When it comes to the best strategies for weight loss, it's no surprise that cutting back on alcohol or totally hopping aboard the ol' sobriety wagon is the ideal option.
Of course, green tea is the better thing to sip on when it comes to shedding belly fat, but—real talk—sometimes that glass of red wine at happy hour does more good for your soul than that 90-minute yoga class does.
So, here's the good news! If you're going to imbibe, there are certainly ways you can incorporate alcohol (in moderation) into your healthy eating plan.
So gather around ye olde punch bowl as top nutritionists reveal their go-to booze tactics that help to keep weight gain at bay. Then, grab a low-calorie cocktail mixer and make sure you're not guilty of these weird reasons you're gaining weight so fast.
Choose 'Ultra Brut' Champagne
"Ultra Brut" in the champagne world is the same as "no added sugar" in the nutrition world. And that means fewer calories (and a lower chance of a pesky hangover the next day). What doesn't count, however, is serving your Ultra Brut Champagne as a mimosa, which will cut your alcohol content in half, but fill it up with even more sugary liquids. And while you have breakfast cocktails on the mind, find out the best breakfast habits for weight loss!
Take Water Breaks
"Make sure you have at least one or two glasses of water for each drink—and that you never drink on an empty stomach," says Abbey Sharp, RD, of Abbey's Kitchen. And have a hearty meal before drinking, too. "Alcohol is absorbed through the stomach, so having food in your belly will help slow down the rate at which the alcohol is absorbed, taking a longer time to get drunk," adds Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, and author of the book, Body Kindness.
Use Low-Cal Mixers
"The best mixers are ones that are lower in sugar and calories, such as seltzer, unsweetened iced tea, unsweetened coffee, or a touch of 100 percent juice," says Toby Amidor, MS, RD author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen and owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition. For an epic cocktail, add fresh ingredients like herbs or cucumber slices, or muddle raspberries, suggests Amidor. You'll have a fancier-looking cocktail without the calories of those sugary fruit juices. Or, you can buy one of these premade low-calorie mixers.
Get in A Barre Class After—or Before—the Bar
We know—working out during a hangover sounds like the worst idea ever, but it's actually the best. "High-intensity interval workouts keep your blood pumping and help your body with the detoxification process," says Cassie Bjork, RDN, of Healthy Simple Life. She also recommends squeezing in a HITT class before you head to the bar. "It doesn't give you license to overindulge, but it can provide a metabolic boost and help you better maintain energy levels." Just make sure you stay hydrated and also hydrate before your post-drinking workout sesh.
If you can't handle such an intense routine, take a walk, suggests Scritchfield. "Some movement will help your body speed up the metabolizing of the alcohol." So, in short, something is better than nothing.
Choose a Mojito Over a Rum and Coke
You might be thinking that a mojito sounds like the wrong pick over a simple one-two punch of rum and coke, but think again: "Rum drinkers [should] choose a mojito over a rum and Coke," advises says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. "The shots of seltzer mixed with fresh lime, mint, and a splash of simple syrup contain less added sugar than a soda mixer such as a cola. Also, the fresh mint and lime pack in a source of antioxidants to add to the nutritional value of your beverage." Just make sure they go easy on the simple syrup. Request the bartender just use a smidge of sweetener, or even leave it out altogether and ask for extra mint.
Opt for a Black Russian Over a White Russian
Sorry, Big Lebowski fans."While the black russian is made just with vodka and coffee liqueur, the white Russian is much sweeter," comments Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, registered dietitian and founder of The WellNecessities. "And it's made with kahlua or cream, which is high in fat and total calories."
Order a Vodka Soda Over a Vodka Tonic
There is a huge misconception that seltzer and tonic are the same. But vodka tonic drinkers, listen up: "Mixed with soda [seltzer] and a lime, a vodka soda is the much slimmed-down version of a vodka tonic in which the tonic mix adds 80 calories from sugar per eight ounces," says Palinski-Wade. "Replacing any sugary mixer with seltzer is a great way to slim down a mixed drink and remove much of the added sugar."
