The holidays are infamous for overindulgence. From too many gifts and too much family time to excessive amounts of food and alcohol, by the time Jan. 1 rolls around, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a bloated, dazed state, wondering where it all went so horribly wrong.
Now, we’re all about enjoying the holiday season and the treats it has to offer, but particularly in the case of alcohol, overdoing it can be dangerous. Studies show that drinking too much is correlated with everything from depression and anxiety to heart disease and cancer.
Here’s the good news about alcohol and the holiday season: You can drink, you just can’t drink too much. Here’s everything you need to know about exactly how many cocktails and glasses of mulled wine you should be limiting yourself to this month.
How many drinks are too many?
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Binge drinking is never a good idea. The American Heart Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, but that doesn’t mean you should drink seven drinks on one night just because you abstained all week.
Gut health specialist Vincent Pedre and RD for Lose It! Kelli McGrane strongly recommend sticking to the one-to-two drinks per night rule — yes, even during the holiday season. But should you overdo it (hey, it happens), Pedre says it’s all about pacing yourself.
“Make sure you eat while you’re drinking to help slow down the absorption of alcohol, and limit yourself to one drink per hour, with no more than four drinks in a night,” he told HuffPost. “That said, this advice is general, and if you have a smaller frame, you won’t be able to drink more than two drinks. Know yourself. Listen to your body.”
Ditch the sugar where you can.
During the holiday season, you’re surrounded by every kind of drink imaginable — looking at you, eggnog — but not all alcoholic beverages are created equal. In general, sugary beverages will leave you feeling worse than nonsugary ones and are more likely to lead to weight gain.
If you’re looking to get through the holiday season hangover-free and still fitting into your favorite pair of jeans, the most important thing to do is watch your mixers.
“While there are limited studies out there promoting health benefits of tequila, red wine and whiskey, the more important factors are what you’re mixing with and which drink can you drink slower and savor for longer,” said McGrane. “To keep calories in check, avoid drinks with heavy cream, soda and sugary fruit juices. If you don’t like your spirits straight up or on the rocks, you can keep calories lower with many of the classic cocktails: old-fashioned or Manhattan, paloma, mojito, Sazerac, gin and tonic, and martinis.”
Pedre, on the other hand, is all about tequila and spritzers. “The lowest-calorie, lowest-sugar drink you can have is a tequila on the rocks (that is, on ice),” he said. “Tequila is low in sugar, easier to metabolize than other alcohols, and a great choice if you are watching your weight. Next up and lighter, a white wine spritzer. It has less alcohol than tequila and the bubbles give it a festive feel.”
How to cut back on alcohol without sacrificing fun.
If one or two low-sugar drinks an evening sounds like a snoozefest of a holiday season to you, worry not: There are plenty of ways to cut back on alcohol without sacrificing fun. “Keep things sparkly with kombucha,” McGrane suggested. “Similar to a wine spritzer, replacing part of your wine or spirit with kombucha will decrease calories and alcohol, while still providing plenty of flavor.”
Pedre suggested simply focusing on being present. “Fun is all about spontaneity and being in the present moment,” he said. “If you’ve used alcohol to loosen up your social awkwardness, get through stressful family obligations or help you have fun in the holidays before, try to focus on engaging conversation instead.”
“We think we know our family and friends, but get curious — dig and talk about things you’ve never talked about before,” Pedre added. “Don’t let your preconceptions guide your conversations. Learn something new you never knew about someone.”
Hey, we’ll cheers to that.