Drunkorexia: Why more and more people are skipping dinner for drinks.

If it has fruit in it, it’s got to be healthy? Right?


Admit it. We’ve all done it. Joked that we’re saving our calories for the alcohol.

Except it turns out it’s not so funny after all. In fact, it’s kind of dangerous.

And get this. The idea of wining and dining without the dining is apparently growing in popularity. Many women, especially university students, are reportedly skipping meals to justify the alcoholic beverages they plan on consuming later in the day.

As with any socio-cultural trend, it’s been given a catchy nickname: drunkorexia.

The Atlantic reports:

Wine, anyone?

Adam Barry, a professor of health education and behavior at the University of Florida, has compiled the most comprehensive research to-date on drunkorexia, published last spring in the Journal of American College Health.

Barry examined 22,000 college students across 40 universities and found that, even after controlling for race, school year, Greek affiliation and whether a student lived on campus (the authors did not control for whether a respondent played on a sports team), vigorous exercise, and disordered eating uniquely predicted binge drinking.

In fact, those who exercised or dieted to lose weight were over 20 percent more likely to have five or more drinks in a single sitting. Students who had vomited or used laxatives in the previous month to shed pounds were 76 percent more likely to binge drink.

Daniella Sieukaran, a clinical psychology graduate student at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, was already convinced that students were offsetting alcohol calories by extreme dieting.

Over the past four years, there have been several studies documenting how common drunkorexia is on college campuses, she said, citing research that as high as 26 percent of young adults use the unhealthy practice to manage their weight.

Sieukaran was interested in the longer-term effects of the behavior, and found that, among 227 undergrads at York University in Toronto, students who dieted and drank heavily were more likely to engage in unprotected sex and to require medical treatment for an alcohol overdose.

It’s a more serious problem than that flip amalgamation might suggest.  Regularly drinking on an empty stomach can have long-term health consequences, such as gastritis, ulcers and malnutrition.

In the short term, it can also lead to higher levels of impairment and intoxication. Many girls are getting drunker than they mean to, because drinking on an empty stomach results in a rapid absorption of alcohol.

This from New York:

In findings from the University of Missouri, researchers stated that 16 percent of those surveyed reported restricting calories to “save them” for drinking. Motivations for drunkorexia include staying slim, getting intoxicated faster, and saving money that would otherwise be spent on food to buy alcohol.

This lifestyle spells big trouble for young women, the researchers add. “Apart from each other, depriving the brain of adequate nutrition and consuming large amounts of alcohol can be dangerous,” researcher Victoria Osborne said. “Together, they can cause short- and long-term cognitive problems including difficulty concentrating, studying, and making decisions.”

Also, she adds that women are at higher risk for health problems related to binge drinking because they metabolize alcohol differently than men.

A related trend is the rise of diet alcoholic beverages – specifically those aimed at women. Big brands are seeking to capitalise on a ‘weight loss’ mentality, and their marketing is changing to achieve this goal.

No longer are ‘girly’ drinks those sugary, brightly coloured confections nicknamed ‘alcopops’… Well, they are. But now they’re slightly less sugary. Hangovers are still the wrath of grapes; but now they are also the wrath of a specially formulated, diet drink.

Jacoba Urist writes:

The other category: diet alcohol ads, aimed primarily at young females. These promise all the upsides of drinking without any of the pesky weight gain.

Anyone guilty of this?

It’s a funny thing, Jernigan [director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health] remarked. After decades of marketing alcohol by objectifying and mistreating women, the adult beverage world has suddenly discovered female consumers. It’s like Virginia Slims all over again. “There’s no question that the alcohol industry is presenting their goods to women as though they’re diet products,” he said. “Because that’s what sells.”

Take Anheuser-Busch, which advertises its Select 55 beer directly on Weight Watchers’ website. Pushing itself as “The Lightest Beer In the World,” it assures dieters that they can “be good … and still have a good time.” Bacardi promotes itself with “diet cola” as the zero-carb drinking alternative, while Beam Inc.’s SkinnyGirl Cocktails advertise ready-to-serve, “low-cal flavors and options.” The brand’s creator (and the inspiration on the cartoon on the bottle), is the incredibly svelte reality star Bethenny Frankel.

Back to drunkorexia. Although it’s not a formally recognised eating disorder, it’s still  a concerning. And if it’s a thing in the US, chances are it’s a thing in Australia too.

This report from News Limited suggests that might just be the case:

Eating Disorders Foundation spokeswoman Naomi Crafti said many young Australian women were “drunkorexics”, the common term for multi-impulsive bulimia.

“They are not eating all day because they know they are going to drink at night so they are saving their calories,” she said. “Then they are drinking large quantities of alcohol which has no nutrients, getting excessively drunk because they have no food in their stomach and often engaging in promiscuous sexual activity because they have no control over their behaviour and later on purging to rid themselves of the calories of alcohol.”

Sydney nutritional medicine students Michelle Venturelli, Carla Grant and Hanna Skiba said that while they knew better, many of their girlfriends restricted their eating so they could binge drink.

“A lot of girls will substitute their kilojoule intake, even for the (whole) day, to spend it all on alcohol and not food,” said Ms Venturelli, 19.

But Ms Skiba said those girls were also more likely to end up at fast food restaurants when they were drunk and hungry.

Go figure.

Have you seen examples of ‘drunkorexia’? Have you personally ever skipped a meal, to ‘excuse’ a sugary beverage later in the evening? 

If you think you may have a problem with alcohol, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or log on to Hello Sunday Morning and join their online quit program.