Mitzi Dulan, RD, author of The Pinterest Diet: How to Pin Your Way Thin and team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals adds: "Seltzer is simply carbonated water with zero calories. There are a lot of flavored options that are also zero calories with no artificial sweeteners—so you can mix up your own or ask if the bar has any." Tonic is more similar to soda with a large amount of sugar. Cut down on your sugar consumption in general with these easy ways to stop eating sugar.
Avoid Creamy or Sugary Shots
Each shot of hard liquor is about 100-130 calories; but once you add the mixer for the shot (sugar, cream, etc.), you'll most likely double or calories at least, say The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. "Stick with hard alcohol such as vodka, whiskey, gin, and rum, which after distilling have nothing left but the alcohol and no carbs."
Bottom line: Choices like apple pie shots get two thumbs down.
Vodka Fan? Pick Cranberry Juice for Your Mixer
Vodka with diet sprite clocks in at 70 calories per 8.5 ounces, and diet cranberry juice and vodka is also 70 calories per 8.5 ounces. "Although the calories are equal, we'll give the edge to the drink made with cranberry juice since research seems to show it can fight urinary tract infections," The Nutrition Twins say.
Indulge in a Vodka Pineapple Over a Piña Colada
"While the piña colada looks like an innocent vacation beverage, they can run up to 500 calories—much of which comes from its saturated fat and added sugars," states Hayim. Still want that pineapple flavor? Try vodka and pineapple juice instead. And make sure to eat some pineapple, too, if you're making it at home. Toss any leftover pineapple into your next morning smoothie. Check out these smoothie recipes for weight loss for inspiration and how-to's!
Skip the G&T
"G&T, please" may roll off your tongue easily by now, but nix the habit and swap it for a gin and soda to save a whole lotta calories and sugar. "Tonic surprisingly has almost as many calories and sugar as sodas such as Coke and Sprite," says Hayim (See Tip #7!). "Soda water, on the other hand, better known as seltzer, is just carbonated water; it's got no calories or sugar."
Raise a Glass of Bubbly
Did you really need an excuse to bring on the bubbles? Instead of wine or beer, opt for some champagne, Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), or Cava (Spanish sparkling wine); a four-ounce glass is around 85 calories. Bonus: "Champagne is bubbly, so it can help slow you own if you tend to guzzle your alcohol," add The Nutrition Twins. But do know that carbonated beverages can make you bloat a bit—in which case you'll need this comprehensive guide on how to stop belly bloat fast!
Order an Amaretto Sour Over a Long Island Iced Tea
Don't make either of these drinks a regular in your routine. But if deciding between the two, go for an amaretto sour. "Although neither drink is a slimming option, an eight-ounce Long Island iced tea packs in as much as 780 calories!" cautions Palinski-Wade. "Compared to 560 calories in an eight-ounce amaretto sour, you can get the same sweet and sour flavor while saving over 200 calories." Bonus: The lower alcohol content can help you to avoid a wicked hangover the next day.
Try a Sea Breeze
This elegant-sounding drink is as refreshing as it sounds. "A sea breeze with four ounces of grapefruit juice, one and a half ounces of cranberry juice, and one ounce of vodka will be about 180 calories," says celebrity nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RDN. Grapefruits also just happen to be a wonderful pick when it comes to selecting the best fruits for fat loss.
Choose Red Over White
"When consumed in moderation, the resveratrol (an antioxidant) found in red the wine is believed to have heart health benefits as it helps prevent blood vessel damage and reduces your 'bad cholesterol,'" offers Hayim. "And although red wine contains slightly more calories than white, it can still be the best choice thanks to its higher resveratrol content. In addition, a recent study found the allergic acids in red wine may help delay the growth of fat cells and slow the development of new ones," adds Palinski-Wade.
