THE BLOG
12/23/2014 12:40 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Ask JJ: Alcohol at Social Functions

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Dear JJ: I will be attending several holiday social functions that offer alcohol. What's the best way to enjoy myself without gaining weight or getting a hangover?

Most social functions involve alcohol, which if you don't proceed cautiously can become your undoing. I'm talking about hangovers but also the toll a few drinks can take around your waistline and on your health.

Alcohol isn't sugar, but its fate is nearly the same. During the fermentation process, enzymes gobble up those sugars. Wine, beer, and hard alcohol generally don't have residual sugars, though some cheaper wines or sweeter wines do. (Quality matters.)

Obviously, if you mix cola or tonic water with liquor or you choose eggnog, you're getting alcohol and sugar, which basically becomes dessert and one big disaster for your liver and waistline.

If you don't drink, please don't start. If you do, stick with red wine. One study found moderate red wine drinking over four weeks improved HDL-C (your "good" cholesterol) and fibrinogen (which helps form blood clots) levels compared with drinking water with or without red grape extract. Red wine also contains resveratrol, although you're better off supplementing to get therapeutic amounts of this anti-inflammatory, anti-aging compound.

After red wine your best alcohol bet would be tequila, but if a few shots leave you diving into the chili cheese nachos, step away from the hard liquor.

Regardless what you choose, when you drink alcohol you sideline fat burning. Alcohol cuts to the front of the metabolic line as soon as it arrives, and everything else -- including fat metabolism -- takes a backseat.

Alcohol also seems to stimulate (not suppress) appetite, and that third glass of merlot can actually increase hunger and mindless grazing.

You've likely experienced this arriving hungry at a dinner party, throwing back a few hot buttered rums, when suddenly a few bites of bacon cheese dip with baguette to tide over your hunger becomes half the bowl. You wake up feeling lousy for all kinds of reasons, including the remorse and guilt that come with falling off the diet wagon.

So steer clear of sugary drinks, stick with a glass or two of red wine or a shot of tequila if you drink, pair every cocktail with two glasses of filtered water, and realize you're putting fat burning on the back burner when you drink.

A few party strategies can help minimize alcohol's repercussions. Keep your hands full with a mineral water and a clutch or iPhone. You'll be less tempted when the server passes by with cocktails or cherry-pecan Brie with crackers. Alcohol on an empty stomach often spells disaster. Have your pinot noir as dessert -- or at least a full stomach -- if you don't want to take a detour into tipsy-ville.

Finally, don't opt for a nightcap to knock you out. "Although a drink before bed may help you fall asleep," writes Dr. Jonny Bowden in The Most Effective Ways on Earth to Boost Your Energy, "a few hours later it has the opposite effect, and part of your brain thinks it's party time (though the part that's paying attention to our headache may not agree)."

If you drink, how do you navigate holiday parties without disaster? Share your strategies below. Happy holidays! Keep sending those awesome questions to AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.

Additional References

Jonny Bowden, The Most Effective Ways on Earth to Boost Your Energy, (Massachusetts: Fair Winds Press, 2011).