Mixing, mingling and making merry this holiday wouldn’t be the same without alcohol. But for those of us with an agenda to neutralize weight gain, adding alcohol to the equation makes this a tough one to balance. Here’s why:

Partying with alcohol is fun because we like feeling intoxicated, but this intoxication comes with a caloric price tag. One gram of alcohol is 7 calories, which is more than one gram of carbohydrate (4 calories) and protein (4 calories) but less than one gram of fat (9 calories).

Not like we do from digesting carbs, fat and protein. This phenomenon, called the “thermic effect of food”, refers to the energy we use to digest food into small, absorbable components. Because alcohol is so easy to absorb, it enters our bloodstream without burning any extra calories.

Because alcohol is seen as a toxin, the liver prioritizes metabolizing alcohol first (get in line, fat…it’s not your turn!) which means you won’t be burning calories from other sources while that happens. The liver is only able to clear alcohol at a rate of around one ounce liquor per hour, which is why consuming more than this will leave you feeling tipsy.

The liver helps keep our blood sugar steady, but a liver busy at work metabolizing alcohol can’t do this effectively, causing your blood sugar drops and stays low until the alcohol is metabolized. This explains why you crave carbs and wake up the next day with a headache.

This is true for all extra calories eaten no matter the source, but what makes alcohol calories worse is that they are stored in your liver first. It takes time for the liver to ship out the alcohol-induced fat for proper storage in your fat cells. If the liver doesn’t do this fast enough (or if you drink too much, too often) the fat stays stuck in your liver and around your abdomen giving you what we refer to jovially as a “beer belly.”

This of course doesn’t mean you need to completely dodge all social sips this season. Here are some tips to help prevent you from gaining too much of your holiday cheer:

  • This will help you limit yourself to one or two drinks per party.
  • Forgo eggnog, margaritas, mudslides and other sugary mixed drinks — or have one and consider it dessert.
  • You’ll stay well hydrated.
  • Take the time of enjoy your alcoholic beverage.

Pick these lower calorie alcohol alternatives:

  • Red or white wine: 5 ounces | Calories; 125, Carbohydrate: 4g
  • Light beer: 12 ounces | Calories: 100; Carbohydrate: 5g
  • Champagne: 5 ounces | Calories: 100; Carbohydrate: 1g
  • Vodka, whiskey, rum or gin: 1.5 ounces | Calories: 96; Carbohydrate: 0g



  1. Minimouse

    I am alcohol free at the moment, I do it for a month twice a year. For me a great help is bottled fizzy water to which I add various flavourings, squash, ginger, mint or a slice of lime depending on my mood.As I’m working to shift a few pounds, while I’ll have some alcohol over Christmas, the sparkling water will still be a regular feature.

  2. Linds

    Interesting… Never tried mint leaves. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Dade Dyana

    Hi Trinh – Alcohol is definitely part of many families’ holiday celebrations and it is important to address it. Ideally, nobody would be drinking because of the effects it has on our bodies, but I truly believe – everything in moderation. Isn’t that the theme of this article?

  4. natasha

    V. Incorrect. Vodka and gin are way better than rum and whisky too. ( somewhere around the 60cal mark)

  5. fm2176

    I’m no nutrition expert–my formal knowledge is limited to an Army Weight Control Program nutrition class and an undergraduate class in the subject. Even so, I can vouch for the fact that diet and exercise, even with heavy drinking, can lead to weight loss and maintenance.

    I’m a Soldier in his late thirties who made the decision to drop weight and get into better shape a few months back. In January, after recovering from a hernia repair, I weighed 221. In May I weighed 210 and barely made tape. In September I started tracking calories via MFP, switched from beer to bourbon and Coke Zero, and increased cardio. Since then, I’ve dropped from 205 to 183.

    Ideally, we’d all refrain from alcohol, but those of us who “self-medicate” or just plain have a problem should realize that if we drink we need to make other lifestyle choices that mitigate the effects from drinking. Physical activity and a healthy diet work. If I’m still around in thirty years I’ll be proof of sorts. 🙂

  6. Colin P. Müller

    Grow a thicker skin.

  7. Elizabeth Braun

    Alcohol is ‘treated as a toxin’?? It *IS* a toxin! A deadly poison humans survive drinking only owing to slow ingestion of a heavily diluted dose!

  8. BigV

    Alcohol is just an adult sippy cup. . .wah i need my baby bottle. . .its all a conspiracy. . .28 yr old, done drinking. . over it. . .don’t need to make ceo’s of booze companies rich. . . “You don’t need that” is the new mantra of my life. Alcohol= “you don’t need that”. . .

