Ahhh alcohol, I’m often asked my thoughts on alcohol and living a “healthy lifestyle”, so we’re diving into it today where I’m sharing 11 tips for including alcohol in a healthy lifestyle.
Can alcohol be a part of a “healthy lifestyle”? Sure, I believe it can. But of course with pretty much anything health related, the answer isn’t always so straightforward. There’s a big difference between throwing back multiple shots at the bar at 1 am several nights of the week trying to be “cool” or loosen up (me, in college) versus having a nice glass of wine with dinner in the presence of close company, in conjunction with living a holistically healthy lifestyle.
Some Personal Context
For a little personal background, I had a less than healthy relationship with alcohol in college. I would drink to “loosen up”, be seen as “cool”, and to try to fit in with those around me. I’d go out to the bars almost every weekend and definitely drank enough to classify as a heavy or binge drinker — as did the majority of people that were standing shoulder to shoulder with me in a crowded, loud, unsightly college bar. It was very much the norm in my college town, or at least that’s the way it was perceived by those around me. It’s just what people did.
With the excess alcohol intake also came excess calorie intake — not only from the alcohol, but also from the less than ideal food choices that often came after the fact, at the wee hours of the morning or the following day.
Not exactly a part of my story that I love sharing, but I share it to assure you that I’m not over here trying to seem all high and mighty. I share it to reassure the high school or college girl that feels like she has to drink to be seen as “cool”, that that doesn’t have to be the case. I share it to show you that it is possible to redeem your relationship with both alcohol and yourself.
Nowadays, I have maybe a drink or two a week on a normal week. If we have a special occasion, such as a wedding or party or get together, I may drink a little more. Am I saying you should emulate that? No — I’m saying I’m human, and there are still times I drink more than I want to or should. But thankfully, I’ve built in habits and new mindset shifts that help me make smarter choices that align with my greater goals and values that vast majority of the time. I’ve grown in my maturity, both emotionally and spiritually, which has undoubtedly had a big shift in my approach to alcohol.
As for my alcohol choices, I honestly drink whatever I want. I don’t count calories or carbs or added sugar. I think about what truly sounds good — if anything at all — and choose to enjoy it mindfully and with purpose. Some days that may be a glass of a nicely chilled red wine with dinner, other times it is a cider by the pool with friends, and on another occasion a fancy cocktail at a local restaurant.
If you want to get to that place, I encourage you to keep reading as I share a bit about the potential health benefits and/or risks of alcohol intake, as well as my 11 tips for including alcohol in a healthy lifestyle.
Effects of Alcohol on Health
While you see studies tout that moderate alcohol intake can have health benefits, many are long term, epidemiological studies, or rely on self-reporting from participants. This just means that while something may be correlated, it doesn’t mean it’s the cause. Just because having a glass of wine a few nights a week is correlated with better heart health, doesn’t mean it’s the cause. We must consider other factors at play. And even if alcohol DOES carry some health benefits, it still won’t outweigh the benefits of other heavy hitters like overall diet quality, sleep, stress management, and regular movement 🙂
I look at places like the Blue Zones, where people are often drinking daily. In these places, citizens are living up to 100 years old. Wow!! Alcohol intake must be a large part of that, right?? Maybe…or maybe not. Maybe it’s the fact that they also walk almost everywhere, are in tight knit community with other people, eat a diet that is largely unprocessed, and have a deep connection to their faith. I’m not discrediting their moderate alcohol consumption, but simply zooming out to see the greater context of that alcohol intake.
Further, I think it’s also important to consider how alcohol intake can impact nutrient status. Heavy alcohol consumption impairs the uptake and use of key nutrients such as folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B1, and vitamin A. It also depletes the body of vitamin E, which works as an antioxidant. While this relates to heavy consumption, I think it’s something to be aware of even if you fall into the group of being a more moderate drinker. It further strengthens the notion that prioritizing high quality nutrient dense foods as often as possible is of great importance to help offset any loss from factors like alcohol consumption.
- light drinker: at least 12 drinks in the past year but 3 drinks or fewer per week, on average over the past year.
