Empty calories from alcohol can add up fast; a happy hour with friends or a boozy brunch can easily tack on a few hundred liquid calories if you’re not careful. And while alcohol itself has extra calories with no nutritional benefit, the other culprits, such as mixers, fancy cocktails, and full-bodied beers, are all packed with more than a day’s worth of sugar and lots of empty carbs.
So if you’re trying to lose weight, you probably think you need to give up alcohol entirely, right? Not exactly. While completely cutting out the booze will help you reach your goals faster, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a couple drinks with friends — it won’t totally derail your progress. We tapped some dietitians to get the expert input on how to drink alcohol and still lose weight.
Can You Drink Alcohol and Still Lose Weight?
“You don’t have to completely give up on enjoying drinks with friends while working on losing weight,” Elora Bazanele, RD, LD, dietitian and founder of Love Food B Fit told. “However, keep in mind that drinking alcohol contributes to our total daily calorie intake while providing minimal nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals, and fibre that our bodies need to stay healthy.”
And it’s not just the extra calories you need to worry about; registered dietitian Julie Upton MS, of Appetite For Health said that drinking also stimulates your appetite and chips away at your willpower. “Ever wonder why Taco Bell or pizza seem like a good idea at 1 a.m. after you’ve been out drinking?” she said.
So while yes, you can still meet your weight-loss goals and enjoy alcohol, be mindful of your choices. Liquid calories are still calories that factor into your daily calorie intake. You shouldn’t skip meals to make up for your alcohol calories, but be mindful of the other choices you make throughout the day. You should also stick to lower-calorie beverages such as a dry wine or a shot of liquor with a no-calorie mixer, such as seltzer water.
How Many Drinks Should You Have a Week If You Want to Lose Weight?
And while the calories in each drink are important, it’s also important to monitor how much you are drinking in any given week. “Having a glass of wine a few times a week shouldn’t be a problem, but if you have two or three glasses each night, those calories can make a big difference in your weight loss efforts,” sports dietitian Cindy Dallow, PhD, RD, told.
Bazanele added that since everyone has unique calorie needs, this number will vary from person to person. The Mediterranean Diet, which is proven to aid in weight loss and help heart health, allows women to have one five-ounce glass of red wine a night, which adds up to five drinks a week. Upton’s recommendations are a little less at just two to three drinks a week.
Of course, you don’t need to drink this much if you don’t want to; Bazanele said that if you have a history of alcohol abuse or have trouble limiting your intake, you may want to refrain from drinking altogether and seek help from a medical professional.
What Drinks Should You Avoid?
Navigating the drinks list at your local bar can be like a minefield of added sugars and empty carbs. While there is no inherently “bad” beverage and you should enjoy everything in moderation, if you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to be mindful of how many calories are in each drink.
Upton said to watch out for fancy cocktails since they can have up to 500 calories a pop; even traditional cocktails like white Russians and margaritas can be made with tons of sugar syrups or heavy cream. Some craft beer, which can be high in alcohol per serving, can also contain hundreds of calories. In general, Dr. Dallow said to focus on drinking less often than what exactly you’re drinking each time you have an alcoholic beverage.
“Having one high-calorie drink on the weekend will not destroy all of your weight-loss efforts, and you shouldn’t feel guilty or off-track if you choose to drink one,” Bazanele said. “Keeping a mindful relationship when it comes to alcohol consumption is vital in keeping both the mind and body healthy.”