Fit to Practice: Beware the booze belly


An alcoholic drink or two or three can add to your waistline. Use these tips to stay smart about alcohol consumption.

I was recently at a party when I overheard a lady make the following remark. “Oh, I don't ever drink beer. It's much more fattening than wine.” Not so fast. That's not quite accurate. Don't fool yourself into thinking that one form of alcohol may be significantly less fat forming than another. New findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveal that booze may be a bigger problem for our waists than previously believed. Beware the booze belly. In terms of calories, according to the CDC, U.S. adults average 100 calories a day from booze. Men swill 153 calories while women sip 53. For gents, the drink of choice was beer; for ladies, the calories were equally divided between beer, wine, and liquor.

There are many problems with alcohol, the least which may be calories. But if you're struggling to slip into that holiday dress or want to look sexy on that January cruise, you might want to limit your alcohol intake. Before you take that shot (100 calories or a mile jog), ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Alcohol alters our perception of fullness and encourages appetite. You know, drunk dining. There are entire industries that thrive on this behavior. Most are open well into the wee hours. Even worse, as alcohol dehydrogenase sets to work on those spirits, it converts the alcohol into acetate meaning it's more likely to be converted to fat faster than other nutrients. Booze belly, indeed. So what can a health conscious individual do if they want to imbibe a holiday toast? I've got a few rules I abide by whenever I enjoy libations:

One-and-one rule

For every glass of wine, beer, or cocktail I consume, I follow it with a glass of water. This not only curtails consuming too much alcohol too quickly, it also helps me limit overall intake. I also start my evening of with a glass of water so I'm not dehydrated and using the sauce to slake my thirst. Admittedly, I'm a lightweight; two drinks is my limit before things get a bit fuzzy. I find I typically drink one glass of wine with dinner while simultaneously sipping a couple of glasses of water. Keep up with your malted math to stay ahead of weight gain (and hangovers).

Nonalcoholic and low-calorie beers

There are some really nice non-alcoholic and low-calorie brews available today. Beck's Premier Light (a scant 64 calories), Heineken Premium Light (99 calories and 1.5 percent less alcohol than regular Heineken), Michelob Ultra (95 calories), and the skimpiest-calorie alcoholic beer is Budweiser's Select 55 with, yep, 55 calories in that 12-ounce bottle with only 2.4 percent booze. As for nonalcoholic beer, try Erdinger from Germany. While not low-calorie (it contains 125 calories per 500-ml), it is a refreshing alternative a good call if you're the designated driver.

Massive mixed drinks

The average 4-ounce martini stuffs 274 calories inside that sexy glass; a daiquiri nets 449 calories in an 8-ounce serving; a 5-ounce white Russian packs 425 calories. You can see that mixed drink can really add to your holiday waistline if you're not cautious. If you must mix, try a low- or no-calorie pairing such as diet soda or juice. Avoid the sugary sweet beverages at all costs. Five ounces is fine A serving of wine is considered to be 5 ounces. That contains about 120 calories. Unfortunately, most people and restaurants decant 7 to 8 ounces per glass. That adds another 50-plus calories to each beverage. Be stingy with your wine. It'll last longer, you'll stay trimmer, and save money.

Beer binging

A cold bottle of ale sure goes with football, parties, good food, or a warm day. Trouble is, we often can't say no to another. And another. It's not uncommon to toss back three or four lagers chatting with friends. That good time costs you 150 calories each 12 ounces. Throw in some wings, chips, burgers and fries, and you've just widened your waist (and loosened your belt). Keep count of your Coronas or you may discover you've jumped an extra size (or two) in January. Set a limit and stick to it. By allowing yourself an appropriate beer allowance beforehand, you can better pace your time, not feel guilty about enjoying a cold brew, and avoid the “I'll just have another” trap.

Water with a cherry

If you ever see me holding a cocktail with a cherry sticking in it, chances are I'm in stealth party mode. As crazy as it may seem, many people feel uncomfortable not drinking around people that are. And vice versa. Because I relish relaxing with my friends and colleagues, I'll often order water with a cherry to nip on. Some people prefer sparkling water or seltzer; I'm cool with anything non-alcoholic and no- to low-calorie. When you ask me what I'm drinking, my code reply is, “Whatever the bartender gave me.” It'll be our little secret. Cheers to the cherry.

Only on Friday and Saturday

I've made it a rule to only have a glass of wine or a beer on Friday and Saturday nights. If there's a special occasion mid-week or during vacation, fine, but for the most part it's water during the week. The key to sticking to this practice is not to binge drink on the weekend. I encourage everyone to go a week or two without any alcohol and see how much better they feel and how much more productive they are. There was a time in my life when I had a beer or two each evening after work. I didn't realize it at the time, but I simply wasn't as sharp or energetic the next day as I was when I didn't have a drink the night before. Another good strategy to avoid piling on the pilsner is to make big plans for your weekends. Nursing a hangover is no way to cheer on your kids, maximize your long run or race, or be a good friend.

I don’t condone nor condemn drinking alcohol. I enjoy the occasional wine or beer, sometimes even a couple more. As an adult I’ve recognized that excessive alcohol consumption can be disastrous for some, reduce the potential of others, and fattening for everyone. Consider my strategies as you celebrate this year. May you have a healthy, happy, and harmonious holiday season. Salute!

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