You don’t have to give up alcohol to lose weight. But you should know that having a drink before dinner can sabotage your diet.
How so? Alcohol is full of sugar and carbohydrates, which, of course, makes it fattening. But plenty of healthy diet foods – fruit and avocados, for instance – are too. The real problem with alcohol is that it causes your blood sugar level to spike, which feels satisfying when you are drinking (and your blood sugar is rising) but feels rotten on the way down.
When your blood sugar plunges after you put the drink down, your body is going to react by craving other high-sugar/high-carb foods like breads, potatoes and pastas (or more alcohol) to regain that feel-good blood sugar high. Unfortunately, if you give in to these cravings, your blood sugar will go on a roller-coaster ride that will have you craving carbohydrates all night. (Popcorn before bed, anyone?)
So what’s the solution? The ideal is to have your drink with dinner and use it as a substitute for another carbohydrate, such as the bread, potatoes or rice. We call this the “twisted-plate” method.
To clarify, an ideal dinner plate should consist of ½ fruits and/or vegetables, ¼ lean protein and ¼ whole grains. If you want to add in alcohol, lose the grain and have the drink instead.
Realize, too, that portion size is key. If you super-size your plate, you’ll have trouble with weight forever. Unfortunately, that’s increasingly easy to do because the portions you are served at a restaurant are often gargantuan and they can set the standard for what you expect at home. In reality, a reasonable portion of meat is about the size of a deck of cards; an appropriate portion of pasta is roughly the size of a tennis ball. (For more tips on portion size, check out this handy graphic.)
Likewise, giving yourself permission to drink some alcohol doesn’t mean you should guzzle the bottle. A 100-calorie portion of wine is just 4 ounces. With hard alcohol, you consume 100 calories in just 1.5 ounces. If those modest portions leave you feeling deprived, consider boosting the volume with diet-smart tips like adding fruit to your wine to create a nice Sangria — or pair your shot of Vodka with flavored sparkling water. (Le Croix Pear is my personal favorite.)
How do you avoid the diet-busting cravings when you’re out with friends and they’re serving drinks and hors d’oeuvres before dinner? The smart (yet counter-intuitive) advice is to go ahead and have a drink, but be sure to eat a few appetizers as well. Avoid the crackers, but eating a little (and little is the operative term) healthy fat or protein (i.e. nuts or cheese) while you drink will keep your blood sugar levels more stable. That should help you avoid cravings and eat more modestly at dinner.