Surviving Happy Hour

You don't have to be a teetotaler to stay on track
Surviving Happy Hour

It's 4:40 pm on Thursday, and the usual cabal of coworkers have already commandeered a section in your regular happy-hour hangout. If you leave work on time today, you'll make it to the bar for drink and appetizer specials.
When you've adopted a healthy lifestyle, you don't have to ditch your Friday night tradition. Follow these four guidelines and you can have fun on plan without being sorry tomorrow.

1. Never drink on an empty stomach
Without any food in your stomach to help your body absorb the alcohol, you will feel its effects very quickly. As your judgment slips a little, it's easy to overdo the chicken wings or empty out the peanut bowl.

"If you have the luxury of knowing ahead of time that you're going out for happy hour, plan to have some food right before you leave," said Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health. "That makes it a little less likely that that you'll get tipsy and go for broke once a platter of food you really like gets passed around."

Try low-fat cheese and crackers, 94% fat-free microwave popcorn, vegetables or unsalted pretzels.

2. Use low-calorie mixers
Often, the calorie culprit is not the alcohol itself, but what you mix with your booze. "Liquor only has about 100 calories per serving, depending on proof, but if you mix that with something like ginger ale, [the ginger ale] will bring calories of its own," Kava says. A creamy drink is even worse; it adds fat to the equation.

A piña colada, for example, is made with pineapple juice and coconut milk, and an 8-ounce glass can have as many as 450 calories and 18 grams of fat.

A rum and Coke has about 260 calories, and a gin and tonic has about 200, though at least those are fat-free. Mixing the liquor with soda water instead of tonic saves 100 calories (soda water has zero calories). Having a rum and Diet Coke (instead of Coke), saves you 160. There's even diet cranberry and diet tonic water on the market, though your favorite hangout might not stock it.

"If you do order a drink with a high-calorie mixer added, I'd suggest having it put in a tall glass with plenty of ice, and sipping it slowly," says Kava.

3. Know the numbers
If you'd rather opt for an unadulterated drink, here's how some popular choices break down:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer: 150 calories
  • 12 ounces of light beer: 100 calories
  • 5 ounces of wine: 100 calories
  • 1.5 ounces (a "shot") of 80-proof distilled spirits: 100 calories

4. Lose the booze
Of course the easiest strategy of all is to hit the pub and skip the alcohol. Order a diet soda or sparkling water with a straw and a lime wedge, and unless someone sips your drink, your teetotaling will go unnoticed. Your abstinence will also be an asset when it's time for a ride home.

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