It’s hard to think of this festive season without some holiday cheer (read: booze). Whether you’re coming as the plus one to your SO’s company holiday party or going out on New Year’s Eve, alcohol is probably the common denominator. There’s no denying holidays are synonymous with a seemingly endless flow of libations and feasts complete with the usual suspects: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, apple pie, and sugar cookies. But if you’re looking for hacks to enjoy your mulled wines and apple cider cocktails in moderation rather than going cold turkey ahead of Dry January, I’ve got good news: You can have your cake and eat it too. Read on for a how-to guide on drinking during the holidays—healthy women edition.
What is considered “healthy drinking?”
When it comes to taking a healthy approach to drinking alcohol, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. We each have our own definition of a healthy amount and cut-off number, which varies depending on our biological sex, age, health, and body composition. It also doesn’t help that alcohol and health is a subject long disputed by wellness experts. While some studies promote the health benefits of alcohol like red wine, other studies and experts say no consumption of alcohol is healthy.
If you’re looking for a general rule of thumb, Christine Kingsley, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the Lung Institute, broke it down for us: “Practicing healthy drinking limits them to three or fewer regular alcoholic drinks per day.” (It’s also important to keep in mind that not all drinks are created equal: a true serving of alcohol is 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (think: gin, vodka, whiskey), 5 ounces of wine, and 12 ounces of beer.)
She also cited that fewer alcohol-digesting enzymes and more significant hormonal alterations due to menstruation and birth control contribute to our diminished ability to process alcohol, so mindful drinking is key. Bottom line: Always listen to your body. Is it giving you cues that you’ve had enough after knocking back two pomegranate mojitos? Instead of limiting or shaming yourself for what you drink, know what your personal limits are and practice a mindfulness-based approach to drinking.
Hacks healthy women use to sip smarter during the holidays:
Keep the water coming
The first order of business when you arrive at your holiday soiree? Kingsley recommends starting with a large glass of water and lemon before you start drinking to begin hydrating and help you prevent over-drinking. Then double-fist it throughout the night with your drink of choice and water. “It’s one of the oldest, but smartest tricks in the book: After every glass of alcohol, consume a glass of water,” said Kylene Bogden, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Co-Founder of FWDfuel. “This allows your body’s natural detoxification system enough time to properly filter, leading to more restful sleep that night and less of a hangover the next day.” Enough said.
Eat well-balanced meals before and after consuming alcohol
To support your body through alcohol consumption and prevent a hangover the next day, it’s essential to fuel your body with nutrients both as you’re drinking and before. “Be sure to consume a protein-rich meal or snack, ideally before you take your first sip of alcohol or alongside the drink,” Bogden suggested. “This slows your body’s digestion of alcohol, therefore ensuring better blood sugar control and less intoxicating effects of alcohol.”
Healthy women know that true health means adding nutrients your body can use as fuel–especially if you’re adding in toxins or dehydration through alcohol. If you have a get-together in the evening, Bogden encourages starting your day with a balanced breakfast. In all meals and snacks throughout the day, make sure they include plenty of clean protein, fat, and phytonutrients. Also, a PSA for those first-thing-in-the-morning coffee drinkers: Downing coffee on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster for your cortisol, and adding alcohol to the mix without the proper fuel can harm your metabolic health. Bottom line: Mindfully enjoy alcohol when you want to, but support your body through nutrient-dense foods before, during, and after.
Reach for healthier drink options
Plain and simple: Pass on the mixed drinks high in sugar that leave you with nothing more than a sugar-induced coma and hangover (looking at you, spiked eggnog). Instead, stick with a single, clear alcohol, like vodka, tequila, and gin. “The colors and flavors are what make these drinks silent killers,” warned Kingsley. “Their characteristics motivate you to consume more, potentially resulting in over-drinking and dehydration.”
Another tried-and-true substitute for sugary cocktails? “Opt for wines. Red or white wine is a great alternative for alcohol during holiday gatherings because they take longer to drink and, therefore, promote moderate drinking,” Kingsley explained. “Wines can also offer health benefits through their antioxidant properties.” Or switch it up with non-alcoholic bevies. From bubbly and spirits to beer and wine, take your pick of booze-free refreshments that pack in flavor without the undesirable side effects of alcohol, caffeine, added sugars, and artificial flavors.
Another option for healthier drinking is this trick from registered dietician Caitlin Carr, MS: Dilute your drink with carbonated or sparkling water and make it a spritzer, especially when the family bartender (AKA Dad) tends to have a heavy hand. You’ll get a boost of hydration with every sip.
Make a plan
Whether it’s establishing a drink curfew, limit, accountability partner, or all of the above, have a plan of action before your festivity. Healthy women curb their alcohol intake 3ish hours before bed–otherwise, booze can disrupt their Zzzs (beauty rest is a non-negotiable, after all!). And they put realistic goals in place when setting their drink maximum. Maybe you nurse one glass of wine all party long, take two sips of the festive cocktail, or sample a few drinks with friends—only you can determine what’s best for you. If you know you tend to overdo it when you’re in a celebratory mood, consider putting a buddy system in place. Check in with one another and monitor how much you and your drinking buddy are consuming—not just at one given party, but also over the days leading up to it. You can thank each other later.
Peer (or family) pressure is real. We all have that well-intentioned aunt who nudges us to have “just one more drink” with her at the Christmas family function. Or as soon as you arrive at the cookie swap, your hostess-with-the-mostest friend asks, “Can I get you a drink?” Be prepared with a response in mind, like “No, thank you. I’m done for the night,” or “I’m opting out tonight, but I appreciate the offer.” Healthy women know when to draw the line and say “no” because drinking should always be a choice and not an obligation. Being open and honest with your loved ones about your health goals can help clear the air and set the tone for future meet-ups. And if you’re invited to an event you know will be overflowing with alcohol, it’s OK to forgo it all together (JOMO, FTW).
Have supplements at the ready
The support of some supplements can mean the difference between waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and facing the morning-after misery. “Start supporting your body’s natural filtration system (kidneys and liver) before you feel poorly,” Bogden advised. “In my practice, I recommend a B complex vitamin washed down with an electrolyte-rich beverage immediately after your last drink of the day and one serving of activated charcoal right before your head hits the pillow.” Other must-haves to add to your don’t-leave-home-without emergency drinking kit? N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and milk thistle. Taking them prior to drinking, before bed, and the day after can enhance the liver’s function in metabolizing alcohol. Before adding said supplements to your routine, first check with your doctor or nutritionist. While there aren’t any guarantees to prevent a hangover (except for completely opting out, of course), these natural remedies come pretty darn close.