Even Better: Make it a Red Wine Spritzer
Made simply with red wine and sparkling water or seltzer (plop in a few berries, if you'd like), you can unwind guilt-free at your next festive gathering with one of these smart drinks. "Red wine, known for its powerful polyphenols helps to keep the heart healthy when enjoyed in moderation (one a day) certainly takes the prize! But your best bet is to make a wine spritzer to cut the calories and add bubbles to prevent guzzling!" share The Nutrition Twins.
Skip the Frozen Stuff
Frozen margaritas, frozen daiquiris, frozen coladas—they're all calorie bombs. And yes, even on vacation. "Have a margarita on the rocks versus a frozen margarita, which has more sugar and calories," advises Dulan.
No Matter What You Drink, Savor Slowly
Whatever your sipper of choice, drink it slowly and mindfully. "Keep in mind that alcohol not only makes you hungrier but it also lowers inhibitions and makes you care less about what you're eating, too, so temptations can get out of hand! Drinking slowly will help you to consume fewer calories," elaborate The Nutrition Twins. Find out the foods that make you hungrier so you don't accidentally do too much damage!
Beware the Big Groups
A night out—or hey, a really great afternoon—with friends and some imbibing can help relieve stress, strengthen relationships and bonds, and lead to all sorts of memories. We're not about to tell you not to hang out with your big ol' crew. But you should know that, according to a 2015 study by the University of California, San Francisco, people consume more drinks per hour if they're with a large group. In fact, there's a direct correlation between the number of drinks and the number of people. So if you just feel like hanging with a couple of your best buds instead of rolling with a squad of 10, this is a fine excuse!
Rethink Red Bull as a Mixer
We all know the rule that you shouldn't mix energy drinks and alcohol—but many people still do. Perhaps you justify your "just one" vodka Red Bull to yourself because you feel you need it to rally when it's 11 p.m. on Saturday, and you'd rather be curled up on your couch. But if the risk-to-your-heart warnings aren't enough, then remember that energy drinks—even the sugar-free ones—are more often than not packed with chemical-y concoctions, caffeine, calories, and all sorts of additives.
Drink a Bloody Mary Over Pretty Much Everything else
Sweet news for brunch aficionados: "A bloody mary is low in calories with a little added alcohol, and you can enjoy 'em while eating low-calorie celery. You'll also get a hint of nutrition from the tomato juice," explains Dulan. "It's also a better brunch option than a mimosa, as a Bloody Mary has around 125 calories, and less sugar, with the tomato juice offering vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin A," adds DeFazio. Just be sure to skip the bacon; more healthy toppings include: olives, string beans and protein-packed jumbo shrimp, if available. If you're in the mood for a second to wash down your meal, try ordering a virgin bloody. The taste profile is pretty much identical, and you'll save yourself from excess calories and a sluggish feeling later.
Sip on a Hot Apple Cider Over a Hot Toddy
"A hot toddy is usually made with tea, brandy, and honey," says Hayim. "The honey amount varies and can add up to a shocking amount of almost 200 calories! The hot apple cider, on the other hand, will likely not have added sugar, and may even contain some nutrients."
Drink Light Beer to Save Yourself 1 Pound Every Month
"It's a no-brainer, but the light beers really save your waistline!" offer The Nutrition Twins. Light beer has one-third fewer calories than regular beer. So a regular beer is 150 calories, and the light version is 100. "You may not think of this as that much, but with the way many people love to chug beers, every five beers you'll save 250 calories," they say. That would be half a pound, or 1 pound every month if you were to consume that much once every other weekend.
Toast to the Good Times with This Healthier Riff on a Margarita
If you're a margarita enthusiast, try this: "Instead of a margarita, order tequila on the rocks with club soda, and add a squeeze of lime. This eliminates all of the sugar and many of the calories in a margarita," suggests DeFazio.