How to drink smart during holidays without worrying about calories

It’s party season, friends. Calories count, so count your calories.

Actually, don’t count every calorie unless you have a serious weight problem. In that case, it’s probably a good idea to count them all. For everyone else, at holiday get-together time, vigilant calorie-counting is the death of fun. A general awareness, though — that’s just smart partying. 

We’ll get to wine calories soon enough here — because you’re going to be drinking some wine this month — but first let’s address your attitude going into this glorious party season. We know what happens. You eat and drink fairly sensibly most of the year, and then you take your eye off the prize for a few weeks and, as the saying goes, the wheels fall off the truck. 

I can think of two approaches here, and the first one is: Go at it with your mind. Develop a strategy. Give up a few things here and there outside of the party sphere. Reining yourself in at a party is a lot more confining that reining yourself in at lunch during a busy workday. You won’t even remember the healthy salad and extra 16 ounces of water you consumed on an anonymous Tuesday — but the memories of the wine and fellowship you shared at a holiday party might stick with you for years. 

Don’t think of your prepping as “dieting” so much as “training.” Deprive yourself where indulgence vs. discipline is not that big of a divide (i.e., in the routine days leading up to your parties), and it will make those celebratory sips feel earned and all the more satisfying. The recommended normal consumption of wine is two glasses a day for men, and one glass for women. Fine. But come on, now, we’re talking about a party — you’re just getting started at two glasses. Just keep reminding yourself that it is indeed a party and not a Roman orgy, and maybe you don’t need a second dessert to go with your glass of tawny port. Maybe the wine is enough. Ask yourself what you would rather have, if the calories matched up: a couple of scoops of buffalo chicken-blue cheese dip or an extra glass of pinot noir? 

As someone told you when you were a child, life is all about choices. Don’t give up everything — just some things. It’s hard, I know. I’m not suggesting that trading a few meat lover’s subs for salads will transform your body. I’m just encouraging you to get your mind in the right space as the holiday season approaches. Put some calories in the bank, via self-deprivation, and then when the time comes to enjoy yourself, don’t sweat every delicious wine calorie. 

This brings us to the second approach: Go at it with your gut. Tell yourself that it’s a party, and it’s the holidays, and you’re seeing old friends and family, and life is short. Maybe you don’t hold back as much on the things you like: the dips, the desserts. Maybe you live in the moment and then ready yourself for the reckoning. Promise yourself — really promise — that you’ll do damage-control when the season comes to an end, either through reduced calorie intake or increased exercise. It’s hard, I’ll say it again. But we do it for the wine, friends. As someone also told you when you were a child, everything worth doing takes effort. 

Both approaches reassure your commitment to enjoying wine not only in your daily life but also on special occasions like holiday parties. There’s a distinction there. It’s not just about “having” wine on a special occasion — it’s about really enjoying it and maybe allowing yourself to enjoy a little more of it. You could call this the Live And Let Live approach. The Now or Never approach. The Get Up and Do Something About It if You Gain a Few Pounds approach. 

OK, now, there’s nothing wrong with knowing what you’re getting into — what you’re up against. So here are a few tips on weight-smart wine consuming. No matter which approach you take — relying on your head or your gut — consider that wine calories come from alcohol content. The higher the alcohol percentage, the more calories you’re ingesting. 

Obviously, serving-size matters too. A standard 5-ounce pour of dry table wine, either red or white, at about 12 percent alcohol, is going to come in at around 125 calories, give or take. A dessert wine could be double that, but not necessarily because it’s sweet, although that does play in a little bit. The higher calories in many dessert wines come from their higher alcohol content (some hovering around 20 percent). Then again, we usually pour smaller portions of those wines, so at 2 ounces, your glass of port would be close in calories to your 5-ounce glass of red or white. Generally, warmer climates produce higher-alcohol wines, and New World wines are more potent than their Old World counterparts. Those are just guidelines, not guarantees by any means. 

You’ve probably already decided that your approach is going to take cues from both your head and your gut. I like that. I like feeling out a situation and not letting either extreme win the night. It’s party season. Let it flow, but not just for the sake of letting it flow. We drink wine all year long. If we’re going to do it right during party season, let’s really do it. Let’s try something new or arrive with a special bottle to share. 

And when it comes time to make those choices, look around, do the math and remind yourself, as I often do, of the wisdom my brother-in-law The Dinger used to love to impart (even if Oscar Wilde or someone before him said it first): “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

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