Alcohol and junk food poses a challenge to diet plan all year round, but never more than throughout December. Christmas party season is well and truly here, so here’s a couple of key considerations when it comes to managing alcohol and junk food this party season!
If you missed the previous blog on managing meals out, you can find that here. This one is focused on digging in to the other challenges, specifically the “snacky junk food” and office treats, and possibly the biggest challenge at all- alcohol.
Here’s our top tips for managing both Junk food and Alcohol so you can still make progress this December.
These things are not equal..
Junk food and alcohol intake often get grouped together. Let me be clear. We’re discussing them together today as they both pose a challenge to diets throughout December, NOT because they have a similar impact.
Sure, both add Calories, which can impact fat loss, but for junk food that’s probably the worst of it. Control the Calories, and you’re on to a winner.
But for alcohol intake, this isn’t the case.
Too much alcohol, regardless of Calories can be a disaster for your health and fitness plans. Beyond the Calories, it has an impact on metabolism and what we use as fuel more than anything else, meaning even for Calorie matched plans it’ll have an impact on fat loss. More importantly, the “other” effects of alcohol can have a huge impact on your progress.
These include sleep disruption, reduced muscle adaptation and recovery, increased stress and anxiety, increased appetite, difficulty regulating heart rate and blood sugar, and more. Basically a big sh** show for fat loss.
That said, everything in heath and fitness must be seen in context, and despite these negative effects of alcohol intake, it CAN be consumed in moderation without too much disruption to your plan.
So, without further ado, here’s some tips for managing both challenges.
Minimising junk food and snacks whilst dieting
Have a Plan
When it comes to avoiding snacks/ treats and general junk foods whilst dieting, the first step is to have a plan. This sounds obvious, but if you’re not planning your nutrition in advance, you can end up falling into the trap of “one won’t hurt”, then realising you’re playing catch up all day to try and make your Calories and targets fit. More often than not, this leads to either going wildly over with Calories or missing out on protein to a level that your day is well and truly off plan.
And if you’re wondering why we’re usually over Calories, under protein, or both, it’s simple.
Junk food tends to be high sugar, high fat, and really palatable. This means we’re generally ending up much closer to- if not already past our targets for Carbs and fats after the junk food.
This leaves two options.
We’re either trying to make our numbers fit with uncomfortable and unenjoyable meals, or we eat as planned, and overshoot our goals.
However, if we have a clean plan beforehand, we can t least make an informed decision on the impact of these “snacks” before we have them, and if needed, adjust accordingly.
The other key part to this speak to the “real world” side of dieting. Even with a perfect plan, how do we make sure we can see it through. This comes down to managing hunger and environment.
First off, don’t let yourself get super hungry whilst dieting… at least, not early on. You may have periods of time where you’re feeling ready to eat, but don’t be sat constantly feeling you need more food. If you “over diet”, rational decision making will fall to the wayside, and your brain will start to tell you to get fast, easy Calories- and once again, the above cycle continues.
That’s not all “willpower”.
It’s about setting up for success. If you want to succeed on a diet, and be able to put long term success before short term cravings, you better manage hunger.
Some simple ways to do this are to focus on drinking plenty of water throughout the day, eat a good amount of protein with most (if not all) meals, minimise the intake of foods that will promote/ increase cravings (junk foods!) and probably most importantly, focus on highly nutrient dense but relatively low Calorie, natural foods such as plenty of fruit and especially veg throughout the day. This way, you can increase food volume- meaning you can eat more- without adding Calories.
Oh, and watch for fat intake. Whatever you may have been told, fat is the mot Calorie dense nutrient, so making sure you’re mindful of this is crucial.
Top Tip: Find better alternatives to your junk food that more closely match your goals, so you’re not needing to “miss out”.
Tell people you’re dieting, and home prep your food.
This way, you reduce a lot of temptation straight away.
Home prepping meals means we have far more control of the “food volume” side of the equation- the last thing you want whilst dieting is to be stuck having high Calorie, low protein, and worse tasting versions of foods you could have easily made yourself to taste better and better fit you numbers.
And why tell people?
Two reasons. First off, most people aren’t d***s, and they’ll want to help- even if that means things as simple as not pushing you into grabbing that one of their homemade cakes they brought into the office, or as simple as not pushing you into bad choices if you end up out for food.
But second, you confirm to yourself this is something you want. Telling people is scary, as we’re afraid that they’ll judge us if we don’t succeed.
But what’s the alternative? Don’t tell anyone, and end up setting up to fail? Not a good option. Tell people. Tell anyone who can help you to succeed. Don’t tell anyone who doesn’t need to know, but close friends and family who have an impact on your day to day choices, tell them.
