Drunkorexia is a relatively new term for the combination of disordered eating and binge drinking. In a new University of Florida study researchers found that college students who are more physically active tend to engage in binge drinking more often, compared to their less active peers. And a previous study found that 16 percent of university students surveyed admitted to restricting calories to "save them up" for alcohol, which was three times more common among women. In the research, the reported motivations for drunkorexia include preventing weight gain, getting drunk faster, and saving money that would be spent on food in order to purchase alcohol. But this risky behavior isn’t limited to just college students. I’ve seen it among my female and male clients, in many age groups, with habits that have included not eating in order to “spend” calories on alcohol, drinking excessively to the point of throwing up as a way to purge, overexercising before going out drinking or the following day, and starving the day after a night of binge drinking.
In our weight-obsessed culture, it’s easy to understand the temptation to prioritize weight over health, or make light of drunkorexia, but the truth is this pattern is serious, with side effects that can include:
- Short and long term cognitive problems, such as trouble concentrating and difficulty making decisions
- Poor nutritional status, which can lead to muscle loss, a weaker immune system, and a greater risk of injuries
- Acute alcohol poisoning, especially in women
- An increased risk of chronic diseases tied to high alcohol intake, such as breast cancer, liver damage, high blood pressure, cancers of the upper GI tract, and stroke
- A greater risk of developing a more serious eating disorder or substance abuse problem
If you’ve ever engaged in drunkorexic behavior, break the cycle. Make a commitment to:
- Not skip meals or snacks in anticipation of drinking
- Focus on exercise as a way to boost energy, sleep better, manage stress, and stay healthy, not as a way to manipulate your body or make up for food or alcohol calories
- Focus on nutrition as a strategy for taking care if yourself and optimizing your health, which means creating balance, rather than giving your body too little or too much
- Drink in moderation, which means no more than one drink a day for women and two for men, with one drink defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or a 1.5 ounce shot of liquor. And nope, that doesn’t mean not drinking all week then downing seven drinks on Saturday. If you can’t commit to moderate consumption at least pledge to cut back
- Plan social activities that don’t involve alcohol, like doing something active such as indoor rock climbing, or batting cages, or going to a museum or play
For more information on disordered eating, including a quiz to assess your relationship with food, check out my previous post Should You Eat Cake on Your Birthday.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.