- moderate drinker: up to seven drinks per week, with no more than three drinks on any single day for women; up to 14 drinks per week, with no more than four drinks on any single day for men.
- heavy drinker: more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks per week for women; more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week for men.
- binge drinker: five or more drinks for men, four or more for women, within two hours
A standard drink can be classified as:
- a 12 oz beer, 5% alcohol
- 5 oz glass of wine, 12% alcohol
- 1.5 oz of liquor, 40% alcohol
Most of this is information we’ve been told at some point in time before, so we’ll leave it at that and continue on to my 11 tips for including alcohol in a healthy lifestyle. Me sharing these is NOT implying you must drink alcohol to live a healthy lifestyle. If you aren’t already drinking, then you don’t have to start!!!! These are simply tips for those that are currently drinking and what to get a better pulse on their drinking habits as it relates to living a healthy lifestyle. Sound cool? Let’s get to it!
11 Tips for Including Alcohol in a Healthy Lifestyle:
Here are my considerations and suggestions to help you find an approach that works for you:
- Consider your relationship with alcohol and your “why” behind drinking it. Are you using it to try to numb out from a hard emotion, fit in, or because it truly adds value to your life?
- Try to enjoy it while with people that make you feel valued. In places such as Blue Zones, people drink daily…but consider other factors: they’re often surrounded by a tight knit community of people they’re deeply connected with. In other words, there’s more benefit to drinking around others that build you up, rather than drinking to try to fit in, or drinking alone and in isolation.
- Be mindful of consumption…obviously! Find a way to pace yourself between drinks if you’re having more than one, i.e. space drinks out by having a glass of water between each. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of alcohol (and calories, and sugar) we are actually consuming — this is also relevant to the pour of your beverages, too..especially wine and mixed drinks.
- Some drinks contain very high amounts added sugars and calories. This doesn’t make them “bad”, but it is something to be aware of. Weigh the tradeoffs in light of YOUR personal values, goals, and preferences. If you’re aiming for a six pack of abs, you likely might need to hang up the six pack of beer habit.
- If you want a “lighter” option, consider spirits like vodka, gin, or tequila, and opt for mixers such as sparkling water, a splash of fresh juice, fresh fruit garnishes, and even bitters. And no, you don’t have to swear off sugar (i.e. a homemade simple syrup), but again — be mindful!
- If you think you “should” order the lower calorie drink but know you won’t be satisfied with it and will likely drink MORE — then drink what you really want first, but enjoy it purposely and mindfully.
- Don’t try to “save up” calories earlier in the day, and aim to consume alcohol with nutrient dense foods (protein + carb) and water. These help balance blood sugar, support detox pathways, and soften the stress response from alcohol.
- Don’t try to fast the next morning. Fill up on protein + carb within an hour of waking to manage blood sugar balance, and make sure you’re getting in good sources of electrolytes. Your body needs adequate nourishment to support the detox taking place.
- Remember: just because people around you are drinking, doesn’t mean you have to. You ARE fun without alcohol.
- If you struggle with moderating consumption, reach out to someone. I can assure you, you aren’t alone, and asking for support is actually a sign of strength.
- If you find you’re struggling with areas of your health like sleep, energy, performance or recovery and drink on the reg, try cutting back and see how you feel.
Four Simple Questions to Ask Yourself When it Comes to Including Alcohol in a Healthy Lifestyle:
I’m all for some introspection, because above all, I want YOU to be able to tune in to the messages YOUR body is sending you. Don’t look to me to tell you whether or not you should give up alcohol. Consider yours answers to these four questions:
- Does alcohol help me enjoy life more, or does it usually bring more stress, anxiety, and unwanted feelings?
- How do I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally after drinking? Is this how I want to feel?
- Does my current alcohol intake align with my greater goals, values, and priorities in life?
- Given the answers to these two questions, how do I feel I should proceed?
What is your body trying to tell you? For some people, stepping away will be the “right” choice, while for others continuing to enjoy the occasional drink, or cutting back a bit, is the “right” choice.