15 ways to Have a Healthy Happy Hour!


One thing that I have always freaking loved about my graduate department is how social they are! I've known it since my first interview weekend! These people do not shy away from having a drink, letting loose and having a good time! I love them for that! There is seriously nothing better sometimes than a Friday evening, going with a group of friends to a sunshine-y patio, having a drink and just shooting the breeze. It's wonderful, and it's sometimes exactly what you need! But, with lots of happy hours comes lots of temptations and lots of reasons to develop some bad habits. 

So today, we're going to talk about some of the little things you can do to have a health-ier happy hour! I tried not to give any of the same tips as I give in my 10 Ways to Stay Health When you Go Out to Eat, but there might be a teeny bit of overlap! I would recommend checking that post out for double the tips! 

1. Strategize splurges. If you know you're going to go to happy hour at the end of the day, try to plan ahead. Hydrate. Have a snack ahead of time. Have a salad for lunch instead of take out. Strategizing ahead of time so that you don't have to completely deprive yourself when you get to happy hour will not only make your Happy Hour more fun, but it will make you feel less guilty!

2. But don't NOT eat. I think that this is the biggest mistake that people make. They attempt to strategize by just not eating at all throughout the day. Not only is this a bad idea because, as wel know, drinking on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster, but this is a bad idea because you're just going to be famished when you get to the bar! And what happens when you're famished? You eat more than you otherwise would, and you end up walking around feeling like absolute crap because you ate (and maybe drank!) WAY too much!

3. Choose low-calorie liquor. There are low-er calorie drink options that you can order. Are you liquod person? Vodka and Tequila are 69 calories an ounce! Vodka actually has no carbs in that ounce! More on low-calorie liquors from Spark People here. I personally hate vodka, and don't drink a lot of hard alcohol. So, what about mixed drinks? Mojitos are a great option, and even better when you ask for half-syrup! Click here for more low-calorie cocktails. When all else fails - wine! White wine isn't actually too bad, at about 150 calories and about 7g of carbs per 6 oz glass.

4. Water. Drink. Water. My mom taught me this one! And I never forgot it! Thanks, Mom! Too feel your best - ie. no hangover, no guilt, etc. alternate having a drink with having a water. It's really that simple!

5. Have a limit. Budget limit, drink limit, and time limit, that is. HAVE A LIMIT! When I go out, I usually bring $20 in cash, plan on having X number of drinks, and plan on spending X amount of time. If you go out with that plan and have those limits set in your mind and you stick to those limits, you're going to physically feel better, and mentally, because we all like it when we stick to our commitments!

6. Go for natural. Steer clear of the high calorie juice drinks. Not only do they have a lot of sugar, which can make for a worse hangover, but they're way more high calorie and way less good for you! Pomegranate, cranberry and tomato juices or chunks of fresh fruit (as in sangria) are lower calorie and just better for you. Can you say antioxidants?! Same goes for things like margaritas - fresh squeezed juice is way better for you than frozen margarita mix! 

7. Choose something strong. If I'm going out, and I'm only allowing myself to have a single drink, I'll make it count! I choose a good, strong beer or drink or whatever. I just don't deprive myself of what I want. I choose a strong drink, sip on that during the course of my Happy Hour, and just enjoy my one, strong drink!

8. Snack and SWAP SMART! Okay I'm super guilty of this one! I am a french fry FIEND! But there are definitely things you (and I!) need to remember to snack smart when we go out! 90% of the time the things that kills people's healthy habits when they go to happy hour is what they eat! So, snack and swap smart! Here are some ideas of how to do that!

  • Fill up on salad so you can snack on those other options with food already in your stomach.
  • Hummus instead of butter.
  • Edamame instead of fries for that salty fix.
  • Sliders instead of a burger.

9. Steer clear of FREE SNACKAGE! Bars love to give patrons those free snacks am I right? One of our favorite bars to frequent in my grad program has free salty, buttery popcorn that we all munch away on! Good for the bar, but bad for you! Because free price doesn't mean free calories! Plus, with so many people sticking their hands in those bowls, who knows how clean those snacks really are! Do you want to put germs in your mouth along with unnecessary calories? Thought so.

10. Add ice. On the rocks is your friend! I like it because it increases the amount of water in your drink, and, as we know, water is your friend! Plus, water with your drink will slow alcohol's entry into your bloodstream!

11. Avoid energy drinks. You know how we talked about time limit before? Well, energy drinks tempt you to break those limits because your energy is up! Basically, the energy drink masks the depressant effect of alcohol. So, when you would typically slow down during your Happy Hour, energy drinks makes you want to keep going! There are also just health risks to mixing. A scientific study published in 2004 at the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil addressed how energy drinks modify the effects of alcohol. Here's some info from the CDC, also.

12. Light beer, please! This seems so blasphemous to type because I am a craft beer lover! But, if you're watching your weight, calories, carbs, etc. light beer is a great option! You still get everything you're probably craving - the carbonation, the cold-beer-in-your-hand feels, but what you're not getting is the heaviness in your stomach. Plus, they're a lot cheaper! Win win!

13. Ask for Alcohol-less. People really feel the pressure to have a drink when they go out to Happy Hour. I mean, it's Happy Hour! So, I guess some of us feel like it's "expected". But, we don't HAVE to get a drink! Duh - we all know that! And yet, it can kind of be awkward if you don't get one right, or if people no you're getting a virgin drink! Especially if you're a woman. For whatever reason people always just assume you're pregnant! Haha. So, if you want to get an alcohol-free drink - and be sneaky about it - try something like:

  • Club Soda & Lime** - My go-to, especially if I want to be sneaky about my not drinking! 
  • Arnold Palmer - Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Roy Rogers - Cola and Grenadine
  • Shirley Temple - 7-Up and Grenadine

14. No bar, no problem! Why do we go to happy hour? To have fun with friends, right? Why does that have to be at a bar for Happy Hour! It doesn't, right? Host a barbecue! Go for a hike! Go workout! Go bowling! There are tons of non-Happy Hour options for us all to enjoy! Take the reigns and plan something that's not at the bar to mix things up for your friends!

15. Remember that you're human, PLEASE! If you've read my other How-To posts, you know that I always end with this one! Why? Because when you're trying to get healthier, it's really easy for all of us to beat ourselves up for ONE mistake. But it's pointless, because one mistake and one bad meal, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't make one bit of difference! It's those healthy choices made consistently, those small changes every day, that is what counts! You're human. You're going to have cheat meals. You're going to have occasions when you overindulge. And you know what - that's okay! 

One of my absolute favorites images to share with my challengers is the one on the left. Some people get so overly concerned about their macros and what food their eating, that they forget what a "cheat" meal or a glass of wine truly costs them in the grand scheme of things, which is not very much.

Fitness and healthy living is a journey, and results come slowly over time. So, remember to accept the fact that you're human and off days are going to happen. It's when those off-days become habitual that you start to back track. But otherwise - one "bad" meal won't kill you and won't make you fat. So enjoy that cheat on occasion!

Hope these tips helped! If you have any ideas or things that work for you to add, post them in the comments below!