It’s been a long day at work, and all you want to do is kick back with girls and hit up your favorite spot for happy hour to unwind.  This in-between meal of drinks and appetizers, however, can put a major dent in your effort to drop the pounds  if you aren’t careful.

Don’t fret: you can still unwind with your friends without undoing all your hard work, if you are smart about it.

  • Be upfront with your friends.  Let them know that you are trying to watch your intake, and ask them to support you in that.  People tend to copy what their fellow diner’s behaviors, so saying it out loud will not only motivate you to keep your word, but might actually motivate your friends to follow your example.
  • Skip your usual.  Chalk it up to one of those weird things, but research shows you are more likely to order a second round if you are drinking your favorite drink, so mix it up.  If you usually drink beer, order wine.  You don’t have to order something you don’t like, just something different, which will make it easier to resist ordering more.
  • Avoid sharing.  A pitcher may be cheaper than ordering by the pint, but it’s harder to gauge how much you are actually drinking if your glass keeps getting topped off.
  • Stand up to your bartender.  If you are a frequent happy hour patron, chances are the staff knows it.  The more comfortable they are with you, the more likely they are to pressure you into having another drink.  Some will even bring you another round before you are finished with your first without asking- a trick a server friend of mine let me in on to rack up the bill.  Just remember:  bartenders are working.  The higher your bill, the higher you will tip.  Politely refuse, even if it’s already poured.
  • Nix the mixed drinks. They can contain upwards of 700 calories, with all the sugary juices, calorie filled soda and multiple shots.  Stick with wine or light beer, or if you really want a drink, get your favorite liquor with diet soda and wedge of lime for all the flavor and none of the calories.
  • Skip the appetizers. Drinking dehydrates your body, which triggers your munchie reflex.  It may be tempting to order cheap appetizers or happy hour specials to share, but rarely are they healthy or low-calorie.  Even if you vow to only have a bite or two, alcohol lowers your inhibitions making your more likely to eat more than you intended, so it is best to wait for your healthy dinner at home.  If your friends decide to buy a bunch and share, suggest the healthiest choice on the menu, and eat only off the ‘safe plate.’  Look for hummus plates, margherita pizzas, shrimp cocktail and broth based soups. It probably goes without saying, stay away from anything deep-fried, cheese coated and wrapped in bacon.

Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t about giving up the things you enjoy- especially spending time with your friends.  A few small tweaks will have you saving calories without sacrificing fun.  Now that’s something to be happy about.