  9. Your opening statements in this article warning of the negative health impacts of drinking alcohol are so very helpful to me. I am not an alcoholic but have a knowledge and fear of the very real possibility of one becoming addicted if alcohol consumption is not kept in check or eliminated. The negative effects on our bodies is yet another reminder to me to consider why I ever feel obliged to drink alcohol at all. If a person is not yet struggling with alcoholism, then they perhaps should ask themselves why they need a drink with alcohol in it in the first place. If it is simply because “everyone else is” or “it tastes good,” then perhaps it’s time to make non-alcohol yummy drinks instead and become a leader by example rather than a follower as many of us have been in this area. After listing numerous downfalls of alcohol in your article other than addiction and the destruction of lives, I feel your five Tips should be changed to six, with the first one being, “Don’t Drink.”

  10. ferret37

    I thank God that I made a conscious decision (after being Mickey-finned at the age of 19) NEVER to smoke and NEVER to drink alcohol. At a party I get huge amusement by the junketings of the less than sober. It keeps me laughing all night! I am 77 now and tomorrow will walk with my old friend of schooldays (like-minded), for the best part of ten miles across the beautiful English Cotswolds. I do have to be careful with pastry. Too much of that makes my tummy creak a bit, but otherwise I enjoy eating and have regular outings with a lady friend. Life is GOOD!

  11. Matt Massie

    For every day usage (soft drinks, juice, etc.) I use metric, but for liquor the standard serving sizes are based on imperial measurements. Why on earth would beer come in 341mL bottles? Because it’s 12oz. Why make a 1.14L bottle of rum? Because it’s 40oz. It’s just convention, it’s easier than redefining the whole system. When I pour a shot I look for the 1oz mark, not the 29.6mL mark.

  12. Josefine

    Agree! One or two drinks must turn into a 2 week binge for me, so have to stay away completely.

  13. In North America – including Canada, where I am from, we refer to a shot as 1 oz regardless of the unit system. (In canada we use metric but a person would never refer to a shot or quantity of liquor in metric). 1oz, a pint, 2 oz etc. is the standard.

  14. scottymac

    I wish everyone would serve water at their meals, so that guests could alternate with alcohol.

  15. Emma

    Vodka, soda, lime. Still alcohol but at least you’re not wasting the calories on sugar

  16. John in Brisbane

    True, but 30 (ish) grams is pretty accepted now as a standard amount of liquor. That’s a shot in Australia. I think the amount of pure booze is 10ml. I prefer 50ml shots but 30ml is what is served here. 30 ml is nice and close to 28.4.

  17. Ben Davolls

    Ze Americans! I think a single shot is 1oz (but don’t take my word on it)

  18. John in Brisbane

    Some great numbers there. The problem is that many of us engage in “binge drinking” on a semi-regular basis. It’s pretty rare for me these days but a few drinks after work or at a party and it’s a binge. I don’t drink every day, just once in a while. I’d be keen to see articles on how to best deal with this. I’m a full sized male so for me 10 plus standard drinks at an event isn’t actually that rare. I’m probably barely tipsy. I shudder to think how much I’ve drunk on occasion. There is some handy information here but I’d like to see more real-world information as well. Particularly for the younger among us 🙂

  19. Huh?

    Who measures a liquid in ounces? We have millilitres for that! :-S

    Why force your readers to convert from the 1920’s to the current century?

  20. Skinny Dave

    That is a perfect weight watchers margarita. Patron on the rocks, squeeze of lime. Half rim of salt to top it off. Low cal. 😉

  21. ZarethKnyght

    Doesn’t it also depend on the type of alcohol being consumed? From what I understand, beer has more calories than hard liquor.

  22. Gareth

    Your opening sentence is a dangerous one for those of us who cannot control our drinking, those of us whose only answer is complete abstinence. Your opening sentence is one that can add to a feeling of alienation from ‘making merry’. I find Christmas to be a very difficult time to maintain this sobriety whilst the pressure to ‘make merry’ is ramped up.

  23. joycel9

    You cannot save up your daily limit to drink in one or two days per week. Do not exceed the daily limit anytime you drink.

  24. Sokie88

    Most Dr.’s recommend 1 drink a day for women and 2 a day for men. Is drinking your weekly intake in 1 or 2 days like saving for the weekend festivities, worse for health?

  25. Veronica S

    Trinh- can we get the count on Tequila? I’ve read that Tequila speeds the heart rate as opposed to slowing it down… Do you know anything about it? I love a nice Patron with lime on a night where I need to limit it to one or two, but let me know if I’m doing wrong, please!

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