During the holidays, everyone drinks more.
It’s just inevitable, with holiday parties at work, seasonal soirees with friends and multiple family occasions—almost every night is another opportunity to socialize and celebrate, cocktail in hand.
The stress of the season doesn’t help, either. Long lines and crowded stores, your rapidly decreasing account balance, and hours spent with grouchy relatives who love to talk politics will drive anyone to throw back a hot toddy…or five.
And while it seems intuitive that health-minded individuals would be less likely to reach for the booze, the opposite may be true.
“People who are weight-conscious tend to hold back on the food and go for the drinks as an alternative,” said Lisa Cohn, a registered dietician and the founder of Park Avenue Nutrition on the Upper East Side.
It makes sense—if you have to pass on something, it may seem like a healthier choice to skip dessert and sip a martini. But overdrinking can seriously impact your physical and mental health, causing negative side effects like weight gain and depression.
Don’t worry; becoming a teetotaler is not your only option.
“A celebratory toast with glass in hand can actually enhance your healthy eating,” said Cohn. Allowing yourself occasional pleasures and partaking in socially enjoyable activities will have positive effects on your health.
You just have to do it right.
Here are some of Cohn’s easy tips for toasting your health without compromising it.
Pay attention to calories
Don’t become obsessive about adding them up on your iPhone calculator, but be aware that many drinks you indulge in could be adding empty calories to your already holiday-stressed diet.
The caloric danger is often not in the alcohol but in the mixer. “Avoid heavily sugared and highly salted mixers and creamy, rich options that are high in fats and sugars,” said Cohn.
Here are some handy calorie count estimates for standard servings of popular holiday beverages. The numbers are approximations—they can vary depending on the type and brand of the alcohol, on the bartender’s recipes and serving sizes.
Red wine (5 oz. glass): 125
Bailey’s Irish Cream (1.3 oz. on the rocks): 94
Eggnog (8 oz. glass): 224
Hot Toddy (6 oz. glass): 150
Scotch (1 oz.): 69
Irish Coffee: 100–200 (This is a hard one to peg. Some people make it with whiskey, some with Baileys, and the addition of creamer or whipped cream makes a huge difference.)
Make better choices
You can take avoiding fatty mixers one step further by opting for drinks that have health benefits built in. Red wine, for example, has antioxidants like resveratrol, a polyphenol that has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors in mice.
No matter what you’re drinking, the amount you imbibe is key. Cohn suggests aiming for no more than two to four drinks per 24 hours.
Keep portion sizes in mind when drinking as well—12 ounces of a winter lager is not the same thing as 12 ounces of whiskey.
Counteract with healthy habits
Drinking taxes your liver and your brain, but there are lots of things you can do to help reduce its effects. Cohn says that staying hydrated is the most important; she recommends matching every ounce of alcohol with 16 ounces of water.
And the whole eating-instead-of-drinking thing? Forget it. It’s a bad idea to drink on an empty stomach, and it will seriously mess with your already strained digestive system. Snack on lean, healthy holiday foods like shrimp cocktail, roasted vegetables and turkey.
Speaking of your digestive system, it’s going to need some help to deal with all of that acid you’re adding. “Eat foods that are soothing,” Cohn suggests. “Blueberries, ginger tea, aloe beverages and coconut water can be helpful.”
If you’re unsuccessful and the holiday mania drives you to go a little overboard, don’t sleep all day (and don’t fall for the hair-of-the-dog approach). “Hydrate yourself and take a light walk to get the system moving,” Cohn said.
If nothing else, comfort yourself with the fact that it will all be over soon and you’ll be back to your healthy routine. “It may look dramatic,” said Cohn, “but in reality it’s just temporary.”
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