So You Want to Stop… Drinking Your Calories

by Coach Stevo
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So You Want to Stop… Drinking Your Calories

Every few weeks, I start a new group of clients on a program to change their health habits. One of the habits we work on together is consuming fewer liquid calories. Many of my clients say the same thing, “Easy, I don’t drink that much soda.” But then I ask them what they had this morning at Starbucks…

In 2004, researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to see how many calories Americans drink. They specifically looked at “sugar-sweetened beverages” which includes,

  • “low-calorie” drinks
  • sweetened teas
  • fruit drinks and juices
  • sweet coffee-bar drinks (such as Frappuccinos and hot chocolate)
  • rice and soy milks
  • sports drinks

What did they find? 63% of Americans had one or more of these beverages on any given day, and total calories per day from sweetened drinks has gone up in the last 20 years by 29% to over 200 calories per day. (That doesn’t include alcohol, which in the survey accounted for another 99 calories per day!)

Most of these drinks have slipped into our daily routine because they have been marketed as “healthy.” Some of them are even “made with fruit”—kind of like when I put put a pickle on a roast beef sandwich and say it’s “made with vegetables.” But my beef with liquid calories has nothing to do with “health” and everything to do with mindlessness. By my definition, any calorie you consume without noticing is an empty calorie. And since calories add up, it’s time to learn how to drink fewer empty ones. Here are the best lessons I’ve learned from my own clients.

1. Keep track of your drinks When you start recording your morning orange juice and afternoon Frappuccino in MyFitnessPal, you’re going to notice those calories. Take a look at how many beverages you drank from the list above at the end of a week, and add up how many extra calories you drank. For a real visual shocker, see how many extra grams of sugar you drank and then measure that amount out in table sugar.

2. Drink more water Most of the calories we drink are consumed because we’re thirsty. I recommend drinking 50 to 100 ounces of pure water daily. Start your day with a glass in the morning, and end it with a glass before you go to bed.

3. Keep a water bottle at your desk Why mention work? Because we spend so much time at the office, and because the average person consumes 20% of their liquid calories there! By having an alternative handy, you can simply replace mindlessly drinking calories with mindlessly drinking water.

4. Immediately follow wine with water If you are going out for drinks with friends, try drinking one glass of water for every cocktail or glass of wine you sip. If you’re anything like my clients (or me), you’ll end up drinking half the calories you normally would and you’ll wake up feeling a lot better the next morning, too!

5. Brew some tea Green, black, white or red tea (did you know there were so many different colors?) is very flavorful, healthy, and easy to make. You can drink it cold, hot, or anything in-between and it’s tasty morning, noon, and night. If you’re just sick of plain water, find a tea you like and keep a mug of nearby.

Do you drink too many empty calories? Are you cutting back? Share your strategies in the comments.

About the Author

Coach Stevo

Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngCoach Stevo is the nutrition and behavior change consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and an MA in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. He teaches habit-based coaching to wellness professionals all over the world and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012. 



49 responses to “So You Want to Stop… Drinking Your Calories”

  1. Avatar quinsha says:

    I drink hot black tea throughout the day, and stopped putting sugar in it years ago. No calories, nice warm drink, and something with a better taste than tap water.

  2. Avatar Ximenia says:

    I used to drink like 6 iced coffees a day, I’ve cut back to about 2 and traded the rest for plain green tea, and I traded cream for milk, and with lattes I traded milk for skim milk. I always ask for no sugar and if I do want it sweetened I add 2 sugar packets so I can easily track how much sugar is actually in it.

