How do you lose weight when you just have to drink?
Drinking isn’t a craving for me — it’s literally something I do to survive.
My name is Lew Bryson. For two decades, I’ve written professionally about beer and whiskey. I taste them, travel from my home in the Philadelphia suburbs to where they’re made and discover what makes them different, and I pair them with different foods. Then I write about that for websites like The Daily Beast and The Whiskey Wash, Whisky magazine and in several books I’ve written, the latest being Tasting Whiskey.
Even when work’s over, there’s still drinking. Folks in this business don’t trust a guy who doesn’t drink with them, so… we drink.
That may sound like a sweet gig, but it has its downsides. One of the biggest is the fatness of it all. Craft beers start at 130 calories per serving, while whiskeys are about 70 per ounce. The foods that usually get paired with both — German and Kentucky fare, for instance — isn’t exactly what you’d call light. Sampling, even with quarter-size portions, adds up.
Sometimes it gets out of hand, like when I traveled to the Czech Republic to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery. After beers with the brewmaster in the old sandstone cellars, we went out for steaks — huge steaks, just under a kilo each. And after three pilsners, I was convinced I had to eat the entire thing. It wasn’t an isolated event, either; the next day I had another, laughing all the way. I was Falstaff — life was great.
“Without drinking, I lost weight quickly that first month. But I couldn’t keep it up. I had to work! How do you fit drinking into weight loss?”
Long story short, I gained 90 pounds over six years. At age 57, I was at my heaviest ever, and I wasn’t getting any younger. The job wasn’t any easier, either: There usually aren’t elevators in distilleries. Enough was enough. I started using MyFitnessPal because my wife and my daughter had picked it up. And for the first month, I pretty much stopped drinking because I saw how it tipped the scales.
That was strange, not because of cravings but because my social life was fully engaged with bars and breweries and distilleries, and people asked why I wasn’t out there. Because I was initially embarrassed by my need to lose weight, I made some dumb excuses.
Without drinking, I lost weight quickly that first month. But I couldn’t keep it up. I had to work! How do you fit drinking into weight loss? Beer calories largely come from alcohol and sugars. I focused on lower-alcohol and relatively dry beers, and luckily, a current trend in craft beer is exactly that: session beers. Whiskey was easy; I took it neat or with a bit of water, keeping it as plain as possible, which didn’t hurt the reviewing at all.
Food also had to give, and I adjusted those choices and exercise around days when work called for drink. When the Craft Beer Conference came to Philly this past May, I went vegetarian, walked all over the city and still drank freely. I lost a pound that week and learned that I could back off the meat and still eat well. Food choices get hard sometimes if I have a few too many beers, because inhibitions get loosened; sure, I’m going to have that slider and some more glazed salmon — it’s OK. Only it’s not, so I force myself to track as I go, and if people ask what I’m doing, I tell them.
It was working. As I lost more weight, I was able to get back on my bike and hit the local trails, sometimes going 30 miles a day. By June, I was able to do 40 miles on the Pine Creek Trail in central Pennsylvania with my son, breaking for a lunch of crabcakes and one well-earned beer. That was a good day, one I could hold in memory as a reward.
I’ve lost 50 pounds in six months. The holidays are here, but my wife and I are planning the menus and planning activities into the day: stationary bike in the mornings and long walks with the dogs after dinner. Drinking fits in, but now I plan how many for the day and stick to that.
My goal’s still far off, and I’m still heavy for now, but now I know I can change that without a career change. Fitting in the beer and whiskey takes a little more work and thought. It’s all numbers and choices — you have to flex them until they fit.
Originally published December 2016
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