About Healthy Hacks
As you may already know if you have been following me, I made a decision that changed my life. I decided to escape from my lifelong obesity and to lose over 100 pounds in under a year.
My results significantly exceeded my expectations and I lost 100 pound in 9 months, 120 in the first year and am still going strong – 130+ pounds in 16 months to-date. The pinnacle of my journey so far was completing my first half marathon just 16 months after weighing in at 325 pounds!
Throughout my fitness journey I have been repeatedly asked the same question: what’s your secret?
While there is no true “secret” to successful weight loss there are some techniques that worked well for me. I am going to share these techniques with you through this Healthy Hacks series in the Operation Melt blog.
Please read on because I am confident that these hacks can become the “secret” to your success with your own health & fitness journey.
Make drinking a little healthier
I have a confession to make… throughout my fitness journey I have continued to drink alcohol. I have achieved my fitness results without going dry. In fact I drink fairly regularly with meals and when going out with friends. Like everything else I made drinking alcohol fit into my plan.
Drinking alcohol is never never really a healthy choice. Beyond the consumption of the alcohol itself it is also very high calorie without any associated nutritional value. So I really believe the healthiest option is not to drink alcohol at all.
If you do choose to continue to partake during your fitness journey there are 3 major strategies to help make it a little healthier.
Strategy #1: Portion
Like many other areas of your fitness journey size matters!
I have walked into some chain restaurants and ordered a beer and have watched it come out in a 22 or 32 ounce massive glass. That is a lot of alcohol to be considered, in your mind, as being just one drink.
When you think of drinking a beer the normal portion size is 12 ounces which is the size of a can or normal bottle of beer. When you order draft it usually comes out as a pint which is 16 ounces – one and a third servings. Every ounce adds calories!
So the first strategy is to manage your portion size. Always order the smallest drink you can order versus the largest. Most of the time I even ask to do a half size beer (a “half draft”) which is only 8 ounces. You get a good taste of the beer but not as many calories.
By ordering a smaller portion your brain counts it as a drink as much as it does with the bigger drink. If you want more you can order another which forces your brain to count it as a second drink. Plus this will force you to pause and think whether or not you really want a second drink while you wait for your server to ask you.
I know I talked a lot about beer but the same strategy applies to other drinks too. Maybe don’t order the mini pitcher of house margaritas and order the normal size skinny margarita instead. It is usually better for you and made with real juices!
Strategy #2: Proof
Staying on the topic of types of alcohol brings me to the next strategy which is proof. Proof is a measurement of the alcohol content in a drink. The average light beer is around 4.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) which is 9 proof – always double the alcohol content. Red wine is usually around 12% alcohol (24 proof). Liquor is around 40%-50% alcohol (80 to 100 proof).
Disclaimer: following paragraph is a slight over-simplification but is directionally accurate.
One important fact to keep in mind is that alcohol is essentially sugar. The more alcohol content in a drink the more sugar content which means more calories. So the strength of the alcohol you consume directly translates to more calories. More calories going into your body means that you have to burn more calories or you gain weight.
What does all of this mean? It means that you have to choose your alcoholic drinks very carefully. For example let’s talk about beer again. I previously said that the average light beer has an alcohol content (ABV) of 4.5% or so. This 4.5% ABV beer translates to about 120 calories for 12ounce serving. For comparison sake this is about the same as an ounce and a half of grilled strip steak! It is also roughly the same as a 2 ounce shot of liquor or a 5 ounce glass of red wine.
But all of those are just averages! There are some imperial IPA beers that have an ABV of 9% or more, some more than 15%! One example is a imperial red ale that I really love that comes out every fall. It has an ABV of about 8% and it is delicious! But ordering a pint of this beer will cost you 320 calories! That is about two-thirds of the calories of a very popular fast food burger with its special sauce and all. That is just for one drink and there are far higher ABV beers out there now.
This gets even worse when you look at specialty mixed drinks at restaurants with lots of high proof alcohol and mixers. Some can get up to 1000 calories… for a drink!
So choose wisely when choosing a drink!
Look for lower ABV beers because you know you are going to drink them fast. I usually look for the lowest ABV beers on the menu. Alternatively, sip on wine that is that same calorie content per drink as a light beer but you consume it way slower. Or sip on a bourbon – one of my go-to choices – because you will likely consume it far slower and in small quantities.
Strategy #3: Pairing
Finally is pairing. The alcohol you drink is unhealthy enough but what comes with it could really be the double whammy that really gets you.
When you have a beer what do you have with it? Do you snack on high calorie salty snacks like chips, pretzels or peanuts? Do you order that plate of chicken wings? If you snack on unhealthy foods while drinking you are potentially doubling or tripling the calories from the alcohol alone or worse. The foods that you pair with drinks matter as much or more than the drinking itself.
The problem doesn’t stop there…
When you are drinking alcohol are you mixing it with something? These mixers bring an extra dose of calories and other challenges with them.
Here’s an example: I had a Bloody Mary with my brunch this past weekend and did some math. The vodka in the Bloody Mary was brought a fairly moderately amount of calories at around 125. Then there was Bloody Mary mix which brought an extra 40 calories. But the calories are just the start. The mix also came with almost 1100 milligrams of sodium which is a big torpedo in my 1500 milligrams per day sodium budget.
The strategy that I commonly employ with my pairings is to make sure that I am eating healthy foods when I drink. If I snack I am doing so on low calorie high nutrition foods such as vegetables. Then I try to stick to straight drinks without mixers except on rare occasions.
Finally I try to make sure to ramp up the water intake with my drink. I strive to achieve at least a 1-for-1 consumption of water per drink. If I drink a 12 ounce beer I try to drink at least 12 ounces of water with it. This keeps me from being adversely affected by the natural dehydrating affects of alcohol. The increased water intake also helps work as an appetite suppressant so I don’t hit the snacks.
There you have it, 3 strategies that I have used to make my drinking a little healthier. But, without a doubt, the best strategy is not to drink or not to drink often. If you choose to do so at least make sure that you are taking some steps to mitigate the associated negative health impacts.