So, you’ve decided to go on a diet? Welcome to the club, an estimated 45 million Americans are also trying to lose weight. Though the weight-loss industry is constantly booming, I think we can all agree that dieting isn’t exactly fun. Reason No. 1 – the first thing to go when you start any diet is, of course, the most fun: the booze.
Alcohol is categorically forbidden from most diet plans — and understandably so. There are countless ways that drinking can put the kibosh on your weight loss efforts. According to registered dietitian Christen Cooper, alcohol serves up the sort of hidden calories, dehydration and junk food binges that can derail even the most strong-willed dieters.
That said, going cold turkey isn’t always possible either. We’re too attached to our weekly happy hours and vino-accompanied dinners. So, here are 8 life hacks to diet while still having fun.
When you wake up with a deadly hangover, you’re more than willing to postpone that crack-of-dawn Crossfit class you’d planned. According to celebrity fitness trainer and author of “This Is Why You’re Sick and Tired” Jackie Warner, we have alcohol’s draining effect on our muscles and hormones to thank.
Warner says that a long night of drinking robs your body of a chemical called Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which plays an integral role in building and repairing muscle. HGH usually gets to work while you snooze, but the wonky sleep patterns caused by drinking bring that process to a screeching halt.
In addition, that fourth or fifth cocktail also throws off your body’s water balance, inhibiting your muscles from producing ATP, or muscle energy, adds Warner. The result? You are rendered completely incapable of lifting anything.
Life Hack: Cardio.
You’re too energy-depleted for weight training. Cardio will raise your heart rate and get your metabolism moving, which is not only good for your waistline, but helps your body process the alcohol faster.
It’s not just the calories in booze we have to worry about — the very act of drinking slows down your body’s fat-burning process.
“Your body treats alcohol like a toxin,” explains board-certified weight loss physician and founder of bistroMD Dr. Caroline Cederquist, MD. And our liver is responsible for getting rid of it.
That means when we drink, our liver gets busy processing the toxin, so our body postpones other important functions — like burning fat, explains Ethel Baumberg, co-founder of Flyaroo Fitness. The faster you drink, the more overwhelmed your liver gets, and the further its fat-burning responsibilities get pushed down on the to-do list.
Life Hack: Drink Slow.
“Your liver can process approximately one drink per hour,” explains Baumberg. So, to stay in sync with your fat-burning processes, wear a cute watch and keep your pace to one drink per hour. Sound a little slow? Check out this sweet hack for how to put the brakes on your drinking pace.
It’s easy to overdo it at happy hour, especially considering what we know about our overworked livers. One round turns into two turns into five, and before you know it, you’ve totally lost track and your diet goes out the window.
Life Hack: Ice your drinks.
Most drinks, especially red wine, are served warmer than they were intended to be imbibed. Icing your drink adds hydration, coolness and enlarges the volume of your drink without upping the calorie content, meaning it will take longer to finish.
Alcohol dehydrates our bodies, and dehydration can wreck your weight loss plan in a number of ways. First, it’s the leading cause of killer hangovers, which are the leading cause of lazing in bed all day eating fries and doughnuts. (Or is that just me?)
Life Hack: Match a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage.
“This will help you pace yourself and keep count of how much you’re drinking, while staying more hydrated. Go an extra step and make it a glass of sparkling water with lime. It still looks like an alcoholic drink, but will allow you to hydrate and limit the amount you are really drinking.
More than one of us has awoken after a night of too many cocktails to find mysterious fast food remains and empty ice cream tubs littering our kitchens. Excessive alcohol leaves some people craving more calories because they mistake thirst for hunger. Another cause of the reviled drunk-binge is the same thing that makes you call all your exes and flash the bartender: lowered inhibitions. “When you’re intoxicated, you’re more likely to indulge in foods that you wouldn’t eat if you were sober,” says Baumberg. Before you know it, you’re Ubering through the Taco Bell drive-through, telling yourself, “Welp, diet starts tomorrow.”
Life Hack: Eat a full, balanced meal before or along with your alcohol to keep your blood sugar in check.
Skipping meals to “make room” for the calories in your booze will ultimately end up backfiring. In fact, fatty foods do the best job of slowing down alcohol absorption and staving off binges. “This doesn’t mean that you should be stuffing your face with a burger and fries,” Baumberg clarifies. “Look for healthy fats like salmon, avocados and nuts.” With your stomach already full, you’ll be less likely to gorge on unhealthy food or more drinks.
You’d be horrified if you looked up the calorie counts of some cocktails. You might think there’s no harm in enjoying a single margarita with dinner, but blended beverages made with sugary pre-made mix can pack up to 700 calories in a single drink.
Similarly, kicking back with a few beers or half a bottle of wine with friends seems innocent enough, but depending on the color, sugar and alcohol content, you could easily tack on an extra thousand calories to your day, thanks to booze alone.
Life Hack: Replace sugary soda or juice with sparkling water or unsweetened iced tea as a mixer to avoid those hidden calories.
Find a simple, low-calorie recipe you love, and stick to it whenever you drink. For example, consider making a wine spritzer or light mojito your signature drink. Here are a few recipes to experiment with to find your go-to:
Light Wine Spritzer
Let’s say you forgot to drink water, chugged strawberry daiquiris all night and then ate an entire bag of shredded cheese with your fingers. When you go off the rails, it can be really easy to say “screw it” and continue your unhealthy habits until you feel better. Though we can all relate, this is an excellent way to throw off your weight loss plan indefinitely.
Life Hack: Vitamin C or a fresh green juice or smoothie.
Vitamin C works to block the conversion of alcohol into aldehyde, which is the most hangover-causing metabolite. Green juices and smoothies fuel your body with the minerals and vitamins it’s desperately craving. And activated charcoal speeds up the body’s removal of toxins — just as it filters your tap water. These surefire hangover cures not only make you feel better, they’re also ultra-healthful, putting you back on your weight loss plan like no greasy hangover breakfast ever could.
Making the allowance for alcohol while you’re on a weight loss plan can be a slippery slope. You tell yourself you’ll be able to drink in moderation or that you can stick to the recommended serving sizes. For women, that adds up to five “standard” alcoholic drinks per week. A standard drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
But being on a diet takes work, and even sticking to recommended limits can set you off course; so, just as you’ve put yourself on a strict workout regimen, you need to schedule your drinking, as well.
Life Hack: Don’t drink early in the week.
You really set yourself on a path for success or failure by how you start your day or your week. If you start your week with cocktails on a Monday night, you are much more likely to drink more during the week than if you save your drinking for the weekend or special occasions. Similarly, if you have a mimosa with brunch, there’s a higher chance you’ll keep drinking over the course of the day than if you hold off until dinner.
Instead, try making Friday and Saturday evenings between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. your designated drinking times. You’ll be more likely to stick to such a definite plan.