When it comes to weight loss, alcohol is an easy target since it’s full of so-called ‘empty calories’ — calories that come from food or drink sources with little-to-no nutrition. “The problem with alcohol is it supplies calories but doesn’t make you feel full — and can result in more mindless eating because it lowers your inhibitions,” explains Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a weight-loss specialist based in Philadelphia. Over time, a 150-calorie drink can add up.
That could be, in part, why every New Year many people swear off drinking for a month. The thinking goes that without alcohol, you can ‘reset’ your body from a season of indulgence and even lose a few pounds in the process.
But while #DryJanuary might look nice on paper, it isn’t completely necessary for weight loss — and going alcohol-free for a month doesn’t always unfold seamlessly in the real world, Seltzer says. Often, it can actually lead to overindulgence (and weight gain from poorer food choices) once the month is over. But if you think you have a problem with alcohol, it’s a good idea to see a specialist.
Here, three reasons you don’t need to become a teetotaler for 31 days to lose weight — plus, better doctor- and research-approved ways to slim down in the new year.
IT CAN FEEL RESTRICTIVE – AND BACKFIRE
Say you look forward to your evening wine or nightly Manhattan — going cold turkey can leave you missing out on something you truly enjoy, making your choice more difficult to keep up with, Seltzer notes. Most weight-loss and nutrition experts agree that strict diets that leave you feeling deprived rarely produce lasting results. In fact, cutting something out completely can have the opposite effect and lead you to overindulge or binge and then feel guilty afterward, creating a vicious cycle.
A better bet for weight loss: Make a smaller change. If you drink two glasses of wine a night, simply pour yourself 25% less per glass. “You’re consuming less, but you don’t realize it,” says Seltzer. “The less you change, the more likely you are to be successful.”
YOU MIGHT NOT BE OVERDOING IT WITH BOOZE
If you have a glass of wine every other night, those extra 100-something calories (depending on the size of the pour) might be contributing to weight gain. However, they might not be as damning as other foods you’re unknowingly snacking on or high-calorie drinks you’re sipping throughout the day (flavored coffees, fruit juices and soda add up, too).
A better bet for weight loss: Track your food and drinks with MyFitnessPal to see where your calories are actually coming from, suggests Seltzer. “Most of the time there are a lot of ‘unknown’ calories.” For example, if you discover you’re eating 100+ calories of M&Ms every day walking by the bowls of them at the office, it’ll be easier to cut them out.
ALCOHOL ISN’T ALWAYS LINKED WITH HIGHER WEIGHT
A study published in the journal Current Obesity Reports found light-to-moderate drinking (about two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women) didn’t appear to be linked to an increased risk of obesity. However, binge and heavy drinking was.
A better bet for weight loss: If you’re worried — or think you might be overdoing it with booze — sip in moderation instead of cutting it out completely (and pick up healthy weight-loss habits such as finding a workout routine you can stick with and focusing on a diet full of whole foods).