Q: Can you drink (alcohol) and still lose weight? What if you work out on a regular basis?
A: Yes, you can drink alcohol and lose weight—as long as you're smart about it. When looking at the weight-loss impact of having a drink, there are two things you need to consider: calories and alcohol content.
1. Calories. For most people the calories in the mixers of their favorite cocktails pose a far greater barrier to weight loss than the actual alcohol. Just 4oz of some daiquiri or margarita mixes can contain upwards of 35 grams of sugar (that’s 7 teaspoons of sugar)! Plus, they're more than double the amount of calories in the shot of rum or tequila included in the drink (that is, if you're only served ½ cup of mixer). What's worse, the calories from mixers are the worst kinds of calories, simple and refined sugars. When they're combined with the metabolic effects of alcohol, it gets even worse.
2. Alcohol content. One myth about alcohol is that it will make you fat. But the truth is, it's the combination of alcohol and sugars found in mixers (or the bar food often consumed with alcohol) that causes problems. Alcohol does contain calories, but it's safe to assume that no one gains a lot of weight by throwing back shots of straight vodka. Instead, it is the metabolic priority that your body places on alcohol (over carbohydrates and fats) that causes the problem. Your body wants to process alcohol before anything else, which has been shown to create a metabolic environment that is almost the opposite of the environment your body creates following exercise—one of high circulating levels of fat and inhibited fat burning.
While this may sound all doom and gloom, there are upsides to drinking alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink per day for women) increases your HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, and studies show that people who have a couple drinks each week live longer. How can you get the best of both worlds?
1. When you drink, know your serving sizes. A glass of wine is not a full glass but 5oz (red wine glasses can hold 12-14oz).
2. Minimize the calories from mixers. Make margaritas with real lime juice, use diet tonic water, or even the naturally calorie-free club soda instead of regular tonic water and other high-calorie carbonated drinks.
3. If you are aggressively pursuing a weight-loss goal, corral any drinks to your splurge meals to reduce their impact on your overall fat burning.
Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, is a nutritional consultant known for his evidence-based approach that transforms complex nutritional concepts into practical nutritional habits and strategies for his clientele, which includes professional athletes, executives, food companies, and top fitness facilities. Dr. Mike's work can often be found on newsstands, leading fitness websites, and at your local bookstore. He is the author of Dr. Mike's 7 Step Weight Loss Plan and the upcoming 6 Pillars of Nutrition.