Losing weight is hard. What’s even harder is losing weight if you enjoy a good drink. Alcohol is the number one source of “empty calories,” that phrase which implies even though it’s not real food, you will gain weight from consuming it. This is especially troublesome for a professional drinker. And when I say “professional,” I don’t mean that I am merely skilled at doing it and do it often, but that I do it for a living.

For years, I was in denial about how much my consumption of alcohol, even just for work, was contributing to my increasing weight gain. This got even worse when I became more interested in cocktails, but still loyal to my first love, wine. What I didn’t realize is this is like having your cake, and then having more cake.

Photo courtesy Nemo's great uncle via Flickr/CC
I finally decided to do something once and for all last December. I’d seen a couple of friends who share aspects of my lifestyle successfully shed some pounds while still able to stay social and enjoy the good life. I could do this. I’d done it before, but back then I also didn’t drink like I was starring in a Thin Man movie.

I’ve lost thirty pounds and counting since I’ve started. Granted, this process has been slow. And subject to fluctuation. But overall, it’s worked and it will stay off now that I have some key information.

The main thing is to triumph quality over quantity. Cutting down portion size, moving around more. Gee, who knew? But it’s not that simple when faced with so many delicious choices, is it? You have to ask yourself again and again, like an inner voice from an After School Special, “Is it worth it?”

Here is what I’ve discovered about the various species of alcoholic drinks, what sort of maximum density they can contribute to, and how to drink them anyway. And please remember to hydrate with a glass of water between each drink, even if you just have one or two, and before bed.

If you’re going to drink, wine will do the least amount of damage, especially dry white or sparkling. But you have to start adding it up. Two glasses (because who drinks only one glass of wine?) is equivalent to a modest turkey sandwich on whole wheat with mustard (hold the mayo). Or a half-cup serving of ice cream. So think about what three will do. And four. Is it worth it? If you are opening a bottle you’ve been saving or really wanting to try, or are participating in a special wine dinner, or gathering with dear friends, or an informative trade tasting, or because it just seems like a good time to reward yourself, then yes it is. Otherwise, after those two glasses, put a cork in it. But if you do indulge, find a way to balance it out over the next couple of days with more exercise and less decadent intake.

One 12 oz. beer is like having a glass and a half of wine, damage-wise. So there’s your mind map for brew. And the reason why Norm on Cheers is so much fatter than Frasier.

Most spirits in their essence are nominally more destructive to the waist than wine and pretty much apply the same rules. However, spirits tend to be more perilous. Because a) servings can sometimes be bigger than you realize depending on who poured your drink b) they get you drunk faster so you lose count c) they in some cases can lead to a “final dram” or three. Is it worth it? Once again, it’s a balance of the experience and pleasure. If it’s something new to me that furthers my spirits knowledge, or something I love but don’t get very often, yes. If someone has bought it for me, because I am cheap, damnit, yes. If this seems like another opportunity to reward yourself, yes. But once again, if you indulge, find a balance. Once the alien trying to escape from between your eyes retreats, of course.

Cocktails are sadly the worst offenders. My favorite cocktail is a Manhattan. I had no idea that one of those is the same as eating fifteen French fries. Supersize it with two or more. It’s all that heavy (wonderful) booze in just one glass. Negronis too, even though they’re bitter. However, a margarita, thanks to some fruit juice (because you’d never drink one made of nasty prefab sour mix, right?) is a bit less. Even better is any one spirit mixed with plain club soda. Or if you must, tonic (you can actually have two G & T’s for one Manhattan). To sum up: All booze, that’s a treat. Only have one. But you probably shouldn’t have anything else if you plan to stay on track. Booze plus juice, like a Bloody Mary or sour, not as bad. You can have two. Otherwise, spirit plus fizz and you can’t go wrong. Well, except if you have four of them.

But the biggest trick I’ve learned? Bitters are my friends. And they should be yours too. Especially nowadays that so many great ones of all flavors from Apricot to Mole to Sriracha to WhiskeyBarrel are available. Even the diviest, crustiest of bars will have Angostura or something back there (although so-called “upscale” bars will charge you $5 for it). It only takes a couple of dashes for flavor, which have almost no carb value. So get yourself a club soda, add some bitters and maybe a lemon and you have a refreshing, guiltless, cocktail that will taste good and maybe give you a slight buzz (most bitters have a high percentage of alcohol, but keep in mind, you’re only having a few dashes. You wouldn’t want more anyway). Plus, this makes you feel like you’re actually having a drink! Genius.

A word about drunk eating: So you’ve had a couple and dinner was like six hours ago. Something fried and greasy sounds pretty amazing right about now. Or pizza. When’s the last time you had pizza? My advice: don’t. You’re actually not really that hungry, it’s just your taste buds feeling amorous. Have a few nuts or a small bit of cheese, then see how you feel. If you’re still starving, have a little, emphasis on little, something. But chances are, that was enough to see you through ‘till morning and the munchies storm passed.

All this is not to say I haven’t had to make sacrifices and sometimes feel like I’m missing out. I sometimes glance down at my soda and bitters, and my liver calls out to the whisky shelf like Droopy Dog. But after doing some math and finding ways to compensate if I do indulge, I’ve been able to enjoy outings for all their worth a couple of times a week. Plus, now most of my favorite clothes fit and I don’t run for cover, a really BIG cover, if I see a camera pointed at me. Not to mention, when something’s a treat and you only have it on occasion, it just tastes all that much better. It’s like having your cake… and eating really good cake.