going to make it onto your to-do list. The more often this happens, the more likely you are to continuously consume more calories than your body burns.
Combat this by pacing yourself when you’re drinking, just as you would with eating. Slowing down encourages you to consume less, which has fewer negative long-term consequences.
6. Avoid bingeing on food while you drink
This is the tricky part: Don’t eat when you’re wasted. Or if you do, avoid greasy burgers and opt for something healthier. Thrillist suggests eating when you’re drunk can cause you to gain weight later. One shot of alcohol is approximately 100 calories, so if you do the math, you may have exceeded over half of your daily carb intake in one night. If you add more food, you’re getting into serious trouble. Tell yourself before you go out to not eat if your friends are heading somewhere post-bars. If you do eat, go for lean protein or even a salad.
7. Don’t drink before bed
Gaining weight from drinking might be an indirect result of sleep deprivation. While a little alcohol in the evening might make you sleepy, it won’t improve your sleep quality. In fact, research suggests drinking before bed can completely ruin your sleep. You’ll likely wake up more frequently during the night even if you don’t realize it. Waking up sleep-deprived increases your chances of overeating throughout the day, leading to weight gain over time. A drink or two after dinner is probably fine, but try to limit how much you drink in the hours before bedtime.
8. Eat healthy the next morning
When we are hungover, our first instinct is to lay on the couch all day with junk food and sleep. This is quite the opposite of what you should do, though. In the morning, no matter how painful it may be, get outside and go for a walk or run. Drink plenty of water upon waking, especially if you forgot the previous night. Eat This, Not That! recommends fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and certain protein sources to replenish all the nutrients your body lost the night before.
9. Count calories from alcohol
It’s possible to incorporate alcohol into a healthy diet. However, it’s not possible to stick to a certain calorie range without taking drinks into account. According to the CDC, calories from food aren’t the only calories that matter. Alcohol should be included on this list as well, since you could potentially triple your daily calorie intake if you eat healthy but drink often. If you want to drink without gaining weight, pay attention to how much alcohol you’re actually drinking calorie-wise. While you shouldn’t eat less to leave room for more alcohol, do your best not to exceed your average calorie intake.
10. Drink in moderation
Moderation is key to anything in life. Stick with one drink per night if you really crave a glass of wine or a beer. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says men should stick to 14 drinks per week maximum. Women should aim for no more than seven weekly drinks. This hurts if you’re going out on the weekend and can cover a dozen drinks in one sitting. Take it back a notch during the week and opt for one drink a few times a week — save the rest for the weekend. Your body — and your morning after — will thank you when you come into the night with a solid game plan, goals, and willpower.
Additional reporting by Meg Dowell.