One drink a day won't get in the way of weight loss.
Credit: Illustration: Sarah Wilkins

There is a wine bottle called a Nebuchadnezzar; it holds the equivalent of 20 standard bottles of wine. I calculate that Olivia Pope and Alicia Florrick consume roughly one Nebuchadnezzar apiece of fine red wine per episode of Scandal or The Good Wife. Anyone who watches these shows knows that both of these wafer-thin heroines (and we are talking exceptionally thin wafers here) wind down after their hard days spent rigging national elections and matching wits with drug kingpins by pouring themselves glasses of wine roughly the size of Kentucky.

Sadly, consuming big buckets of alcohol is not the path to achieving or maintaining a healthy body mass index. In addition to liver disease, high blood pressure, increased cancer risk, and fatal car accidents, alcohol overuse is associated with weight gain. "Alcohol is a carbohydrate," explains Eric Rimm, ScD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Load up on carbohydrates, and you're going to gain weight."

But this is where moderation (defined as up to one drink a day for women and up to two a day for men) comes in. "If someone is overweight or obese, I would be less concerned about calories from moderate alcohol consumption than I would be about every other aspect of lifestyle and diet. Six or seven drinks a week will actually be a pretty small percentage of someone's overall calories when compared to the rest of her diet," says Rimm. A 5-ounce glass of wine has 120 calories.

That means alcohol, in moderation, is the pleasure dieters can stop feeling guilty about. "Alcohol and weight is an area where we still have much to figure out. There are so many variables here—genetics, gender, starting weight. It's hard to make a recommendation that fits everyone. There are no guidelines anywhere that are going to tell someone who doesn't drink to start drinking, but, based on the research, moderate drinking will not make you gain weight." We say cheers to that.