Lose Weight Without Giving Up Beer (I: Intro)

Beer and Wine Journal focuses mainly on brewing beer, and secondarily with making mead, wine, and other fermented beverages. Occasionally, however, we will also cover some related topics that may interest some homebrewers. For example, we have run several cooking with beer articles. In this article, I tackle a health-related issue that I think many of us can relate to — trying to lose weight without giving up beer.


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“Help me, I’m melting!” My weight since mid February 2014.

Beer is great. The only thing that’s not so great about it is that it contains quite a few Calories. [Note: The type of calories used as a measure of food energy are 1,000 times larger than (lowercase “c”) calories — the unit of energy required to raise 1 g of water by one degree Celsius — so I’ll be capitalizing “Calories” in this article to indicate that.] Recently, for health reasons, I decided that I needed to lose weight, and so far I have been successful at it. I have lost over 25 pounds in 22 weeks. During this time, I have still enjoyed beer. Here’s how I did it.

Basic Idea

I have tried losing weight before, so I had some experience with what works and what didn’t. This time around, I decided to lose weight at a slow but steady rate. We all see diet plans that claim to produce large amounts of weight loss in a short amount of time. But the fact is, they don’t work. If they did, nearly everyone would be skinny. My idea was to lose weight at a workable pace. Over time, the results would add up.

Another thing I knew from experience is that I would not follow my plan if it was complicated or difficult to follow, from the standpoint of hunger or having to break habits. Given my background in biology, I also knew that most diet plans based on physiological-sounding premises were bunk. So I tried to figure out a plan that was biologically sound and one for which it would be easy to stay on track.

Boiled down to its essence, my idea for losing weight is to eat less and move more — in other words, to burn more Calories than I take in. Conceptually, that is very simple. However, in practice, things aren’t always as easy as they sound.


The Easy Weight Loss Zone


My weight on February 28th. A friend of mine challenged me to a weight loss contest a couple weeks after I started. We send pics of our scale to each other once a week to keep track. If I win, I get beer. (If he wins, he gets whiskey.)

For every person, there is a net Calorie intake that would cause them to maintain their weight — neither gaining nor losing — over time. If you lower your net Calorie intake below that point — burning more Calories than you take in — you will lose weight. If the deficit of Calories is fairly small, you will not be particularly hungry, and you will have as much energy as you would if you were eating enough to maintain your weight. However, if your Calorie deficit is small, your rate of weight loss will also be small.

Conversely, if you take in far fewer Calories than are required to maintain your weight, you will lose weight more quickly, but you will be hungry and listless. You will not have much energy, and focusing on mental tasks will become increasingly difficult. In the case of extreme Calorie deficits, your body will go into starvation mode and try to hang on to every last morsel of food. Sticking to diets with severe Calorie restrictions is next to impossible.

So, when attempting to lose weight, you want to find a level of net Calorie intake that leaves you with enough energy to get through your day. And you want to avoid being hungry, because that will derail your weight-loss plans in the long-term. On the other hand, you likely want to lose as much weight as you can each week. So, you want your Calorie deficit to be as large as possible, while still avoiding hunger and fatigue. You just need to accept that your weight loss will be gradual.

I suspect that, for every individual person, this amount of Calories will be different. For me, it was the net amount of Calories that caused me to lose between 1 and 2 lb. (~0.5–1.0 kg) per week. The actual number of Calories depends on your weight, and your level of activity. When I started losing weight, my net Calorie budget was around 1,800 per day. Now that I’m a bit thinner, it’s closer to 1,550. (There are apps and websites that will calculate your Calorie budget based on your current weight and weight loss goal.)

Overall, my approach could be summarized as: take in less Calories than you have been, burn more Calories than you have been, but don’t go nuts about it. That’s very simple, but as with many simple things, the devil is in the details. Next Friday, I’ll post the conclusion to this series. In it, I will go over some of the nitty-gritty details that I think make sustained weight-loss very doable. I’ll also focus on how making it as easy as possible to fit into your lifestyle, which is to say I’ll show how you can continually lose weight without having to give up beer.

I should also point out that, the 26 pounds I have lost so far is not the greatest amount of weight lost in history. You probably know at least a few people who have lost more than this. And, I certainly didn’t lose the weight quickly. (In fact, that’s the whole point of my weight-loss plan.) However, I don’t know any homebrewers who need to lose hundreds of pounds quickly. I do know many that would like to shed tens of pounds in a reasonable timeframe. So hopefully, this will help.

Also, nothing in my plan is unique or revolutionary. It’s not a “do this one thing and the pounds will melt away” kind of plan. It’s more of a “combine a tiny bit of knowledge about biology and nutrition and some common sense and you’ll lose weight at a reasonable pace” type of plan. It’s not a wackadoodle, “miracle solution” Dr. Oz weight loss plan, it’s a boring, “stick to the facts” Dr. Chris weight loss plan. The only thing it has going for it is that it actually works.


My weight this morning (7/18/2014).


Related articles

Pilgrim Oysters (Chicken Fried Stuffing Balls) — here’s how I gained weight



  1. You make it sound so simple.

    Eat less. Exercise more.

    • Chris Colby says

      At the heart of it, it is that simple. In practice, there are a couple things you can do to make it easy to stay on track. I’ll go over those next Friday.

  2. Kevin Elsken says

    I have tweaked my diet over the last 20 years and have gone from 260 to now just about 202. I have included a one to two beer allowance in my daily calorie plan. The nice thing about doing that is if I splurge during the day (cookies at work are my downfall), then I can offset thise extra calories by skipping the evening beer. But overall your advice is spot on, calories in versus calories burned. I also do lots of walking (5 miles per day) to help with the latter.

    • Chris Colby says

      Congrats on dropping almost 60 lb. (26 kg). The “Calorie swap” idea — cookies instead of beer, exercise for more beer — is something I do, too. I’ll even swap less Calories on one day for more Calories another — i.e. I’ll stop a bit short on Thursday so I can eat/drink more on Friday.
      Also, great job walking 5 miles a day, On days that I’m not doing something to work up a sweat in the garden, I walk about 2.5 miles (4 km).

      • Kevin Elsken says

        I have found the Fitbit activity tracker to be a great motivator and weight loss tool. It easily tracks your “mileage”, and it often motivates me to take that last 20 minute walk in the evening to reach my goal. But like you, i am often in the garden being quite active, even if the Fitbit does not seem to recognize that fact. Weeding does not equal steps.

        • Chris Colby says

          I know a couple people who have FitBits and like them. It’s good to find things that keep you focused on staying on track.

  3. I’m fortunate that I have never had to deal too much with weight issues, but I have been trying to be increasingly proactive about health issues of late. For me the easiest and most effective thing to ensure my health has been to start eating a seemingly huge portion of veggies daily. I use my malt scale to measure 1/2 lb to go with dinner every day, fresh when I have the time, frozen otherwise. Frankly, a full lb in a day is probably more what you should be getting.

    Its a lot at first, but now seems second nature. Not only do I find myself eating less of other items for dinner, it really helps drop your cholesterol levels. The body uses cholesterol to generate bile to digest fatty items. The fiber in the veggies absorbs bile, causing the body to regenerate it, dropping cholesterol in the process. I eat more meat than I should, and the doc still asked if I was a vegetarian during my last physical.

    – Dennis, Life Fermented Blog

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