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Beer lover's dilemma: Can you diet without going dry?

Jim Galligan

I’ve gone on a health kick lately, replacing my late-night TV marathons with early morning workout sessions and my fast-food lunches with homemade turkey sandwiches. While I have my diet and exercise routine worked out, I still need to figure out what to do about my obsession with craft beer.  Delicious, calorie-laden craft beer. Ideally, I’d like to be able to drink a 12-ounce can or bottle of beer each day and still slim down.

Some might say, “Give it up altogether, beer boy!” but there’s no way that’s happening. First off, I write about beer almost every day, and consumption is part of my ongoing education about the world’s greatest beverage. Secondly, I’m not about to give up living just because I’m trying to get into better shape – that’s a recipe for failure. 

Instead, I have to find a way to moderate my craft beer calorie consumption, to live within my means. My goal is cutting back to around 750 beer calories a week, which is about the most I can bear to blow on beer as I’m trying to get back into shape. 

If I want to have a beer a day and I distribute my 750-calorie limit equally across seven days…hold on, I’m doing the math…each beer I drink will have to contain fewer than 107 calories.  Hmm, I don’t think that’s going to work.  The reason is simple: I can’t think of a beer that fits within this calorie limit that’s worth drinking.

My go-to house brew these days is Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale, a delicious canned offering that balances a delightful piney hop profile with a solid malt foundation that smacks of biscuits and caramel. There are 150 calories in each 12-ounce can of Dales, which adds up to about 1,000 calories each week. And forget about other favorites like New Holland Dragon’s Milk or Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout, both of which pack double the calories per serving over Dales. Even the lighter beers I enjoy like Victory Lager (a bready, hopped up version of a helles-style lager) have too many calories on board. Bummer.

Jim Galligan

The only craft beer I can find near home that fits within my 107-calorie-a-day limit is Yuengling Light lager, which has only 97 calories per 12-ounce serving, but just doesn’t have enough character.  If I’m giving up flavor, I’d rather make my decisions based on calorie count, opting for a Miller Genuine Draft 64, which packs 64 calories a bottle, or a Bud Select, which has 55 – I could have two of those each day and almost be within my limit.  

But beers I don’t enjoy simply aren’t worth the calories; I’d rather have water and save up for the brews I love. And that’s the plan.  I’ve decided to go beer-free during the week and save my beer calories for the weekend. While there’s a downside (no beer during the week!), there are a few distinct advantages to this approach.

First, it allows me to have beers I like, which is the whole point. Also, not having a beer in my hand on a weeknight makes me less likely to go into the mancave and stay up late watching TV, which could make it hard to wake up early the next morning to work out. Plus, as TODAY diet and nutrition editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom noted when we discussed the beer diet, alcohol lowers your ability to resist temptation, like the siren song of those cheese slices in the fridge, or the pack-mate of the beer I just had. No weeknight beer, no weeknight fridge raids. 

 I’d rather save up my beers for a time when I get the most enjoyment out of them, like Saturday night when I’m hanging out with my wife after the kids are in bed. I’m a firm believer that if you’re counting calories, you should make your calories count.

So that’s the plan – keep the beer drinking to the weekends and drink the stuff I like. Hopefully I’ll keep to my 750 calorie limit, but as long as I’m close, I know I won’t be nitpicking.  Instead, I’ll do my best to stick with the plan and forgive myself if I fail a little bit. After all, how much damage can one fella do on the weekend?

What do you do about beer when you’re trying to lose weight? Share your tips and trip-ups below!

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits.

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