It’s hard to think of this festive season without some holiday cheer (read: booze). Whether you’re hosting a Friendsgiving, coming as the plus one to your SO’s company holiday party, or making an obligatory appearance at Aunt Mary’s annual gathering, alcohol is often 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, 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 less 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 do 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
When it comes to H2O, healthy women don’t mess around, especially if they’re enjoying a drink. So the first order of business when you arrive at your holiday soiree? Start with a large glass of water and lemon before you start drinking to fill your stomach and prevent over-drinking à la Kingsley. Then, to nip dehydration in the bud, double-fist it, except make it 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
Before you pour yourself a tall one, avoid the all-too-familiar hangover by filling your stomach with nutritious foods. “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 a light meal or bite here and there won’t cut it if you’re planning to bottom’s up! If you have a get-together in the evening, Bogden encouraged starting your day with a balanced breakfast and appropriate meals and snacks to follow. And 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. So nourish your body with good-for-you eats (AKA protein, whole grains, and healthy fats) before and while you drink.
Reach for healthier 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 the very things that 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 to 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 bevvies. 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.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this drinking trick healthy women always keep up their sleeves, thanks to Caitlin Carr, MS, a registered dietitian: 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 3-4 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 nightcap all party long, take two swigs of a bevvy and call it a night, or sample a few festive 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, ladies. 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
Throwing a few back with 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 sobriety, of course), these natural remedies come pretty darn close.