I Tracked My Calories For a Week To See How Many of Them I'm Drinking

I counted my alcohol calories in a week to see how I compared to the national 5%-of-total-calories average. Turns out my numbers are slightly higher than the average.
Publish date:
November 26, 2012
alcohol, booze, Thanksgiving Hangover, i eat a lot of things

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 5% of the average adult’s caloric intake is from drinking alcohol –- about the same amount as one’s calories from soda.

I, like many red-blooded teenagers released into their college lives with zero idea of how to intake alcohol responsibly, experienced quite the belly bloat after discovering the “joy” of Keystone punch in September, 2007. Still, it’s easy to succumb to the idea that any alcoholic drink that doesn’t come with an umbrella in it is basically like drinking calorie-burning flame water.

Who hasn’t weighed themselves after a gnarly hangover poop and marveled at how “healthy” dehydration and involuntary purging can be? Such is the self-delusion afforded to a 20-something who never quite shook the “If it’s free, it should be in my mouth” mentality.

Studies like these always give me pause, though. I’m not one to be too fussed about my caloric intake, but I always do feel better when the majority of my consumption is coming from leafy greens as opposed to from a plastic Solo cup. I know my alcohol caloric percentage is probably higher than 5% -- I’m a socially anxious city-dweller with a predilection for stout beers and salad dinners. But I wondered just how much higher it would be, even with all that “liquid bread.”

With that in mind, I've been keeping track of my food and alcohol intake over the last week, trying to see at which point I should probably go the “rich women on diets” route and switch to vodka Crystal Lites or whatever else my mom is drinking this month.

(Note: To get these calorie counts, I used the “MyFitnessPal” app for my phone and a healthy reliance on estimation. I seriously don’t know how people regularly counting calories do this shit -- I started to feel the ol’ disordered eating impulse tugging at my brain by the end of the week just trying to keep track of it for this piece. And, yes, I drew much inspiration for this from Emily's week of Eating Whatever She Wanted.)

Breakfast: Honey lavender soy latte, handful of trail mix 
Lunch: A veritable buttload of veggie tempura, six sweet potato sushi rolls, two cups white rice, bowl of kale salad 
Dinner: Four more sweet potato rolls, a few bites of my housemate’s kale salad 
Post-dinner: Two glasses of mulled wine 
Alcohol calories: 454
Total calories: 2812
Percentage: 16%

Not too bad, I thought! Yes, my office gets catered food on Fridays so I tend to stuff my face like a broke-ass hamster preparing for winter, but still a perfectly respectable alcohol/food ratio.

Then I hit the weekend.

SATURDAY:Breakfast: Half of an eggplant and half a bunch of curly kale, sautéed in a few capfuls of olive oil and topped with sriracha
Lunch: Olive round, mint chocolate chip cookie, giant iced coffee
Dinner: Salad with vinaigrette, vegan chicken quesadilla from Herbivore
Post-dinner: Two Sam Adams ales, two Bison Organic chocolate stouts, a sweet tea vodka/Sprite cocktail, a shot of Bacardi 151, two handfuls of tortilla chips I took to bed with me
Alcohol calories: 1266
Food calories: 2903
Percentage: 43%

One of my good friends, whom I’ve known since I was seven, was having a housewarming party. He’s an ex-Berkeley frat boy, I knew only the people I had come with, and I ended up getting in a screaming argument with some dickhead bro about rape culture, all of which combined into me drinking a little more than I’d intended. Also, I am ashamed of that Bacardi shot, as I was at no one’s bachelorette party.

Lunch: Amy’s vegetable barley soup, can of kidney beans
Dinner: Veggie burrito, half a basket of tortilla chips
Post-dinner: More tortilla chips
Alcohol calories: 0
Total calories: 1414
Percentage: 0%

Allllll riiiight!

Breakfast: Two mugs of black coffee, two handfuls trail mix
Lunch: Leftover veggie tempura, two cups of white rice
Snack: Three sheets of nori that I bullied out of my intern, bunch of grapes, Diet Snapple
Dinner: Apple
Post-dinner: Six or seven cups of black tea
Alcohol calories: 0
Total calories: 1568
Percentage: 0%

Breakfast: Two mugs of black coffee, everything bagel with sriracha sauce on
Lunch: Kale salad with trail mix on top, half sesame seed bagel
Snack: Diet Snapple, orange
Dinner: Granola bar, soy peppermint mocha
Post-dinner: The strongest single margarita I have ever had, GOOD GOD
Alcohol calories: 400
Total calories: 1882
Percentage: 21%

This was one of those hyper-busy Action Girl 20-something days that I feel very invigorated by but could never sustain long-term. Every Tuesday, I go straight to improv class after work, which means I don’t really get time to eat dinner. After improv this week, I went on a first date with a girl I met (made out with) on Halloween, which meant late-night, loosening-up drinking. The strong margarita was a surprise, though.

WEDNESDAY:Breakfast: Two mugs of black coffee, two handfuls trail mix
Lunch: Veggie club sandwich
Dinner: Apple, packaged spicy barbecue tofu, black iced coffee
Post-dinner: An incredible amount of sweet potato chips
Alcohol calories: 0
Total calories: 1787
Percentage: 0%

I drove back to Sacramento for Thanksgiving Wednesday night, which meant that all of my parents’ snacks (and booze) were mine, all mine, for the mooching. This becomes markedly evident in the last two days of my tracking.

THURSDAY:Breakfast: Giant cup of black coffee, more sweet potato chips with hummus
Lunch: Two chunks Tofurkey, two scoops sweet potatoes, two scoops vegan mashed potatoes, steamed kale, vegan gravy, cranberry sauce, Blue Moon Pale Ale
Post-lunch: Slice of pumpkin pie, slice of chocolate cream pie
Dinner: Two chunks Tofurkey, one scoop sweet potatoes, one scoop vegan mashed potatoes, steamed kale, vegan gravy, cranberry sauce
Post-dinner: Sweet potato chips, a terrible “cocktail” consisting of three shots Jim Beam, half cup soy nog, half cup almond milk. Alcohol calories: 841
Total calories: 3789
Percentage: 22%


Average percentage: 7.14%

I'll be honest: I've never kept track of my caloric intake in a formal way like this, and I feel strangely vulnerable about coming clean with my weirdo habits. What this really confirmed is that I tend to swing between eating and drinking in a pretty healthy fashion and consuming basically anything that comes within three feet of my gaping maw. This gets particularly bad when, like this week, there is an overabundance of vegan food in my vicinity and I have to put it in my mouth right now.

My personal and professional lives have been a little tumultuous recently, and I can tell just by looking at this little diary which days were stressing me out and on which days I felt stable and relaxed. Although, again, I try to avoid counting calories, I know that I just feel physically more capable of punching the world in the face when I’ve mostly ingested fruits and vegetables instead of, you know, potatoes and beer. I try to adhere to Lesley’s Eating What Feels Good method -– maybe I should extend that to drinking, too.

I am surprised that overall, my average alcohol percentage wasn’t that much higher than the national one. When I drink, it’s usually because I’m in a social situation like a bar or a date where I feel compelled to drink -- I’m really not a wine-with-dinner kind of person, on the whole.

I’ll probably use this diary as an impetus to cut down on the nights I do drink, just for the sake of my own well-being. My cycle of stress-and-alcohol is unlikely to resolve itself, after all, by getting even more extreme, so maybe this will help nip it in the bud.

Though I am going to delete that calorie counting app from my phone. No sense in falling into a neurosis-fueled tracking trap for the sake of knowing how many calories are in a Death and Taxes stout.

Kate is talking about what she is eating (constantly) at @katchatters.