Illustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
It's only too easy to drink more than you intended. Anyone who's ever planned to make a cameo appearance at a friend's party for "just one drink" only to wake up 12 hours later with a headache pounding to the rhythm of the alarm clock can sympathize. We could all use a few tricks for avoiding alcohol over-consumption — simple rules of thumb to keep us happy and hangover-free.
Luckily, researchers at Cornell and Iowa State Universities have got our backs. A new study from the two universities, published online Monday in the International Journal of Drug Policy, assessed how gender, BMI, and alcohol-serving methods influenced pouring and thus consumption of booze. Whereas past research of this kind has hinged on participants' own accounts of their drinking behaviors (which is especially problematic when you consider what alcohol does to your memory), this study observed subjects in real time.
Each of 74 college students and staff members — males and females with a range of BMIs — was asked to free-pour wine in 16 different scenarios. These situations varied according to type of wine (red or white), glass size (standard or extra-wide), and glass positioning (held in one hand while the participant poured with the other, or placed on a table); in each scenario, participants were directed to pour "as much wine as they would normally pour into a glass."
Participants poured 11.9% more wine into wide glasses than into standard glasses, 12.2% more wine into held glasses than glasses that were set on a table, and 9.2% more wine when the wine was white instead of red. When participants were specifically told to fill their glass halfway (about one full serving of wine), they poured an average of 18% less than when they were making up their serving sizes themselves. BMI and gender influenced pouring behavior, too. Average-BMI men poured 9% more than average-BMI women. Researchers hypothesize that drinking (and intoxication) is viewed as more acceptable for men than for women, and that women are likely to compare their pours with other women's and regulate accordingly. This could also explain why women's pouring habits did not seem to be affected by their BMIs, whereas heavier men (those with high BMIs) poured 19% more than their average-BMI male counterparts.
Of course, alcohol multiplication tables (sadly) haven't changed, and eight half-glasses of wine is still an entire bottle. It's serving half-glasses, not drinking them, that'll help you avoid a hangover: Just as portion control has been proven an effective strategy for losing weight (or simply not feeling too full), awareness of alcohol "portions" could be just as helpful in avoiding over-drinking and its attendant misery. In other words, while we wholeheartedly encourage you to take style cues from the Olivia Pope, copying her wine-bottle-to-the-face drinking habits is less advisable.
So, to help you drink the amount you want, leave your glass on the table while you pour, use a standard-sized version, and only fill it halfway — regardless of how many glasses you decide to drink. As for whether you should pick red or white wine, researchers postulate that red wine's deep color makes it more obvious that you've got enough in your glass than when you're drinking white — but we say to let your taste buds guide that particular choice. After all, rosé season isn't over yet.