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.
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.