Focus on Nutrition > Alcohol and Your Weight-Loss Plan

Focus On Nutrition

Alcohol and Your Weight-Loss Plan

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

It’s no secret that many adults enjoy an occasional cocktail during family gatherings or social events. But will one sip tip the scales in the wrong direction? Registered Dietitian Dena McDowell answers your questions about alcohol and shares a pre-party game plan.

Q: Is having a “skinny” or diet cocktail a better choice?

Generally, yes. If you’re going to pour a cocktail, it’s a good idea to choose low-calorie mixers. Regular soda or juice adds anywhere between 100 and 240 calories. Try substituting seltzer water, diet tonic water, diet soda, diet club soda or sugar-free juice—these can help reduce the total calorie count of the beverage.

Another way to cut calories is to dilute the alcohol with either water or ice. If you’re missing the flavor of the soda or juice, add a small splash of either for more flavor. Tomato juice is another choice if you’re looking for a flavorful, lower-calorie option for your cocktail.

Or, consider making a “mocktail,” an alcohol-free version of your favorite drink. If you enjoy a cranberry and vodka, for example, try ordering a light cranberry juice and seltzer water instead.

Q: I’ve heard that having a few cocktails affects my metabolism. Does alcohol change my ability to burn calories?

Drinking alcohol definitely affects your metabolism. Your body is unable to convert alcohol into energy the same way it does protein and carbohydrates. When all three enter the equation, like at a party with food and libations, your liver focuses first on metabolizing alcohol, which slows down the processing of protein and carbohydrates. As a result, you may burn calories more slowly, which can cause you to gain weight over time.

Q: I’ve heard that drinking clear alcohol (versus brown liquors) is better when you’re watching your weight. Is this true?

Alcohol is alcohol. It doesn’t really matter if you have a vodka-based cocktail versus a whiskey drink—what does matter is the proof of the alcohol. The higher the proof, the higher the calorie content.

Cocktails made with soda or juice have even more calories, averaging 250–300 calories apiece. The bottom line: If you’re going to have cocktails, consider using lighter-calorie mixers.

Q: What foods should I eat to offset the effects of alcohol?

There are no magic foods that can offset the negative effects of alcohol on your metabolism. That being said, you can do some pre-prep to help yourself stay in control. If you know that you’re attending a social event in the evening, it’s important to hydrate well before you go. Try to meet your water goal earlier in the day to counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol.

Next, make sure to eat a meal rich in protein. One of the worst things you can do is to attend a social function on an empty stomach. You won’t save on calories—drinking a few cocktails on an empty stomach will reduce your ability to make healthy choices. Instead, eat a meal beforehand containing lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts or legumes. By eating a balanced meal of protein and whole grains, the alcohol will process more slowly, which allows you to stay in better control of portions and food choices.

Q: I overdid it last night. How can I get back on plan?

It happens to many of us. Don’t beat yourself up! Rather than giving up or throwing in the towel, regroup and get back on your accountability plan as soon as possible.

When you overindulge, you probably don’t feel all that great afterward. When you eat or drink too much, it often has unintended consequences for the next day—namely, you may continue to make poor food choices and overeat. A better strategy in this situation would be to drink a lot of water and eat a broth-based soup. The water, along with the salt content in the soup, will help restore your body’s proper balance and prevent dehydration. Grabbing foods like fruit, veggies and whole grains, along with lean proteins, will help nourish you to feel better sooner.

You may also want to have some strategies at the ready, so your weight-loss efforts can stay strong in the face of temptation. Eating a light meal beforehand will help prevent you from overeating party foods. Alternating between a cocktail and water will help you stay in control of your evening and true to your weight-loss plan.

This information is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for personal medical attention, diagnosis or treatment. If you are concerned about your health, please consult your licensed healthcare professional.

Dena McDowell, MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian who works in the fields of cancer care and community education. Look for her videos about food and nutrition in the Members Area.