Alcohol makes life worth living and all, but every so often you have a night that makes you say to yourself, "Mayyyyybe it's time I think of my health and take it down a notch." Fortunately, it is possible to go out for an evening of drinking without feeling like a bloated, hungover mess the next day.
Don't worry: you won't have to throw back skinny margaritas all night long. Stick to this plan, and you won't hate yourself come Sunday morning.
7pm: At your apartment
This is the time of night where you want to make sure you eat something to keep your blood alcohol content as low as possible. The CDC says effects on motor skills can be observed even at .02% BAC (about two drinks) so skipping a decent meal to start drinking early isn’t worth it.
Lauren Ott, a registered dietitian at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, suggests you stick to protein -- grill up some chicken and shrimp with a side of mushrooms -- and make sure you don't drink on an empty stomach.
9pm: The pregame
This is going to sound boring, but your pregame should involve some water. Hopefully you already know the truth about hydration, and every time you pee you see a light yellow color (sorry, had to go there).
"For every alcoholic drink you consume, your body can expel up to four times as much liquid," explains Ott. "This dehydration is what leads to hangovers."
Because you're being healthy(ish) and avoiding puking and/or that headache that will keep you on the couch for the rest of the weekend, drinking a glass of water between each drink is the key to staying hydrated and needing less alcohol throughout the night.
11pm: At the bar
So you've done your grilling, eaten, and maybe had a couple drinks with plenty of water thrown in. Now you have permission to get your party started.
The bad news is that it doesn't take much alcohol for you to rack up an entire meal's worth of calories just by drinking. Add in the fact that your body has to process booze -- which is toxic, after all -- and it's easy to see why an excess of alcohol can lead to weight gain.
"Drinking alcohol reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy," Ott says. "Because of this, all other normal processes that are taking place in our bodies -- absorbing nutrients, burning fat, etc. -- are interrupted to take priority to getting rid of the alcohol."
Because it's easy to over-consume beer, if you're going to make the switch to liquor and need a mixer, opt for a low-calorie option. Ott suggests that 1.5oz liquor mixed with soda water or water is the magic recipe.
Since a 12oz light beer is roughly equal to a 5oz glass of wine is roughly equal to a 1.5oz shot, you have options when you're out. Continuing to have water between drinks is still the key to reducing the number of drinks you have over the course of the night.
2am: When you get home (maybe!)
If you did everything right, you had a great time and didn't get belligerent... but the night isn’t over yet.
First: stay out of the kitchen. Ott assures that "the best way to minimize overeating after a night of drinking is to keep trigger foods out of your house." So even though the leftover chips and ranch dip are still good, resistance is key.
If you are sick of water, have some (and keep more within reach overnight) to help replenish electrolytes, lost because of what Ott refers to as the diuretic effect of alcohol, which really means that it makes you pee a lot.
Finally, you need to sleep. Because you aren't devouring everything in your kitchen, you have more time to do that. Also, don't have one last drink! You're so close to the finish line.
10am: The morning after
The bad news is there's no single food that has been proven to be better than another when it comes to having a meal after a night drinking. The good news is that there are some foods that do make more sense to eat if you know what you're looking for.
"Eggs, for example, contain B vitamins, which some studies have shown to reduce hangover symptoms," offers Ott. "Also, ginger has been shown to help with nausea, which we all know can be a symptom of a hangover."
This makes brunch a wonderful option for the morning after a night out. Though you may be tempted by a buffet with breakfast potatoes and bacon, stick to the eggs, and even make it a sandwich with some whole-grain bread. Ott explains that adding a complex, whole-grain carbohydrate source could reduce fatigue and make up for the energy your liver spent metabolizing alcohol to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Even though it's the morning after and you may want some hair of the dog, not overindulging at brunch helps round out your healthy(ish) night of drinking. Unless, of course, you're celebrating something really good happening last night, in which case all bets are off.