Oh, the festive holiday advertising. It’s always some big, jovial gathering of happy people and a resplendent spread of mouthwatering food, from simple salads to sumptuous desserts. And, of course, drinking alcohol. No good meal is complete without the tinking of wine glasses, or a hearty beer, or later, a rich, smooth cocktail in front of the fire.
So they tell us, anyway. But what they don’t tell us are all the downsides of adding that essential alcoholic beverage to our celebrations, and we’re only talking about the nutritional considerations, here.
We all know that, generally speaking, even the most conscientious dieters, the most rigorous of careful eaters, will usually relax their usual standards to make room for some holiday indulgences.
You don’t even need a big holiday. Researchers who track eating patterns have shown that we Americans tend to significantly increase our caloric intake even over weekends, as compared to weekdays. We eat and drink more on the weekends, but you may be surprised by where most of our weekend calories are coming from.
A recent study found that among American adults aged 19 through 50, the biggest increase in caloric intake on weekends came not from indulging in extra desserts or having another afternoon snack, but from drinking alcohol. And if we up the volume on the alcohol for any old weekend off, think how this might play out when we’re feeling compelled by tradition at one holiday party after another.
People don’t often think of drinking alcohol as a calorie source. It’s not hard to see why. We usually think of getting our calories from sources of nutrition. There’s no nutritional value to alcohol at all, and while you may pick up a few carbs from beers and even a little fat from the goodies that go into some of those fancy holiday mixed drinks, you’re just not very likely to count them. That means your imbibing could represent a stealthy - but potentially significant - source of calories.
We know that even among people who tend to pay attention to caloric intake, liquid calories often slip in unnoticed. It is not only drinking alcohol that we need to be careful of. Research shows that even with non-alcoholic beverages, people forget to count the caloric content of their drinks.
Sodas are the main offender of adding stealth calories to the American diet, but they are not alone. There’s a pretty good chance those extra weekend beers, or that cup of holiday grog just won’t get factored into the overall calorie count, or compensated for by cuts elsewhere.
The other issue for diet is really the main problem with drinking alcohol in general. It lowers inhibitions. The same affect that makes one drink lead to another, can also make one drink to lead to, say, a second serving of thick, cheesy au gratin potatoes, or another slice of double chocolate sin cake.
One glass of wine or a beer, depending on the type, is likely to add between 80 and 180 calories. That’s not so much, in itself. But the relaxed attitude and lowered inhibitions most people get from that first glass of wine or beer usually make the second drink - complete with all its calories - seem more appealing.
And it has that same affect for all the lovely, tempting food that we were only going to have in moderation this year (really, this year we MEAN it!). This is especially likely to come into play during the holidays, because it’s already a special occasion, and we’re already making exceptions to our rules. A bit of the vino is most likely to further lower your prudent resistance to other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.
The solution, as always, is moderation and balance. And if you think through the drink, and plan ahead for the impulse that is likely to come, you can be prepared to say “No, thanks” to that thick creamy, rummy egg nog, or the extra piece of cheesecake that’s offered along side it.
Finally, even though the alluring holiday ads show us the most festive, joyous, convivial gatherings we could imagine, the truth is that people are often thrown into social situations during the holidays that they might normally prefer to avoid. Parties at the inlaws aren’t always a blast. Politely listening to Great Uncle Willard drone on about his fuel injector might be a real strain. Company parties can sometimes be an awkward, uncomfortable drag.
In such situations, people are at risk of needless nibbling or drinking more than they’d planned, just out of nervousness or, let’s face it, boredom.
Plan ahead for that possibility. Wear something with pockets so you can comfortably stand with your hands idle instead of wrapped around a beer you didn’t really want. Ask for iced tea or diet soda or just plain water to go with your meal. And when it’s time for after-dinner drinks, make yours coffee or tea.
There are other concerns associated with overindulging in alcohol, but you likely know those already. If you overdo it, your hangover will probably fade after a day, and eventually you’ll live down doing the hokey pokey on the coffee table. But the extra pounds from extra drinking and eating could be harder to shake.
Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Sean Locke