As I mentioned in my last piece, I, like many people, gained about fifteen pounds in my first year of college. This was mostly imbibed in liquid barley/hops form. Now that I’ve started watching what I eat and tracking the calories in Cronometer, I’m stunned at just how many calories one night of college carousing must have bestowed upon me.
When I got carried away with my college pals, we’d consume a half dozen to a dozen beers (each) sometimes and then end up with “munchies”. Alcohol is one of the few things you can consume and feel hungrier.
Then we’d end up at some all-night diner like Denny’s or Waffle House or IHOP engorging on steak and eggs and bacon and waffles and pancakes and coffee. All the coffee. This pretty much doubled or tripled the calorie payload.
We did gain some weight, but it wasn’t out of control, by some miracle. Actually, not a miracle, as I detailed in my last piece. But we were noticeably beefier than our stoner compatriots in the diners. They had munchies as well, but hadn’t acquired the condition by sucking down a high-calorie liquid diet.
Alcohol can seriously add to the waistline. I’ve always been amazed at how people who are portrayed as alcoholics on TV and in the movies are so ridiculously skinny. Alcoholics in real life are blimps. Their protruding lower abdomens are not called “beer bellies” for nothing.
Unless they only eat vegetables. I guess there may be a few vegan drunks who are still skinny. But anyone who eats anything more than just fruits and vegetables can easily ruin their diet with too much alcohol. The number of calories you get from this much drinking is just astonishing.
The most ‘Merican of all ‘Merica beers (because it’s produced by a company that was founded by a German immigrant which was later bought by a Belgian/Brazilian company), Budweiser, has about 150 calories. This means an entire six-pack (something done frequently in college…by the lightweights) is 900 calories. That’s the rough equivalent of a very large meal. Such as, two hamburgers. Or a very large steak. Or about a third of a fried chicken.
There’s a reason we’re told to limit alcohol intake, apart from the liver-death-followed-by-death-death reason. These can bring serious calories. Unless we drink weak stuff. Wimp beers (light beers) bring about 125 each. Beer flavored water (ultra-light beers) still have about 90. One or two of either of these is fine (if we’re okay with the deserved low self-esteem that comes with drinking this swill), but college binge drinking still makes these add up.
But the biggest offenders are the craft beers. I’ve noticed in my town that microbreweries are popping up everywhere. And this is apparently a national trend. Some of their beers, especially the IPAs, have extra calories. These can weigh in from 175 to 225, with some extreme varieties carrying as much as 400.
Even two of these can turn a healthy day unhealthy. And if you’re guzzling these at a party, they can kill a whole week’s worth of good behavior as far as your diet is concerned. And lead to much more regrettable behavior, resulting in a generous dose of shame to go with your hangover the next day.
And there are some people for whom craft beer isn’t snobby enough. Now they drink hard cider and mead, the former of which I thought was the choice of posh British elites and the latter of which I thought went out of style with the Vikings.
Cider has 180 calories, which puts it in craft beer territory as far as potential weight gain goes. Mead has 400 calories, so unless you plan to burn those calories by constantly raiding the British coast or Northern France as the Northmen who created it did, steer clear.
And as for the drinks that make women walk right past you at the bar (wine coolers and hard lemonade) these tend to fall in the craft beer range as well. There’s no point in sacrificing my manhood and my health when I can just sacrifice my health with normal beer.
On the other hand, those newfangled alcoholic fizzy water drinks have relatively few calories. They have only 100 or so, but there is a problem. They wind you up. The only time I drank (too many of) these, I couldn’t sleep. I was amped up until about three in the morning.
I don’t have direct experience in this, but I’m told by people who do (i.e. various stand-up comedians I’m a fan of) that hammered and hyper is what happens when you mix cocaine and alcohol. So if you ever want that experience without inevitably condemning yourself to rehab, chug some White Claw. Otherwise, don’t bother.
You might be wondering, how is it that we didn’t have an obesity epidemic in the 19th century, when Americans were all raging alcoholics? The answer is, we worked for a living back then and burned off the calories. And probably died of cirrhosis before we had a chance to get fat.
Alcohol, as a rule, is the emptiest of all calories. Almost no alcoholic drink has any nutritional value. Except for wine, which has a decent amount of nutrients with only about 125 calories per glass. And boogie brunch cocktails have some nutritional value. It comes from their non-alcoholic bits, though. Better to drink fruit juice and vegetable juice without the alcohol instead of a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary.
Fortunately, the most awesome varieties of alcohol are the lowest in calories. Liquor is less terrible than most other options, typically between 90 and 100 per shot. Although if you mix it into cocktails, as many do, it gets worse. An Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Cosmopolitan, or even a simple Gin and Tonic has calories in the craft beer to mead range.
Drinking liquor to excess (a fifth every day or two) is what killed a lot of cowboys in the 19th century. But If you sip it nice and slowly, like you’re supposed to, it’s the healthiest option. My preference is the most ‘Merican of all ‘Merica beverages, the national drink of the United States, the most patriotic libation there is: Bourbon. Sipping a couple of these over a couple of hours will leave you happy and low-cal.
And one of my local microbreweries makes a light IPA (yes, it’s an actual thing) with only 118 calories. So I can have low-calorie beer without turning in my man card. I can feel snooty and superior as well, since I’m drinking a craft beer and not the weak, watery low-brow beers preferred by the great masses of the unwashed.
I’m not saying you should stop drinking. Unless you’re truly an alcoholic, in which case you should totally stop drinking. I’m convinced that one of the things that ruins weight loss programs is when people feel obligated to give up too many of the things they love. Eventually, the urge to cheat overwhelms even the strongest will.
The trick is to keep doing what you love, but be mindful of the consequences, moderate your intake, and choose lower calorie options when possible. And measuring this regularly with an app like Cronometer helps. You’ll think twice before having another drink. Although if you occasionally go nuts at a party, that’s fine. You can make up for it after you’ve recovered from the pain and remorse the next day.
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