How to Make the Best Food Choices When Drinking (and how to drink in moderation)

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Have you ever made a poor eating decision when drinking? I know when I imbibe any alcoholic beverage, I’m less aware of what I’m actually eating—and I’m not a frequent drinker, plus nutrition is basically the center of my life, so I know I can’t be alone in thinking that even moderate alcohol consumption has an impact on food choices.

Drinking alcohol is a big part of our culture. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to socialize without a drink in hand, just because many social events are based around alcohol (think: work happy hours, special events, dates based around bars, etc.) Alcohol itself can be a very real problem, one that is often ignored as a problem, especially in young people around my age. As someone who has observed the effects of alcohol on my own eating behaviors, I’d like to provide some insight on how to drink in moderation, and how to ensure you make the best food choices when at social events involving alcohol. It’s important that I make it clear, I think alcohol is definitely not necessary in order to have a fun social life, or to enjoy life in general. If you find that you can’t function socially or otherwise without a drink, you might want to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.

Moving on, if you plan on attending a social event where drinks are going to be served, first determine how much you’re going to drink beforehand. Know your limit, and also calculate the amount of time you are going to be at the event. That will help you space out your drinks in an appropriate way. Between or with each drink, you can sip on a glass of water, seltzer, or other non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. I recently used this technique and was surprised to learn how long a single glass of wine can last when I asked for a glass of water to sip with my wine. It also makes whatever you’re drinking a lot more enjoyable. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a big fan of mindfulness and that’s no exception with how I try to approach drinking (although, I admit, I’m like most 24 year olds and on occasion, I’ve drank past my 2-drink limit). Slowly enjoying a cocktail that has a great flavor, or a smooth feeling is a whole lot better than getting inebriated off a low-quality liquor or beer.

Another benefit to setting a drinking limit is knowing that you won’t overdo it with liquid calories from the alcohol. Each gram of alcohol contains about 7 calories, and none of that contains any vital nutrition. That’s definitely something to think about when looking at your overall diet and where you want your calories to come from. A glass of wine typically contains 140-160 calories (per 5-6 oz), Beer can be anywhere from 70-150 calories/12 ounces, and mixed drinks can be difficult to calculate but can go from 110 calories to over a thousand (avoid fishbowl size mixed drinks, if you care about calories, and your liver).

If you’re drinking, and food is being served, you should know that even if you’re not aware of it, alcohol is going to affect your appetite and can affect what foods you’re more likely to overindulge in. Have a loose plan of what you’re going to eat while drinking and stick to it (and that includes sticking to your alcoholic beverage limit as well).  Salty, rich, fatty food can be very appealing when alcohol enters the mix. Drinking can make you ignore the consequences of eating something that you normally wouldn’t and you should always keep that in mind before you start drinking. You’ll feel more in control knowing that if you stick to your drink limit, you’re less likely to wake up the next morning feeling full, sick, and guilty due to your food choices. If you tend to come home hungry after a night of socializing involving alcohol, have a strategy to avoid overindulging. You might want to eat a good meal before you go out (something with protein and carbs, such as a steak and a sweet potato, is ideal) to avoid feeling hungry throughout the night (and this will also prevent you from spending money on fast food—some people’s drinking-cuisine of choice). Leave yourself a pre-portioned snack for when you get home. If you know you like to eat something sweet, take a small portion of whatever sweet treat is to your liking, and place it on your nightstand (along with a bottle of water) before you leave the house. You’ll come home and be delighted by your own foresight.

Those are my tips for drinking and eating while imbibing CH3CH2OH (that’s the chemical formula for ethanol. This post wouldn’t feel complete without some chemistry dorkiness). Some of you may think the above sounds unrealistic to achieve if you’re young and enjoying life, but it’s better to feel in control than feel regret about drinking or eating the next day. One last strategy to mention is something I use a lot (especially if I’m at a big party or large social event)…order a diet coke or other non-alcohol beverage and let people assume you’re indulging in the drinking festivities. You’ll stay in control while everyone else let’s loose and no one has to know that you’re secretly observing how ridiculous humans can be.

-Jess

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