We know alcohol is detrimental to our health. Its over-consumption is associated with cancer, liver disease, and heart disease to name a few. That being said, alcohol is often the centre of social gatherings, and around Christmas, with parties, get-togethers, extended holidays, and celebrations, alcohol is in abundance.
As a dietitian focused on creating a healthy relationship with food, I strongly believe that all food fits. And so too does alcohol. So why is too much alcohol a problem?
Excess Booze = Excess Calories
Champagne, mulled wine, & baileys and coffee are front and center this time of year. It’s easy to go from having 1-2 drinks, to quickly finding that you’ve had 5 or 6.
One of the major nutrition concerns with alcohol is that it contains a lot of empty calories. A glass of wine is approximately 120 calories, while a rum & coke can set you back 160 calories. Imbibe in a spiced rum and egg nog, and you’ll have consumed a whopping 230 calories. While a singular drink may not have a huge impact on your caloric intake, consuming several cocktails can quickly equate to half your calorie requirements for the day!
Presenting Alcohol – The Great Magician
Alcohol is like a sneaky magician. It works in several ways to trick your body into over-consumption. With liquids, you often feel less full than solids – triggering your brain to give you the go-ahead to eat more. Combine that with the dehydrating effects of alcohol – and you may be tempted to either drink more, or confuse that thirst for hunger and end up snacking unnecessarily.
Since alcohol lowers our inhibitions, you are also more likely to snack mindlessly without acknowledging whether you are truly hungry or not. Holiday parties tend to have an abundance of food, giving you an all-access pass to unlimited quantities of high calorie, low nutrient value snacks and treats which may tempt you as you are sipping away.
3 Steps to Reduce Alcohol Intake Over The Holidays – Without Missing Out!
1) Have a plan
Planning ahead, as with all nutrition changes, is key. Before you go, determine if you are going to drink, how many beverages you are going to have, and what alcohol-reducing strategies you are going to use. Going in with a plan will give you the confidence to say no to another drink. Be sure to set a goal realistic for you. Every individual is different – by setting a limit that is realistic and that you can actually stick to is key to success.
2) Consider how alcohol makes you feel – what are the short term and long term ramifications of having too much alcohol?
I recently gave a presentation and spoke about alcohol consumption. We discussed strategies to cut back. I jokingly suggested to the woman asking questions that instead of drinking a full bottle of wine, that she only drink half. She stifled a laugh. I then asked the audience to ask themselves – do you ever wake up the morning after having a few cocktails and say to yourself – ‘I’m so glad I had that last drink!’ or do you say ‘I really could have done without that last drink…’ This was met with a bit of an ‘a-ha’ moment for the audience – having never thought of it that way before. Why DO we have that last drink? Often we’re their so busy having a good time that we do it mindlessly, or because we don’t want to miss out. By being mindful of your alcohol consumption, you can begin to make wiser choices when at holiday parties. A ‘no thank you’ goes a long way when declining that one last beverage. By having insight to the long and short term repercussions of drinking alcohol, you learn that all you’ll be missing out on is a headache in the morning!
3) Use alcohol reducing strategies
Here is a list of alcohol-reducing strategies to use at your next holiday party:
· Choose a wine spritzer or a chanty (1/2 beer, ½ sprite or ginger ale) – by mixing traditionally ‘straight up’ drinks with soda, you can reduce your alcohol intake
· Choose calorie-free mixes with hard liquor, such as club soda, diet coke, or water with a squeeze of fresh lime, or a splash of cranberry juice to liven up the flavor
· Ask your drinks to be mixed ‘tall’
· Alternate between alcohol and water
· Choose a pre-determined time in the evening where you will switch to water or non-alcoholic drinks
· Offer to be a designated driver
· If you have a lot of holiday functions to attend, plan which events you would like to consume alcohol at, and choose some where you will stick to non-alcoholic drinks. Having a plan in place before an event helps you stick to it
· If you’re going to an pot-luck style event – bring a fun mocktail as your potluck item. Mojitos are a flavorful drink with or without alcohol and help you to feel included
· Avoid drinks that are ‘doubles’ – many cocktails have 2 oz liquor in them. You can often request for a ‘single’ when out at restaurants for these mixed drinks
· Avoid mixing alcohol and caffeine – caffeine can often make you feel the affects of alcohol less, which can lead to higher consumption
TAKE AWAY MESSAGE: Holidays are meant to be enjoyed. We can celebrate with our family and friends, but still be mindful of how alcohol can quickly have an impact on our waist-line. At the next event you attend, decide on the alcohol reducing strategies you are going to use, and come up with a plan. You’ll wake up the next morning thankful you did!