    So yeah, you can still be a caffeine junkie without drinking all your calories 🙂

  3. Avatar Dwamma says:

    I started MFP 2 years ago. I was shocked in the amount of calories that I drank on a daily basis! Logging everything was a real eye opener for me and made it super easy for me to cut back on some sugars and unnecessary flavored coffee creamers. I still enjoy my coffee, not now it has about 20% of the calories it did before! I love flavored teas, and most of them are zero calories as well! Seeing the numbers add up from my drinks really made me stop and think! So thankful I log everything! 🙂

    • Avatar Cheryl Dunham says:

      I like it just started this week, I’m amazed at my sodium intake. I got to figure out how to cut it in half

      • Avatar Transplant11 says:

        Processed food (frozen, canned, or boxed) is typically higher in sodium than home made. Watch out for the canned soups, they’re really high! Cooking from scratch and minimizing the salt will go a long way in reducing sodium intake.

  4. […] booze. (For more information on liquid calories – including coffees and fruit juice – this MFP blog is pretty good.) See what you make of […]

  5. Avatar Kathy says:

    I think a lot of people don’t realize how many calories are in drinks unless you journal it. I have to drink a regular Coke when I have a migraine and just hate that a 12oz. can has 140 calories. I drink a lot of water, enjoy a diet drink on occasion, use sugar free creamer coffee to lower the calories, and sweeten my tea with Equal.

    • Avatar Coco says:

      I’ve been a migraine sufferer for many many years. One of the best things to keep them at bay is to stay away from any and all artificial sweeteners. Also any foods with MSG (Monosodiumglutamate) can trigger migraines. Keep to water and if you have to have more flavor add a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.

      • Avatar beth says:

        My aunt used to have horrible migraines and her dr. Told her to eat 1 serving of walnuts. It seemed to realy work for her…

  6. Avatar MissCavo says:

    I don’t drink any empty calories or drink calories at all unless I’m on a night out, then I blow the calorie budget out of the water. lucky I’m poor and can vary rarely afford to do so. what are some delicious night out alcoholic drinks that are low cal?

    • Avatar ThreeOlivesFan says:

      Flavored vodka and club soda. There’s so many flavored vodka’s now it’s easy to find one you like! It’s an acquired taste but so is beer and it’s not nearly as caloric! There’s also flavored rums too.

      • Avatar Jennifer W says:

        I use the Crystal light drops to add flavor to my alcoholic beverages. I order vodka & water & then add flavor with crystal light which has zero calories so the only calories I get are from the vodka which is generally about 70 calories per drink. I also drink one large glass of water for each alcoholic beverage I consume. My new favorite crystal light flavor is pomegranate martini, adds a lot of good flavor without being too sweet, generally one squirt will do for a tall drink. Good luck!

      • Avatar Sheri says:

        Flavored vodkas add to the calorie list as well because they also contain more sugars Use plain vodka w fresca and lime or perhaps a splash of fruit juice

      • Avatar lala says:

        My girlfriend and I drink pineapple rum with this 0 calorie black raspberry soda water from costco, and a splash of pineapple juice. It isnt the healthiest most low calorie thing in the world, but it is lower than our old screwdriver, or other sugary drink with vodka.

  7. Avatar Gela Mp says:

    I drink the zero calories sport drinks or flavored water
    . They taste just like the regular ones and have no calories.

  8. Avatar Guest says:

    A year and half ago I replaced sweet fizzy drinks with sparkling water. I even keep bottles of sparkling water in the fridge at work! At home I always drink it with a slice of lemon or lime. My tastes have got so used to it now that I would actually choose sparking water over sweet fizzy drinks because they taste too sweet!

    • Avatar rosemarie says:

      That’s what I did. I love sparkling water and now my taste buds have changed my sweet tooth since soda now tastes like liquid diabetes lol

  9. Avatar Brian Henry says:

    Try to have a glass of water first when you go to a pub. I find myself quickly drinking pints of cider when all I really need is a glass of water to cool down.

  10. Avatar Mary Cochran-Fisher says:

    I wss drinking a b ottle or 2 of wine a day…today is day 3 with none and I feel better…

    • Avatar natlee says:

      Wow, thats great to hear… I’m at 2-3 glasses a night… I know its just a habit. but how did you just quit?

      • Avatar Minilou says:

        I drink 2 to 3 glasses of wine a night more often than not and I’m hoping with the help of fitness pal, I can do water except on special occasions.

