Due to the nature of my job, I get a lot of questions about healthy eating, fitness, weight loss, and how these three things work together. Because my friends like a glass or two of Rosé at the end of a long day (and they know I do too), I am often asked if it is necessary, truly necessary, to give up alcohol to lose weight. Unfortunately, the answer is not so straightforward — at least for me.
While it's true alcohol is no friend to your waistline — it's just empty calories that can interfere with your metabolism — depriving yourself of things you enjoy is no way to live, in my opinion. Life should be pleasurable, and your weight-loss plan should not be about cutting out foods and fun, but about creating healthy habits you can keep for the rest of your life. You need to figure out how to enjoy yourself without going overboard.
This begs the questions, is beer or wine the better choice? Dietitian Stephanie Clarke of C&J Nutrition told me "to choose the one that you will enjoy most, and make sure you're sticking to the right portion." I like both adult bevvies and have done a lot of soul searching on this choice, keeping portion control top of mind. I choose a bottle of beer; I choose the IPA — the flavorful, higher alcohol content, hoppy wonder that runs around 170 calories per bottle. (IPA, ales, and stouts are higher in calories and carbs than lagers and pilsners.)
It all comes down to this rationalization: if I choose beer, I will only have one bottle due to built-in portion control. Beer is awfully filling, IPA is high in alcohol so a second one will send me over the edge, and having a second beer just doesn't seem to be living in moderation. With wine, once the bottle is uncorked, it's ever so easy to top off a glass, pour a little more, have some while cooking, some with dinner, and little more after. That is just way too much wine and it's way too easy to tipple.
In my mind, a bottle of beer is finite — the drink is complete with the last sip of beer. With wine, I clearly don't have strong boundaries. My strategy is to go big, and then go home . . . or rather, then start drinking water. Although this strategy works for me, your means to moderation might be different. If you're still figuring out how to balance drinking with your healthy-living goals, I spoke with a couple of experts for additional strategies.
Registered dietitian Julie Upton believes you can dabble on occasion, but her tactics are a little more scientifically sound than mine. She told us it's best to reach for a light beer (here's a guide to our favorites in this category). Most bottles are around 100 calories, but she suggests to really keep the calorie count down, try an ultralight beer for about 60 calories per 12 ounces. I know Julie is the expert, but I would rather choose flavor over a lower calorie count — just sayin'.
To go even lighter, Julie suggests "blending a light or ultralight beer with Diet 7Up or diet ginger ale for a variation on the Shandy," traditionally a mix of lemonade and ale popular in the UK. Stephanie reminded me that "the more alcohol in the beer, the more calories it is going to have per ounce," which is why my dear IPA is so high in calories; so pay attention to alcohol content when selecting your brew. But if you love a porter, Stephanie said "surprisingly, Guinness is a low-calorie choice (about 125 per 12 ounces), so it's a good option for someone who craves a more hearty tasting beer."
When it comes to wine, Julie suggests a little bubbly because "Brut Natural and Extra Brut have the least sugar and fewest calories." Stephanie suggests limiting yourself to one glass of whatever wine you choose, but you can extend your happy hour by making a spritzer: "half wine, half club soda so you can split your five ounces of wine into two drinks."
You might be wondering why hard alcohol isn't being discussed here. I'm not much of a cocktail drinker, being too lazy to mix one at home. Plus, cocktails are way to easy to drink quickly, which can mean ordering a second. And ordering a second is what I am trying to avoid, so I'm sticking with beer.