With the exception of trying to make the food we eat at restaurants/take-out fit into a fat loss plan, alcohol is one of the more difficult areas to navigate.
As it relates to food, what we purchase from most Mom & Pop restaurant establishments does not attach a caloric value to what you’re eating. Which means, you’re left to guess at how much you’re consuming whether you order an omelet and hash browns or a cheeseburger and fries. If you’re trying to track that food via your app of choice (MyFitnessPal, MyPlate, Lose It, etc.), you’re at the mercy of what other options have been submitted to the app which can have wildly varying totals.
Alcohol is a somewhat different monster altogether.
For one, it takes a certain person/personality who can stop at “just one drink”. That one drink can be sufficient and can fit into most anyone’s diet plan. For another person, one becomes two, becomes three, and so on.
In addition, there is the increase of food consumption that occurs when alcohol intake shifts up. We gravitate towards more snacking, second helpings of a meal, etc. to help absorb some of the alcohol. In the case of wine and some liquors, there is the concept of pairing certain foods to pull the notes out of a given drink. With wine, that can be high fat foods like cheese and cured meats and with liquor it might be chocolate and nuts. Not to mention, once this cycle occurs, any notion of tracking it all goes straight out the window. Most people just won’t go through the trouble.
For those who want to imbibe and can moderate (keyword) the intake, here’s a cheat sheet to help you fit in some degree of social drinking and not completely thwart your fat loss plans.
Please bear in mind that, above and beyond anything else, you must be in a caloric/energy deficit for this to work.
We’ll start with beer.
Traditional beer is sold in 12 oz containers (bottle or can). Depending on if you’re specifically going for a light beer (like Michelob Ultra) or something heavier like a lager (Guinesss), calories can range from approximately 100-200 calories. Due to the rise in craft beers (beers that have upwards of 10% alcohol), you can count on higher caloric intake for the same size, 200-300 calories per 12 oz. Hard ciders and seltzers would fall in a similar place. Lower alcohol content will generally be lower in calories (approximately 100 calories per serving) and higher content/higher sugar will push the calories up (closer to 200 calories per serving).
Assuming you can stick with just the 12 oz is a starting place. However, if you’re ordering from a bar, a pint of beer is 16 oz. With a 25% uptick in glass size, you’ve now raised your calories respectively across the board from 125 (Michelob Ultra) to nearly 400 calories (craft IPA).
What about wine?
The standard serving size of wine is 5 oz. Roughly 25 calories are in each ounce (125 calories per 5 oz). White wines typically have lower alcohol (not by much) and might be slightly lower in calories while certain reds (pinot noir and syrah) will be on the higher end.
One of the biggest challenges with wine is the fact that once you open a bottle, you’re more inclined to finish it in one to two evenings. An average bottle of wine could have well over 600 calories.
Last but not least, let’s cover liquor/spirits.
The standard serving size for hard liquor is approximately 1.5 ounces. Many jiggers will give you the options for a 1 or a 2 oz pour, although many will be marked for smaller measurements if you’re mixing or doing flight tastings.
When looking at many options in gin, tequila, vodka, scotch and Irish whisky, the proof is around 80. At the 1.5 oz measurement, you’re at approximately 100 calories. When you shift the proof up to say, 94, the calories shift up to approximately 120 per 1.5 oz.
My wife and I favor bourbon, ryes and whisky blends and when we venture into the barrel proof/cask strength options (114-130 proof), the calories jump to nearly 170 on the high end for 1.5 oz.
What about mixed drinks?
Cocktails can take on all sorts of variations (far too many to list) but when you consider that any of the liquor options mentioned above would be a starting place with somewhere between 1.5-2 oz for your liquor base, anything else you add will likely raise sugar and alcohol content and can easily double the amount you’re consuming. While you certainly could have mixed drinks fit into a fat loss plan, you could also be consuming a small meal’s worth of calories in just one drink not including anything else you might be eating in addition to the drink.
When I recently wrote about my wife’s weight loss progress, switching from wine and beer to bourbon was a gamechanger for her progress. She consumed less by default. While it’s not impossible to over do it with hard liquor, having the higher alcohol content seemed to reduce overall consumption and calories for her.
-If you can’t moderate your alcohol intake, you may need to consider some degree of abstinence while on a fat loss plan.
-Just like desserts or other hyper-palatable foods, alcohol can fit into the diet assuming that you have accounted appropriately for it and any food that may be used to complement the drink of choice.
-Many people use alcohol to “take the edge off”, cope with stress and to help them fall asleep at night. While it may assist in any of those things, it may be preventing you from having quality, restful sleep. That same lack of sleep can lead to poor eating choices the following day. If you’re having difficulty adhering to healthier eating patterns, try focusing on better sleep hygiene to see how it affects your fat loss results.
-If you’re not comfortable tracking alcohol intake on your own, a designated driver or comparably more sober friend/family member may be able to help. If you’re someone who can’t stop at just one, it can be enlightening to have someone else point out (lovingly) that in addition to the nachos you ate during the football game (let’s not go into how many calories were there) you also consumed 600-800 calories of craft IPA. The numbers alone may spark a slightly different approach to alcohol in the future.
-Do I think it’s easy to include alcohol in fat loss plan? No. Do I think it’s possible? 100%. Much of your success will come from adherence, accountability and honesty with what you’re actually consuming versus what you think you’re consuming.
-And of course, if you feel like you have an addiction which needs to be addressed, please consider a support group or counseling professional to give further guidance and assistance. We encourage responsible drinking.
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