      • Avatar Trudy Jennings says:

        This is where I am, I am eating healthy, tracking my food,,started a regular exercise program wit a Trainer and have not lost any weight . I feel it is the wine. As of tonight I will firing a large glass of water after my glass of wine, hopefully that will help..

    • Avatar Trudy Jennings says:

      Good for you, keep it up

  11. Avatar Bree says:

    2 weeks ago I stopped drinking diet pop completely and stopped drinking sweetened ice tea and juices. When I’m at work I have an infusion water bottle and lime green tea and cucumber in it. I went from drinkin one glass of water a day to 8-10!!!! I am already feeling so much better!!!!!

  12. Avatar S MacDonald says:

    You don’t show those vodka coolers that can ring in at 220 calories for some of them!

  13. Avatar Chelly says:

    If you can’t live without a sugary frappe ask the barista to add 1-2 pumps of syrup instead of the 3 pumps they add to all drinks.

  14. Avatar Bob Cannell says:

    Flavored sparkling water, no artificial sweeteners. House brands at Kroger or Tom Thumb (Safeway) are less than $2.50/12Pk. After a few days, you won’t miss the sugar or artificial sweetener.

  15. Avatar Tina Pottinger Pawass says:

    back in December 2012 I decided to stop drinking carbonated diet drinks
    totally. At first it was hard but now I dont miss it. I do drink
    frappes, But I have tried to limit it to 2 a week and i get a small and
    dont drink it all. I leave about an inch at the bottom. So I get to be
    bad by drinking my frappes but not so bad that I get all of the
    calories. i also make homemade Iced coffees and only add coffee creamer
    which is a small amount of calories. Anyways thanks for the info about
    all of this. It is always so good to be reminded of this. Specially
    when i forget my own rules! LOL

  16. Avatar Melanie Smith says:

    The healthier I eat, the more repulsive I find sugary drinks! I accidentally added an extra teaspoon of sugar to my coffee this afternoon and it made me feel ill. By changing my palate with healthier foods, I found that I WANTED to drink more water and unsweetened teas than sweetened drinks.

    You just need to teach your body to crave better things by challenging your palate.

  17. Avatar Debbi Hogan says:

    I drink Miller 64 whenever I want and am always within my calorie limit.

  18. Avatar Kristin Bartlett says:

    They didn’t mention smoothies at all. I love smoothies! I will mix peaches, mangos and strawberries with a small amount of apple juice and a low calorie strawberry yogurt. 🙂

  19. Avatar Oma Honey says:

    I was drinking a bottle of white wine a night. Just a bad habit. Since I seemed unable to cut down to one or two glasses a night, I quit drinking any wine. It has been two weeks and I feel better and do not miss the wine, but know if I drink a glass, I will want more.

  20. Avatar Cheryl Dunham says:

    I need advice for 2 cups of coffee in the morning low calorie , without using a sugar substitute, creamer with low sodium, AND still taste as close to good vanilla coffee as possible I don’t ask for much haha.

    • Avatar Transplant11 says:

      As someone with low iron levels, a nurse suggested adding molasses to my coffee. I bought a bottle of organic unsulphered blackstrap molasses and drop a teaspoon into my first cup of coffee. It’s 33 calories and about the same sugar content as granulated sugar but healthier than any sugar substitute that contains chemicals with unpronounceable names.

      The first cup with molasses really tasted horrible, but I got used to it, so it’s really not too bad now. And, my iron levels increased to much better levels.

      I never had put sugar in my coffee before, so these were added calories ~ but I compensated elsewhere.

  21. Avatar Jon Purves says:

    Timely as i am going dry for the next month. I do love a beer or two after work which is where i drink alot of cals.

