Making Weight

The Calorie-Counting Drinker

The facts about losing weight and drinking spirits and cocktails.

01.09.17 6:00 AM ET

Between Christmas cookies, Hanukkah latkes, chocolate truffles, and copious cups of eggnog, it’s no wonder your clothes fit a bit tighter than they did before the holidays.

It’s round about this time that gyms overflow with new members invigorated by New Year’s resolutions, many of whom are equally eager to shave excess calories from their now more buttoned-up (no three-course holiday lunch today?) diets. But given the number of articles recently published extolling the virtues of abstaining from alcohol during the next few weeks, a so-called dry January, drinkers have some things to think about, too.

While giving up alcohol for a month is a personal decision and may have some wellness benefits, like possibly better sleep, it might not necessarily translate into major weight loss for one who enjoys a moderate volume of cocktails and spirits. The reason? Hard alcohol isn’t that caloric. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a one-and-a-half-ounce shot of an 80-proof whiskey, gin, vodka, or rum contains 97 calories and no carbohydrates. A 12-ounce can of regular beer, on the other hand, has roughly 153 calories and more than 12 grams of carbs, and a 5-ounce glass of wine has 121 calories and nearly 4 grams of carbs.

So what are the real culprits? Many mixed drinks are highly caloric because of their additional sweet ingredients, including fruit juices, cola, ginger beer, and sugar-based simple syrup. Even tonic water is often loaded with calories and made with high-fructose corn syrup.

And while the wildly inventive mocktails currently popping up on bar menus may offer January teetotalers delicious non-alcoholic options, they aren’t necessarily low-cal, often calling for the same sweet sugar-based syrups, fresh-squeezed juices, and sodas that are used in their boozy counterparts.

So what’s a calorie-counting drinker to do? Stick to simple boozy cocktails like Dry Martinis and Manhattans or whiskey and club soda. (Perhaps these classic 1950s concoctions helped keep the man in the gray flannel suit in his well-tailored clothing.) Avoid decadent blender drinks, including Piña Coladas and frozen Margaritas, and steer clear of complex tiki concoctions that involve multiple types of rum, juices, and syrups.

And as a rule, try to drink lower-proof booze. The higher the alcohol content the more caloric the spirit. (For instance, an ounce-and-a-half shot of a 100-proof whiskey or vodka has nearly 30 more calories than an 80-proof version.) And read labels. If you like Gin & Tonics, seek out craft brands of tonic water like Fever-Tree and Q Tonic that are packed with flavor, made with real quinine, and are far less sweet than common supermarket brands.

But no matter your standard tipple, exercise some moderation—both in the number and in the size of the drinks you consume. I can’t take credit for this idea. Cocktails weren’t traditionally served in the outsize vessels that have grown increasingly ubiquitous, so shoot for a 2 1/2- or 3-ounce glass instead. At that size, your drink will stay at its ideal frosty temperature straight through till the last drop—and you just might be able to work in one more without upending your thoughtful tippling strategies for the New Year.