Drunkorexia: Less of one thing, to consume more of another

Introduction by BDC

If you haven’t already, read our Manifesto (the black and white poster) on our homepage. This is the core of what we believe, and so much of it applies to this blog post.

The pressure either by society or our friends to drink and to look “good” while doing it can be overwhelming. Often, when we buckle to that expectation, it sets into motion a chain reaction of unhealthy decisions.

For college students, females in particular, the hours leading up to a planned night (or day) of drinking are critical in determining whether we’re going to have a really good time or one where we might end up feeling worse than before we started.

I dated a girl in college who was incredibly smart, outwardly confident, and as social as me. We partied together, a lot. Before we’d go out bar-hopping, when I was usually scarfing down Mongolian Barbeque after a bartending shift to soak up the booze I knew I’d be consuming in a couple hours, she was at the gym. And then she’d avoid dinner. I was aware, but I didn’t know it was “a thing.” Those nights usually ended up with her going from 0 to 60 much faster than me, it escalating to some ridiculous argument at the bar, and then me holding her hair back at some point before putting her to bed.

That “thing” was drunkorexia.

Drunkorexia is self-imposed starvation or binge eating/purging before alcohol consumption, usually binge-drinking. Essentially, this means intentionally restricting your eating (or, conversely, binge-eating with the intent on purging) before consuming alcohol as a method of perceived weight control.

Those who suffer from drunkorexia may even take up vigorous or excessive exercise regimens in an attempt to burn off a lot of calories prior to a night of heavy drinking. These methods are often used to prevent weight gain, or to catch a “buzz” more quickly. Drunkorexia has been shown to affect both male and female college students. Approximately 28% of college students have reported they restrict their calories prior to drinking to prevent weight gain (Bryant, Darkes, & Rahal).

Health professionals are currently labeling drunkorexia as a hybrid eating disorder and substance abuse disorder. Those who engage in drunkorexia behavior are more likely to participate in binge drinking. We all know the dangers associated with binge drinking, but when drunkorexia is added to the mix, the effects of alcohol are heightened, which can lead to a skewed or more intensely negative perspective of the stresses we may already be dealing with.

Having food in your stomach before (and while) drinking can have a significant influence on our body’s ability to absorb alcohol. Eating less before drinking may get us drunk faster, but at what cost?

Blood alcohol level (BAL) is the amount of alcohol that is currently in the body. BAL is affected by many factors, such as the amount of food in the stomach, type and quantity of the beverage, weight, sex, hydration, illness, tolerance, medications, and emotional state. Everyone has predetermined genetics that will determine how their body will metabolize alcohol. But, when it comes down to it, there are a lot of factors that determine how each person will metabolize alcohol. So, since our individual circumstances play a direct role in how our own bodies process alcohol, drinking shouldn’t be a race or competition. We know we may feel like a rockstar in the moment, but trust us—there are no awards to be won.

Although there are several different factors that determine how alcohol will react within the body, one thing is standard for everyone: our liver will ONLY digest one standard drink per hour. This is simple biology, folks. It keeps the liver from becoming overloaded, and helps a person maintain a safe BAL. Not to mention, maintaining a moderate pace of consumption can still achieve the desired social relaxation effect from alcohol, and help combat the usual suspects: vomiting, blackouts, and alcohol poisoning.   

What is considered a “standard drink”:

  • 1.25 oz. liquor (80 proof)
  • 12 oz. beer (4-5% ABV)

  • 5 oz. wine (11-12% ABV)

When food is not consumed prior to drinking, BAL will peak as soon as 30 minutes into drinking. With food in the stomach prior to alcohol consumption, it can take 1-6 hours to reach peak BAL. Reaching a peak BAL within 30 minutes will lead to confusion, disorientation, decreased motor function skills, uncontrolled mood swings, and gastric distress (i.e., nausea and vomiting).

Drunkorexia habits are more likely to lead to blackouts, due to the consumption of alcohol in the setting of poor nutritional status. Alcohol further impairs how the body uses nutrients. Engaging in drunkorexia can exacerbate this, and malnutrition can set in. As soon as alcohol is consumed, it immediately begins to enter the bloodstream. When a meal consisting of protein, fat, and carbohydrates is consumed prior to drinking, the body is able to absorb alcohol more slowly, leading to that desired social relaxation phase.

It’s important to treat alcohol and your body with respect. It only takes one incident to completely change your life. Developing a healthy relationship with alcohol will lead to better social experiences, nights you’ll remember, and no hangovers. You won’t miss those, trust me.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, visit The National Eating Disorder Association website for valuable resources to find help and support, or call the toll-free information and referral helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Guest blog post contributed by Jenn Fillenworth, RD—Registered Dietician, food blogger, culinary student, and all-around awesome woman. Read her blog, and follow her on Instagram @JennyWithTheGoodEats.

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