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Can you still drink beer and drop a few excess pounds? Yes, you can | TribLIVE.com
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Can you still drink beer and drop a few excess pounds? Yes, you can

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To minimize health risks, the optimal amount of alcohol someone should consume is none. That’s the simple, surprising conclusion of a massive study, co-authored by 512 researchers from 243 institutions, published Thursday in the prestigious journal the Lancet.

The fun ends now.

You swore that 2017 would be different. No more breakfast muffins. Salads for lunch. You joined a gym and will work hard to justify the membership.

Many of us have vowed to be healthier and even set goals for weight loss.

The hard part is sacrificing the unhealthy habits we so enjoy. Cutting back on booze is an obvious one.

But what if we can keep our precious beer and still shed pounds?

Lew Bryson has done it. He’s a whiskey and beer writer in Pennsylvania who recently wrote about how he lost weight while drinking.

At age 57, Bryson said he was the heaviest he’d ever been, gaining 90 pounds in just six years. He needed to make some changes. But he couldn’t go cold turkey on alcohol. Indeed, he had a professional obligation to taste what he is paid to critique.

So, he changed his food diet, committed to more exercise and made some hard decisions about the beers he would drink.

Limiting alcohol consumption was key, Bryson said. He said he pared it down to about five drinks a week, a few more during celebrations like graduations or birthdays.

It’s fine to drink, but do you really need that second or third beer if one will satisfy you? A strategy I’ve used to cut my drinking without eliminating it altogether is to sip from 3 ounce sampler glasses. You can stretch a single bottle of beer into three distinct portions, which I’ve found not only slows me down but also focuses my attention more acutely on what I’m drinking.

The “less is more” principle applies to more than just quantity. Beer calories are mostly alcohol and sugars. High alcohol beers typically have more of both. Therefore, Bryson sought out full-flavored but low-alcohol brews.

“It’s a combination of less beer and less alcohol in the beer, but balancing that with flavor,” Bryson told me in an email. “It’s similar to the way I’d do a meatless breakfast sandwich, and squirt some hot sauce on it.”

He’d enjoy a creamy Guinness or crisp Troegs Sunshine Pils, both of which are below 5 percent alcohol by volume. Three beers per day was his limit. If he was really hankering for a double IPA, he’d keep it to one.

The elephant in the room is light beer. Coors Light. Bud Light. We’re on their turf, right? They are beers whose expressed purpose is to deliver lower calorie alternatives to people who still want to drink. Michelob Ultra’s TV commercials make it look like some kind of workout supplement.

Light beer was not an option, Bryson said.

“The whole idea of my drinking is that I’m drinking for flavor first, and any effects second,” he said. “It’s not that light beer ‘isn’t craft,’ but it would miss the point; light beer just doesn’t do anything for me. ”

His resolve did not go unchallenged. One hurdle was when Bryson attended the Craft Beer Conference, a huge trade show that came to Philadelphia last year. About 12,000 brewers and industry people attended and there were loads of events where beer was being poured.

Bryson kept his focus on low-alcohol brews, and also adjusted his food diet and exercise regimen. He stopped eating meat and cheese, ate a lot of vegetables and walked everywhere. He said he lost a little over a pound that week even though he had nine beers one day and eight the next.

Bryson has lost 50 pounds in six months. Not that he’s got it all figured out. He’s about halfway to his goal and expressed a hint of doubt about how long he would keep it up.

“I do hope to keep the habits, but we’ll see,” he said. “That’s the hard part, really, staying on top of things.”

The experience has been valuable for Bryson on a number of levels. The health benefits are obvious, but he’s also considered larger existential questions.

“It really makes you think about why you’re drinking,” he said. “Sometimes you’re drinking just because it’s something you do when you watch a game. You need to shake that up, especially because so many places that serve beer also serve stuff like wings, and pizza, and pretzels. … You need to have better choices, and you need to know why those choices are better.”

Chris Fleisher sampled a lot of nice beers over the holidays, but the greatest gift of all was being with family. (Ha! Kidding … it was a new coffee maker.)

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