  22. Avatar April Lynn Blair says:

    I like to add fruit to on water such as strawberries cucumber lime lemon mango and is in a little bit of a mint

  23. Avatar Recita Fielding-Cuffee says:

    I keep a gallon of water at my desk and drink off of it all day. I installed Aqualert (Android app) to remind me to drink and it goes off every hour. It tracks how much you drink daily. It even gives you neat facts about the benefits of drinking water. I am up to 128 oz per day for the past 3 Weeks. I am noticing I am not even craving sugary drinks anymore. So try Aqualert. 😉

  24. Avatar Paula says:

    I used to drink a 12-pack of soda per week, plus an almost-daily latte from Dunkin Donuts with whole milk and flavor syrup (no granulated sugar added, because I was being “good”). I just got sucked up into the normalcy of it all. Everyone around me was drinking soda on a regular basis, and everyone around me was walking around with Dunks coffees, so why shouldn’t I be able to do that? But once I started logging calories, that all pretty much went out the window, and it’s been amazing.

  25. Avatar Transplant11 says:

    I fill an empty 64-ounce juice bottle with water each morning and pop it in the fridge. After dinner, it’s on the table next to me, and I sip on it throughout the evening.

    No soda (regular or diet), fancy coffees, or energy drinks. I do, however, allow myself 2-3 bottles of beer on weekend nights (but they tracked and counted towards the daily calories).

  26. Avatar kyle says:

    About two months ago I got away from drnkinking pop. I only drink water, unsweetened tea, black coffee, and maybe a beer or two a week. Tonight my coworkers and myself need up ordering takeout and somehow I ended up with a sprite. I went ahead and drank part of it and I was amazed at how sweet it tasted and overall just tasted bad. I can’t believe I used to drink all that pop its so nasty.

  27. Avatar Rachel Inman says:

    I’m trying to break the alcohol habit. It’s bad for your body and your mind (as alcohol is a depressant) when you having more than a glass a day. First it may be worth exploring why you drink and getting some therapy if needed. I have bought loads of different teas, sparkling water, jugs of water with lemon, lime, fresh herbs, sodas, alcohol free beer and lower alcohol wine. I also increased the amount I spend on a bottle of wine and have bought less. The other thing I do is apply mindfulness to drinking; before I have an alcoholic drink I think about why I want it and take a glass of water. After 10 minutes if I still want the drink I have it. I have found this really helpful.
    There are apps that tell you alcohol and calorie levels which add up to show you intake over time, there is even one that you can put the cost of the drink in and it will show you your monthly total.
    I’m British, and ex military which both have a huge drinking culture. It’s not easy but I’m reducing my intake.

  28. Avatar JennB says:

    I make a reduced calorie Koolaid by adding 1/4 cup Stevia, 1/4 cup sugar, and the old style Koolaid flavor packet to 2 quarts water. It’s all natural without the chemical sweeteners and tastes pretty good.

  29. Avatar Loretta Barber says:

    When training for a race I have to cut back on the alcohol to just once a week. One fun trick I found was using my Nuun electrolyte tabs with my drinks. Water, ice, vodka or rum and nuun.

  30. Avatar Jptavares says:

    I found out that to balance the PH of your body after you drink a glass of soda, you need to drink 32 glasses of water. Add to that the sugar and all other stuff and the conclusion is simple. Stop drinking soda!!! I did (still sneak one or another maybe once a week) and it makes a big difference. Also don’t eat any carbs 4 to 5 hours before you go to bed. I lost a lot of weight doing it.

  31. Avatar Elsa says:

    After my morning coffee, I try to stick with water and green tea. What kind of sweetener is okay? We presently use Stevia.

  32. Avatar Jennifer T says:

    I used to drink much more wine. Now I opt to just drinking (roughly a bottle total) on the weekend. I’ve also cut out sodas and drink mainly water, an occasional glass of milk or juice, and ice tea (with honey as my sweetener). I still don’t see any weight loss results but I think that’s because I’m not active.

  33. Avatar James Vargas says:

    I’ve been a runner for a long time, an as a runner I need energy to boost my self in marathon. And because of this I’m looking for the best zero calorie energy drink. Thank you.

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