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The Biggest Drinking Myths Debunked

Ah, the college drinking culture: you get iced, slap the bag, and shotgun in a circle, or risk committing a party foul. Of the many fascinating things about college, I think a marketing ploy that renders frat boys consumers of malt beverages is genius I’m wholly incapable of comprehending. But I digress.
With the exception of Smirnoff’s viral advertising contrivance, the origins of our behavior are largely unknown, perhaps perpetuated by some ancient pledgemaster or George W. Bush.  Included with our behavioral rites are several misconceptions about drinking and gaining weight. Most of these statutes are bogus—fabricated urban legends sure to scare the sauvignon out of your glass. But if you’re smart, you can indulge in adult beverages without worrying about the dreaded muffin top. Her Campus is here to guide you through the treacherous “Legends of the Hidden Calories” so you can be slim, savvy, and the life of the party, all at once.

Legend #1: Drinking makes you eat more
It doesn’t have to. Alcohol effectively poses two nutritional concerns: the number of calories actually present in your margarita, and the number of calories in the chile con queso you absentmindedly devour while sipping that rita. The most dangerous element of your Sangria Swirled is the flawed mindset it can trigger: that your stomach is empty and needs to be full of melted cheese (or if you’re like me, anything). Newsflash—it doesn’t. Drinking doesn’t actually cause hunger, according to Dr. Roger Farrar at the University of Texas at Austin, but it does lower inhibitions and diet willpower. Don’t train your brain to think that partying equals an extra meal.
Survival tip: Stop and attempt to decipher if you’re genuinely feeling pangs of hunger. Would an apple sound good to you? Recall what you’ve previously eaten during the day and how satiated you were. Also, know yourself. If you possess the self-control of Tiger Woods, stock up on healthy snacks like low fat popcorn, string cheese, and froyo to keep you from indulging in your fatty food vices come 2AM.
Legend #2: Alcohol is a carb
Alcohol itself is NOT a carb, except for when made into beer or wine or mixed into already-sacchariferous juices. A 1 oz shot of whiskey, vodka, gin, or rum contains roughly 64 calories and 0 carbohydrates. “It’s the mixers, syrups, and sodas that really get people into calorie trouble,” explains Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, and co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous.Cranberry juice, a widely-used mixer, appears mistakenly innocent. An 8 oz serving has 137 calories, 34 carbs, and 30 grams of sugar, and that’s before you add anything else. Furthermore, Allure.com reports that vodka combined with a sugar-free mixer such as diet soda results in more intoxication than its sugary counterpart. Specifically, a study indicated that after half an hour, those who had drank the same amount of liquor but sans the sugary mixer had blood alcohol contents 67% higher than those who mixed with sugared substances.  Interesting…
Survival tip:

  • Opt to mix your liquor with seltzer or diet soda and add squeezes of orange, lemon, and lime slices for extra flavor. Some otherwise-sane women even swear that vodka and water with lime wedges is heavenly.
  • For the strictly carb and calorie-conscience, taking shots, shots, shots provides you with the most bang for your buck. This is likely the only time I’ll recommend heeding the advice of LMFAO and Lil’ John.  Just make sure you’re drinking water too, and that you have food in your stomach. 


Legend #3: If you pee out your alcohol, you won’t gain weight
Although a trip to the loo sometimes does have a sobering effect, you cannot excrete the calories out of alcohol. When you consume an alcoholic drink, it “gets into your bloodstream fast and metabolizes quickly,” says Dr. Farrar. Unlike carbs, protein, and fat, alcohol can’t be stored in the body, and its metabolism takes precedence over anything with nutritional value. That means your entire dinner will hang out in your stomach until the alcohol you drink processes. A possible explanation for this legend’s etiology: About 10% of the alcohol you drink does get expelled through your lungs and urine, which is why your BAC (blood alcohol content) can be tested through a breathalyzer or urine exam. However, by no means does the calorie content of alcohol simply pass through your system on its way out (though that would be nice), no matter how many times you have to run to the bathroom to pee.
Survival tip: Even though you feel lighter after a restroom trip, don’t discount liquid calories from your total.  But using the bathroom is still a good idea.
Legend #4: Drinking beer gives you a beer belly

Don’t let this be you
Fact: Moderate drinking has been shown to actually decrease abdominal excess. In a study of roughly 40,000 people over 5 years, those who drank twice or more a week were less likely to gain weight in their midsection when compared to nondrinkers and those who only drank once a week. Hence, enjoy as much beer as you want and sip your way to Ashley Greene’s waist?  Not quite, but the key here is that alcohol in itself is not the enemy.
What’s more: Through a study with mice running on treadmills and subsisting on a daily diet including alcohol, Dr. Farrar found that alcohol had no effect on the mice’s cardiovascular health or their ability to exercise. However, these findings depend on one controlled factor that doctors can’t stress enough: Moderation. As with all the good things in life, moderation is key. In alcohol’s arena, moderation means consuming 1-2 servings of alcohol daily. A serving equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of a liquor like vodka. On a typical Friday night, you’re probably consuming more, and binge drinking negates the positive nutritional aspects of alcohol.
Survival tip: It’s great to be cognizant of this association, but pair it with common sense. If you normally consume 1,800 calories a day and you begin drinking on top of that, you are still adding calories to your total. Beer does NOT cause an unsightly pouch or love handles on its own, but a calorie is a calorie.
The Bottom Line:

  • Focus on discerning hunger after drinking. If you are truly hungry, snack on light fare.
  • Nix sugary mixers.
  • Don’t believe bathroom trips send your liquid calories in oblivion.
  • Practice drinking in moderation, and enjoy a tighter tummy than those who don’t.

Most of what we hear in college about drinking is a fable, but as collegiettes™ we’re above it. Approach drinking with a keen eye and you’ll be able to enjoy adult beverages while looking smoking. Cheers!
Dr. Roger Farrar, Professor of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin

Alana Peden handles public relations for the one-of-a-kind Austin startup SpareFoot.  Her interests span from how to wield a mascara wand to the intricacies of the 3-4 defense, as does her writing repertoire. She has interned in the beauty departments at Lucky and Good Housekeeping, covered college athletics for Horns Illustrated, and contributed gleefully to Texas Music. Always game for a laugh at her own expense, Alana aspires to one day give the universe back a scintilla of what it gives to her. When she's not reading or writing,  she's planning elaborate outfits for hypothetical situations unlikely to materialize. Please reach Alana here. 
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