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The 'beer diet' exists, and it's a bad idea

I was recently explaining to my son the occasions leading up to Easter, and doing a pretty poor job of it. After all, the last time I was in a church was...umm...yeah. But I do know the basics about Lent, how you're supposed to make a sacrifice starting on Ash Wednesday and then continue your suffering until right before Easter. Or Christmas. Who can remember? Anyway, it got me to thinking abo
Celebrate over a beer, but don't build your diet around it!Getty Images stock / Today

I was recently explaining to my son the occasions leading up to Easter, and doing a pretty poor job of it. After all, the last time I was in a church was...umm...yeah. But I do know the basics about Lent, how you're supposed to make a sacrifice starting on Ash Wednesday and then continue your suffering until right before Easter. Or Christmas. Who can remember?

Anyway, it got me to thinking about that blogger who lived on beer alone for Lent last year, like a drunken monk. What was probably just an excuse to have a Hoegaarden in his lunchbox turned into a mini media frenzy, especially after he lost 20 pounds pounding beers. He even got a book deal. His antics also must've piqued the interest of dieters who would rather give up food than beer, because the "beer diet" is now out there, at least according to this recent report from Fox News.

It sounds perfect for alcoholics. You drink one beer three times a day, along with a snack and lots of water. Seeing as the average beer has 160 calories in it, and many snack packs on the market keep it to 100 calories or less, you'll be skinny (or dead) in no time.

While craft beer actually has a pretty solid nutritional profile, I don’t think it should be at the center of your diet; even college kids supplement it with Taco Bell. But that’s just my opinion. I asked TODAY Diet and Nutrition Editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom to evaluate the beer diet. She’s not a fan.

“If you looked up ‘fad diet’ in the dictionary, you find the beer diet,” Dr. Fernstrom said. “It has all the hallmarks of a ‘forbidden fruit’ weight loss plan, like the cupcake diet or the fast food diet. It has beer, it has snacks – it sounds perfect.” But it’s nowhere near perfect. “At best, it’s something you can have a chuckle over with friends, saying ‘I’m on the beer diet.’ At worst it can be damaging to your health, especially if you’re dealing with high blood pressure or diabetes.”

Is craft beer healthier than milk?

Drinking beer reduces your willpower, especially on an empty stomach. One beer leads to two, two leads to three, and three leads to a call to Pizza Palace and heaping piles of regret in the morning. There's a reason why diners are so busy at 1 a.m.

So the devil is in the details. And unfortunately, there are very few details available. “It’s not really a diet, it’s a concept,” Dr. Fernstrom told me when I related the sketchy bits of information about the beer diet I could find. She says that without a working diet plan that includes what foods to eat, portion sizes and calorie counts, there’s too much left up to the dieter to get wrong, especially when alcohol is involved. “After a couple of beers, it’s easier to tell yourself that fried zucchini sticks ARE technically vegetables,” she said. We’ve all been there, doc. As with all diets, Dr. Fernstrom recommends consulting with a health professional first, but my guess is that people who are interested in the beer diet never will, as it would most certainly be a buzzkill.

Despite her feelings about the beer diet, Dr. Fernstrom thinks having a beer or two while watching your weight is a perfectly sensible thing to do. “Beer is a really good drink when you want to control calories,” she says. “You can nurse a beer longer than a cocktail, and the bubbles keep you from drinking it too fast.”

So here's my advice: don't be a moron. Try to live your life in balance. Drink a beer. Eat delicious, balanced meals more often than not. Get your body moving most days. Drink lots of water. Forgive yourself for being human, and do your best. No fad diet is going to lead to anything but disappointment as that cruel yo-yo rises once again. 

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits.

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