Today I had an unsettling self-revelation. I think I’m a drunkorexic.
Not fully-fledged. And certainly not all the time. But I have been, and sometimes still am. And that’s something I’m really not proud of.
What prompted my realisation? Science.
New research is out today from the University of South Australia revealing almost 60 per cent of female university students admit to regular drunkorexic behaviour.
That means there are an alarming amount of women out there who are meticulously controlling their diet and exercise in the lead-up to a big night of boozing just so they don’t feel guilty about all those pesky calories.
What’s perhaps more alarming is that the study’s findings, published in the Australian Psychologist, don’t at all surprise me.
A large majority of my friends in one way or another do this. And they’re not university students anymore. Myself included.
Drunkorexic behaviour can be anything from restricting your diet, exercising and skipping meals to the more extreme self-induced purging in order to offset the calories you cop when binge drinking.
This is the first Australian snapshot of the phenomenon hitting Western countries, with studies already having established it as a prevalent problem amoung young people in the USA.
Drunkorexia is a nasty mash-up of alcohol abuse and disordered eating, and researcher Alissa Knight says health workers are worried about the possible mental and physical impacts.
Of the 136 women aged 18-25 quizzed by Knight, 58 per cent reported frequently trying to compensate for their drinking plans.
The most common tactics were skipping meals (38 per cent), exercising (51 per cent) and opting for lower-calorie beverages (46 per cent) — vodka lime soda, anyone?
A number of women were also going to the extreme lengths of purging, starvation or laxatives only when alcohol is on the horizon.
What this suggests, Knight says, is that while eating disorders alone are motivated by a desire to be thin, drunkorexia appears to be driven by a desire to be thin and drink a tonne of alcohol.
The problem is that both of these — drinking and thinness — are enormous, inescapable social norms forever rammed down our throats, and they are completely conflicting.
Women are trying to do the near-impossible: achieve a perfect “bikini body” while being able to down a six-pack of ciders, no worries.
And even if you try to be healthy and ditch the alcohol, our culture really doesn’t make it easy for you.
Have you ever been at a bar or a party without a drink in your hand? If not, well there’s my point, and if you have, then I have no doubt you dodged a zillion questions like, “Do you want a beer? Why in God’s name not? Are you dying?”
Hello Sunday founder Chris Raine talks about giving up booze and changing the world’s relationship with alcohol. Video continues after post…
It’s far simpler to just keep drinking. But we also are reminded constantly of how this will affect our waistlines.
And so women, who are forever pressuring themselves to lose weight, resort to other distorted measures by telling themselves they are just striking a lifestyle balance.
It starts rather innocently. Nipping out for a jog before heading to the bar. Telling yourself you are don’t need to “line your stomach” with carbs — a banana will do. Saying you are “working late” so you can skip the dinner with friends and just go straight to the drinks.
But these habits die hard. I have friends who go completely out of their way to “save their day’s calories” for alcohol.
I don’t get loose nearly as much as I did in my early 20s, so I don’t really control my diet before drinking like I used to. But it remains something I will think about, without fail. My poison of choice is still vodka soda or red wine. And the next day you will probably find me in the gym “working out the toxins”.
Knight says women are three times more likely to be drunkorexic. This is bad news, because the health effects are far worse for us ladies.
Binge drinking is damaging enough on its own because we weigh less and have a shocking alcohol metabolism compared to men.
But doing so on an empty stomach or after strenuous exercise will surge your blood alcohol levels, making you vulnerable to cirrhosis, brain damage and other health conditions.
I can guarantee that this study out today will strike a chord with a massive amount of women out there, many of whom would never have recognised that their behaviour around drinking was a bonafide problem.
The mere realisation that it exists under the label ‘drunkorexia’ is a big wake-up call.
I for one hadn’t taken my actions seriously, but that changes today.