There are few things that I love more than beer. My favorite color is Sierra Nevada label green, my favorite holiday is St. Patrick's Day, and my favorite flower is whatever grows in a beer garden. While anyone who knows me knows that beer and I come as a package deal (my last name is Miller, isn't it?), people who've just met me don't believe it. Why? Because I'm a health columnist. And because frankly, I'm not fat.
But being a healthy beer drinker doesn't have to be an oxymoron. And I'm not the only beer enthusiast whose passion for pilsners, pale ales, and porters (oh my!) isn't announced by her gut. In fact, most of my beer-loving buddies are among the fittest people I know. So what sets us apart from our big-bellied stereotype? (Hint: we're not just lucky.) Read on for the secrets to saying yes to the beer-and other guilty pleasures-and saying no to the gut.
1. We Go for the Good Stuff
When I talk about beer, I mean a tall German hefeweizen, a deep Belgian double-IPA, or a good ol' seasonal Sam Adams-not something masquerading as "lite." Let it be known that dark beers aren't always worse for your waistline. In fact, a thick black Guinness only has about 125 calories, while a golden Blue Moon has 160.
Still, some of my choices are easily double the calories of a boring Bud. But, they're also double the pleasure. Beth Hill, a beer-loving medical student (with the body of a goddess, mind you) agrees: "When I order beer, I go for flavor. I don't really think about the calories," she says. How do we pull it off? It seems counterintuitive to throw calories to the wind if you want to stay trim, but when you're satisfied with what you're drinking (or eating, for that matter), you're less likely to overdo it. At the end of the day, a high-quality beer or two is comparable to three or four light beers calorie-wise, but contentment-wise, it's a far bigger bang for your buck. So go ahead and order what you want, savor it, and then know when to stop. As the magazine and website beeradvocate advises, "drink better, drink less."
2. We Put the Crawl in Pub Crawl
For many thin beer geeks, the brew is the main event-not the side show. While that might sound like a recipe for fat, it can mean slowing down instead of chugging down. In the same way that eating slowly helps you avoid overeating, drinking slowly can keep you from over-drinking (and overeating for that matter).
Pacing yourself over the long term is important, too. A couple of beers several times a week is healthier than teetotaling all week and letting the wild child out on the weekend. While beer is hardly a diet drink, drinking it in regularly in moderation fights the gut better than Saturday-night bingeing, which throws off your blood sugar and is associated with higher rates of obesity, among other dangers. What's more, the fast food pizza joint is usually more appealing after a night of heavy drinking than it is after a leisurely happy hour. The grease-plus the excessive alcohol-is what gives beer its big, fat bad rap.
3. We Work for It
Although beer is not all empty calories-it's actually a decent source of potassium, folate, and magnesium-it's still calories. And while us beer fiends tend not to count the calories in that glass, we do burn them amply when we're not indulging. "Our whole theory is, if you want to do the things you're not supposed to do, like eat and drink too much, you have to earn it," says Brandon Stumbo, a home brewer and organizer of a running (and drinking) club called Sneakers and Suds in Washington, D.C.
Working for it isn't just "pilates now, pints later." It's working for it even when you are drinking. For me, that means walking, not cabbing, to get to the bar, and staying on my feet, not my butt, once I'm there. Sneakers and Suds member Julie Horn says she also tries to keep active while she's out by dancing or playing a game. Opting for movement-even just mingling instead of parking at a booth-will help keep your body and your social skills in shape. Is beer healthier than water? Absolutely not. But, a person who exercises and drinks is still arguably healthier than a person who does neither. So if the beer tent at the finish line is what it takes for you to sign up for that half-marathon, embrace it. You may wind up liking running after all.
If you haven't already caught on, I confess: The secrets of skinny beer drinkers aren't really secrets at all. They're general philosophies worth adopting whether your weakness is beer, chocolate, or French fries: quality over quantity, movement not indolence, and moderation not extremes. So go ahead and do what beer drinkers do best: chill out-you can have your beer and drink it too. Bottoms up!
This article was originally published on The Daily Muse. For more smart health advice, check out:
Is Facebook Fueling Our Body Issues?
Why Your Grocery List Needs a Makeover
16 Surprising Tips for a Longer Life
About the Author: Anna Miller is a health writer in Washington, D.C., where she's been published in The Washington Post and US News & World Report. She is a proud Michigan Wolverine, beer enthusiast, and two-time marathoner who can't go a day without peanut butter. On any one day, you may find her rehearsing for a community theater musical, working her way into an embassy party, running around the Washington Monument in her underwear (ok, once! For charity!), or listening to a panel at the National Press Club. For these reasons, she has been called "a weird-stuff-o-meter" and takes it as a compliment. Follow her @AnnaMedaris.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wesolowski