And confirm to yourself that “you’ve got this”.
Managing Alcohol intake Whilst Dieting
Let’s start by saying, when it comes to Alcohol, all of the above still applies. Some of the most powerful tips for managing intake can include managing hunger, having a clear plan and understanding the impact, and having the support of those who have an impact on intake… You can use the above tips to help with this, but Alcohol has a few additional considerations, and therefore more strategies to deal with it.
Obviously an easy option here is to say ZERO ALCOHOL during the diet, but this isn’t always practical, and may not actually lead to additional benefit vs well managed low- moderate alcohol intake.
When dieting, two separate factors come into play when we’re discussing alcohol intake. Total Calories, and total Alcohol.
These need to be viewed as separate. We know the impact of higher Calories… it will inhibit our fat loss goals.
But high alcohol intake has other considerations, including impaired sleep, metabolic changes, dehydration, reduced recovery, impaired immune function, blood sugar disruption, appetite dysregulation, impaired cognitive function, and more.
Saving Calories is absolutely a consideration, but if this leads to increased overall alcohol intake, the benefits may not outweigh the problems it creates.
Top tip for managing alcohol intake
From a Calorie perspective, a good plan can be to set a Calorie limit. This can take you back towards maintenance Calories for the day, but up to 300-500 Calories (depending on current Calorie intake) from Alcoholic drinks isn’t going to break the diet over 1 day in the week.
Using lower Calorie options here such as light beers, and filtered spirits with zero calorie mixers can really help to control both the Calorie intake, and the additional stress of dealing with additional sugars/ toxins/ etc- ultimately reducing the disruption to the system (you).
That said, don’t fall into the trap here. That Can be a fair amount of alcohol if you’re going for lowest Calorie options, and the more alcohol, the more disruption on sleep, recovery, blood sugar, appetite and more.
It’s also important to mention that “saving up Calories” for alcohol whilst dieting is probably a bad strategy. If we’re dieting, we’re already at the lower end of energy intake, and usually, this means our carbs and fats are already set as low as we’d like. Reducing further may lead to issues including low energy, disrupted sleep and increased stress.
The risk here is that we’re further compounding issues from the alcohol intake. My suggestion here, is use the additional Calories to INCREASE your daily total. Sure, this will impact fat loss, but providing you’re mindful, it won’t have any real world negative, and it may help to mitigate some of the “knock on effects” of drinking.
Final point here, food intake. Food intake ideally should be the same types as you’d have if not drinking… bad choices here (not bad foods, but bad choices, in context) will compound the disruption on fat loss. Understanding the impact here can really help to manage expectations, and ultimately, 1 completely unregulated night out a week can absolutely bring fat loss to a halt.
We want to be able to enjoy these events, without any major impact on health or fat loss.
Getting back on track
Whether you managed Alcohol well or not the night before, getting back on plan is crucial for long term success. Here’s a few tips to help with the day after.
- Rehydrate effectively. this should be priority, and is simple enough, but electrolyte drinks can help here.
- Manage Daily Calories to how you feel. Remember, blood sugar regulation may be disrupted, so regular meals can help, and if you’re super hungry early on, try front loading your Calories. Ultimately, Calorie wise, this is an extension of the night before. Don’t reduce totals to Catch up- that can come later in the week. Priority 1 is to get back to feeling normal.
- Don’t “burn off” last nights Calories with intense exercise. Intense training is best performed when we’re feeling up to it, appropriately hydrated, and appropriately prepared. That is not this. High intensity training is a major stressor, and again, will likely compound the possible issues from excessive alcohol intake. We won’t get the same training effectiveness or adaptation, but we’ll increase stress unnecessarily. This means risk of illness, injury, medical issues and lack of motivation are increased, with no upside. Exercise is fine but stick to low intensity until you’re back fuelled, recovered and hydrated.
Final Point: remember to “zoom out”.
Successful dieting is never about 1 day. It’s about what we can maintain over an extended period to achieve results. Often, it can feel like a fine line between balancing practicality and physiology. Too much “practicality” leads to half dieting long term for zero results, and too much “physiology” leads often to a lack of ability to stick to the plan. Find a balance, but make sure it’s within the realms of rapid results.
Longer one today, but such an important article. I genuinely hope you found use in it, and if you’ve any questions, drop them in the comments, or fire me an email at email@example.com and I’ll be in touch.
Josh Kennedy MSc, ASCC, CSCS
Check out my bio here
P.S. Here’s a recent youtube link where I discuss managing alcohol, junk food and meals out.