Alcohol Concern, the people behind Dry January, are currently running a summer campaign called Six Pack Swap. Unlike Dry January, you don’t have to cut out alcohol completely but the idea is to get people moving more, eating less and – crucially – drinking fewer calorie laden beers.
The campaign doesn’t seem to have got much publicity, which I’m surprised about. I think it’s a great idea because it’s reinforcing the link between alcohol and obesity. Most people don’t realise how calorific alcohol really is. Here in the UK, you can find out the nutritional information on a bar of chocolate in an instant, but there is no legal requirement for the same kind of information on alcoholic products. I think it’s strange that the link between alcohol and obesity is rarely discussed. After all, if there’s one thing most women understand, it’s calories.
When I was drinking I’d think nothing of consuming an entire bottle of wine, plus a beer or two afterwards. That’s almost 1,000 calories – half the recommended daily allowance for women and the equivalent of 5 doughnuts. And I’m probably underestimating the true number of calories consumed because we mustn’t forget all the food one eats whilst drunk and hungover the next day.
What’s funny is that I used to be quite strict about what I ate when I was ‘being good’ (i.e not drinking) but when I was drinking I didn’t give calories a second thought. Calorie labelling on booze would’ve worked for people like me because – let’s just be honest here – I am vain. Even when I was very hungover I usually managed to drag myself to the gym. In hindsight, I can see that 30 mins of dawdling on the treadmill was unlikely to cancel out the squillions of calories consumed the night before, but hey, my intentions were good.
I suggest we go a step further than calorie labelling. Let’s measure alcohol in doughnuts instead. A large glass of white wine (250ml) has approximately the same number of calories as one doughnut (190 calories). So a bottle of wine would be 3 doughnuts. A pint of beer would be one doughnut. A generous pina colada might be 2.5 or even 3 doughnuts.
I’m only half joking about this. We know that measuring alcohol in units isn’t working. Most of us don’t understand them, which makes them pretty meaningless. But doughnuts are simple, right? Plus, we all understand that doughnuts should be occasional treats. Now I like doughnuts, but I’d be very unlikely to eat two in a row. The thought of consuming four or five makes me feel really ill. Not only would I be sick from all the sugar, but the thought of all those calories seems so pointless and self destructive. If we could train ourselves to think about alcohol in this way it could make such a difference.
The alcohol industry argues that displaying the number of calories in alcohol may lead to more people skipping food in favour of their drink. I agree that is a risk, but don’t we deserve to know exactly what we’re putting in our bodies? If we want to ignore the facts, then fine. But when it comes to drinking less or stopping altogether, we need some motivation. The vanity argument for losing the booze always hit home with me and the idea that I was knocking back hundreds of calories a night would’ve been yet another reason to stop.
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