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How to enjoy alcohol and still lose body fat

Alcohol and fat loss

I’ve discussed alcohol metabolism and its effects on fat loss and fat gain in this blog post. It’s been shown that light to moderate alcohol intake (1-2 drinks per day maximum) can be a part of any effective fat-loss programme once net calorie intake is considered.

Going beyond a moderate intake, however, especially within a short time span is a different story in terms of health, and if you’re not careful one night of excessive intake and the almost inevitable fast food that goes with it can easily wipe out a week’s carefully managed deficit.

If losing body fat is your goal and binge-style drinking is part of your lifestyle, try to be drink savvy (ie, be aware of the calorie content of your favourite drinks) and to employ certain habits to ensure that you enjoy alcohol without sabotaging your fat loss progress.

Alcohol and fat loss
“200 calories and a packet of crisps, please!”

Tips for fat loss while consuming alcohol

To make alcohol and fat loss work for you, trial one or more of the following methods to make informed decisions, enjoy social occasions, and still achieve your desired results.

1) ‘Save’ (or ‘bank’) Calories

Think of your weekly calorie intake as your bank balance. If you want a few drinks on a particular night, you can ‘save’ up for it in the days previous. Personally, I prefer to save up in advance rather than go into overdraft(!) but you can also ‘save’ calories in the days after to repay your calorie debt.

Whether you lose or gain body fat depends on how many calories you eat over multiple days, weeks, and months. Our bodies don’t reset at the end of each day. It’s therefore possible to overeat on certain days without gaining body fat if you have strategically under-eaten on other days.

My clients have found tremendous success using one or more of the methods below to reduce calories consumed in the days leading up to an event and so maintain their net calorie balance.

  • Lower your dietary fat intake (and thus calories) on the days before you plan to drink.
  • Lower your carbohydrate intake (and thus calories) in the same way.
  • Implement an intermittent fasting protocol (i.e. skip one meal or snack) to allow for a calorie ‘buffer’ when you do decide to drink. This approach works particularly well for those who eat out regularly.
  • Opt for high protein foods (e.g. lean meat, fish, Greek yoghurt, protein powder, or high protein snacks) and low-energy-dense foods (vegetables and fruit), which will keep you satiated (full) for a low number of calories.
  • Consume a low-calorie non-alcoholic drink between each alcoholic drink. This is a great way to pace your alcohol consumption without missing a round, plus it keeps your total calorie intake in check. Water, a diet soft drink, or my go-to is soda water with a dash of squash is my go-to.

These tips will work whether you track calories or not. Tracking isn’t for everyone and not something I recommend people do long-term, particularly if it encourages obsessive tendencies. You don’t have to count calories, but your calories still count!

So make some common-sense reductions to your food intake over a few days by reducing your portion sizes and/or eliminating mindless snacking. This is easy calorie reduction without counting.

2) Increase Activity

My general guideline for fat loss is to let nutrition be the priority where your energy/calorie deficit does the ‘fat burning’ and exercise and physical activity support it.

That said, staying active with inclusion of formal exercise (particularly weight training) is strongly encouraged and plays a crucial role in keeping body fat off longer-term.

As with reducing consumption, you can ‘save’ or ‘bank’ calories (though not as many) by keeping active as it will increase your energy expenditure and contribute to your calorie ‘buffer’. So, where possible, skip the Uber and walk.

Be Drink Aware

A damage limitation method when drinking is to choose low-calorie alcoholic drinks (low-calorie usually means low-alcohol). As such, it’s a good idea to know your booze of choice. Calories will vary between beers and wines depending on the brand.

Some popular choices are in the graphic below.

Calories in alcohol
Know your poison’s calories!

Here they are on a sliding scale. All spirits are single measure (25ml) and wine 175ml.

• Vodka & Soda/Lime | 51kcal
• Gin and Slimline Tonic | 52kcal
• Whiskey/Rum & Diet Soda | 59kcal
• 1 Glass of Prosecco | 84kcal
• 1 Bottle of Beer | 102-185kcal
• 1 Glass of Wine | 120 – 160kcal
• 1 Pint of Cider | 216 – 239kcal
• 1 Pint of Beer/Lager | 176 – 230kcal
• 1 Cocktail | 160 – 400kcal – highly variable!

The Bottom Line

Whether you gain or lose body fat is determined by net energy balance over time (energy in via food versus energy expended via activity). That applies whether alcohol and food are consumed together or separately.

The calorie content of alcoholic drinks combined with overeating due to lower alcohol-induced willpower can make fat loss more challenging and elusive.

However, if you only drink alcohol now and again and drink moderately you don’t have to worry too much about this at all. Be present and enjoy the occasion! Cheers!

Kevin Garde
Nutritionist and Bodyscan Consultant

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