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College students are practicing a new way of getting loaded in a cheap low-cal way: skipping meals and then drinking booze. I first heard of this intentional combo of extreme dieting/drinking from Joy Stephenson-Laws, who founded the non-profit pHLabs. A close family member of Joy’s was arrested for drinking and driving after a night of a no-food-add-alcohol outing. He claimed that a lot of people do it, so she did some research. “I learned that what happened to my family member is now commonplace on campuses around the country. So common, in fact, that it has a slang name – drunkorexia – and more than 80 percent of college students, both male and female, who binge drink report doing it,” says Joy.
“While not a medical term, it refers to combining alcohol consumption with extreme and risky diet-related behaviors such as limiting food intake (including skipping meals), excessive exercising or, in more extreme cases, binging and purging (which is a behavior of bulimia). This behavior may also involve taking laxatives and diuretics.
“The idea behind drunkorexia is to limit the number of calories from food, so that you can drink more without gaining weight. Some students also report doing it, since drinking on an empty stomach gets them drunk faster and for less money,” explains Joy. There are even web sites dedicated to giving tips on how to be great drunkorexics– much like there are for people with eating disorders.
Lord knows, I’ve missed a meal before a party and regretted it the next morning. But this is counter-intuitive to my college days when we loaded up on carbs before a party so we could stay out late and avoid the hangover from hell. Today, young adults are much more concerned about calorie intake, carb intake, and how their money is spent. After all, paying for your monthly phone data plan ranks way above a six pack of beer.
After reading the reasons for students practicing drunkorexia, it occurred to me that some over-40 women may be using the same methods but much less deliberately. Hear me out…
How Drunkorexia Works
Low-carb diets are all the rage. And I know plenty of low-carb dieters who still drink alcohol, they simply choose low-carb options like a vodka and soda. When on a low-carb diet, your body’s glycogen levels become depleted. The alcohol inhibits your liver’s ability to produce glucose so your body will use what little stored glycogen remains. Simultaneously, your pancreas tries to make up for these imbalances by secreting insulin to lower blood sugar to sometimes dangerous levels. This process is accelerated by an empty stomach. (source: CassioburyCourt.com)
What does this mean? First, your alcohol tolerance plummets. You’ll get really drunk really FAST. The women I know on low-carb diets aren’t out to get loaded.com, but chances are high that it will happen. Second, you put yourself at risk for hypoglycemia. Symptoms can make you appear to be “drunk” even though it’s the low blood sugar affecting your brain. You can pass out, suffer from seizures, or even die if it goes untreated.
Years ago, I worked with a woman who was anorexic. A group of ladies decided to hit happy hour after work for a drink. I got a call the next day from my friend Linda saying our our anorexic coworker had one cocktail and passed out– falling off her barstool and hitting the floor. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was clearly a hypoglycemic reaction to alcohol due to her anorexia. Drunkorexia before it was drunkorexia.
Other Drunkorexia Issues
Joy says, “The jury is still out on whether drunkorexia is more of an eating disorder or more of an alcohol abuse issue. I personally think it is both. One thing that researchers seem to agree on, however, is that those who engage in drunkorexia are seldom, if ever, anorexic.” They are much too concerned about calorie intake.
But there many other risks involved. Here’s a list that Joy provided:
- Vitamin and mineral depletion, especially B vitamins
- Chronic malnutrition
- Alcohol poisoning
- Blackouts, which may lead to risky behaviors like driving under the influence and unprotected sex. It also may make someone more of a target for a sexual assault.
- Alcohol-related brain damage, high blood pressure, heart disease
- Reduced cognitive abilities, e.g., difficulty concentrating, trouble studying or making decisions
- Poor academic performance
- Increased probability of substance abuse and chronic disease in later life
- Social problems, e.g., fights, violence, dysfunctional relationships
- Legal problems
Talking to your family and friends about the risks associated with these extreme eating and drinking patterns is the first step in minimizing risks. We also suggest reading Kim B. Smith’s experience with exercise bulimia to understand how extreme exercise can affect mental and physical health.
About the Authors:
Thea Wood is SheSpark’s founder and an image consultant in Austin, TX. Her website TheaWood.com talks fashion trends and how to make styling decisions that best say who you are and where you’re going. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (www.phlabs.org), a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.