Food & Nutrition

How to lose weight without giving up alcohol

You can enjoy alcohol without putting your health goals on hold. Here’s how.
Published 21 June 2018 | Updated 21 October 2022

You can raise your glass and enjoy the odd drink without putting your weight-loss goals on hold. Here’s how.

Celebratory events – everything from Christmas and New Year’s Eve to birthdays and anniversaries – can mean an endless round of parties, celebrations and social events that have ‘good fun’ written all over them. Which is great because it’s a chance to catch up with friends and family, and to toast a milestone, event or holiday.

It can also be an opportunity to enjoy a drink or two, which is something to look forward to as well – just try not to overdo it. Hangovers are not only nasty, they’re unhealthy too and no one wants to see their weight-loss goals disappear into the bottom of a glass, right? To help navigate your next celebration, here are the main things to remember when it comes to alcohol. These will help you rethink how and what you drink, so you can celebrate and stay on track.

The fact: Alcoholic drinks contain ‘empty’ kilojoules

By ‘empty’ we mean they provide plenty of fuel or energy without many, or any, essential nutrients to go with them. So you get a lot of bang (kilojoules) for your buck without the benefits (no positive impact on your hunger or your health). Not only are the kilojoules in alcohol empty, there are usually more of them than you think, too. Exact quantities differ but as a general rule, a standard drink, which is a 100ml glass of wine, a 375ml bottle of mid-strength beer, or a 30ml nip of spirits, contains around 280–380kJ (67-91 calories). Get through three drinks and it’s like eating two or three scoops of ice cream!

The Fix: Create a drinks plan, bearing in mind your Points Budget and that it’s smart to drink no more than two standard drinks a day, or four on a single occasion. To stick to your Budget and stay hydrated, drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink. And because we pour 30 per cent more alcohol into short, squat glasses, choose a tall, thin one instead.

The fact: After a few drinks, food seems more attractive

It’s not just a theory – scientists recently proved it, finding that by influencing how the brain responds to food aromas, drinking alcohol can significantly increase your appetite and food intake. It’s an effect that can turn enjoying a drink into a double whammy because not only are you drinking kilojoules with alcohol, you might also be eating extra ones with food as well.

The Fix: Eat a healthy meal or snack before you have your first drink, and stock your party with nutritious ZeroPoint foods to help keep hunger at bay. Someone else’s event? Take a healthy plate.

The fact: Some drinks are a better choice than others

By ‘better’ we mean some will have less impact on your weight-loss goals than others. For example, the creamy cocktail that looks so enticing? It might contain as many as 1210kJ (290 calories), which is four times as much as a 100ml glass of wine! And beware of drinks, particularly beers, marketed as being better for your waistline purely because they’re ‘low carb’. In fact, there’s little, if any, difference between the kilojoules in a low-carb beer and a regular one.

The Fix: Look out for ‘extra’ kilojoules in the form of things like cream, sugar syrups and sweet mixers (go for drinks such as seltzers that use soda water rather than tonic, lemonade or coke). And choose reduced-alcohol wines and beers, because with those drinks, it’s the kilojoules coming from the alcohol (rather than the sugar) that make up the biggest chunk of the overall kilojoule count. It’s the reason why a 150ml glass of reduced-alcohol red wine is worth 2 Points values but a glass of full-strength red wine is worth 4 Points.

The fact: Alcohol affects you faster if you drink it on an empty stomach

Without food in your stomach to slow down the rate at which alcohol passes into your bloodstream, it takes just a few minutes after you take the first sip for the alcohol to reach your brain. It means you’ll hit a higher blood alcohol concentration sooner than someone who’s eaten a meal, and when that happens it can be harder to judge how many drinks are too many.

The Fix: Make sure you have something to eat before you have a drink, preferably something that contains carbohydrate and healthy fats, both of which slow down the absorption of alcohol. And drink a glass of water before you have your first alcoholic drink, because if you’re thirsty when you get your hands on a beer or a glass of wine, you’ll be more likely to drink quickly.