Stay awake late enough and you’ll surely catch an infomercial on the latest diet craze. Pills replacing meals, the new Abs Buster Excalibur (I’m sure that exists somewhere), Dr. Bernstein diets—you name it. And body size standards change all the time: one minute curves are sexy, and the next being 5’10” and weighing 60 pounds is “in”.
And while body confidence blogs and movements attempt to help women feel better about their bodies, many are still trying to keep up with the latest image of perfection. Among the various weight loss fads is drunkorexia, a relatively new phenomenon among college students.
Drunkorexia was discussed by Dale Archer, M.D., in an article in Psychology Today last month. For those unfamiliar with the term, drunkorexia is “the act of restricting food intake or calories by day so one can party and get drunk at night without fear of gaining weight from the extra calories of the alcohol”, as the article puts it.
As dangerous as it sounds, the idea has caught on among students, including some female university students mentioned in a recent news article who reportedly loved the idea, claiming that they “had the best of both worlds” of skinniness and drinking.
The fad has existed for a few years, and its popularity is growing at an alarming rate. But the health consequences of replacing meals with alcohol are obvious. Science Daily published an article in 2011 in which Victoria Osborne, an assistant professor of social work and public health, discussed drunkorexia’s dangerous cognitive, behavioural, and physical consequences. “It also puts people at risk for developing more serious eating disorders or addiction problems,” says Osborne.
Luckily, the UTM students I talked to all recommended better choices. “Wine can’t offer all the nutrients you can get in a proper home-cooked meal,” said Maham Shakeel, a third-year professional writing student. “Working out and eating healthy give you this special kind of drive and energy.” She did, however, say that she has friends who partake in drunkorexia.
Archer acknowledged the average woman’s desire to keep up her appearance, but he also pointed out how distorted it can be. “A glance at any fashion related magazine shows the ultra-thin, perfectly curved, photoshopped, and airbrushed model setting the standard for what constitutes beauty,” he writes. “The problem is that the average woman is 5’ 4” and 140 pounds while the average model is 5’ 11” and 117 pounds.”
Science Daily cited some statistics to support Archer’s article: “Researchers found that 16% of those surveyed reported restricting calories to ‘save them’ for drinking. Of the respondents, about three times as many women reported engaging in the behaviour than men.”
This was back in 2011, and Archer provided more recent statistics, reporting, “Recent studies show 30% of women between 18 and 23 have skipped a meal in order to drink more; 16% do it on a regular basis.”
Archer also cited the specific case of Savannah, a 22-year-old graduate student at the University of Texas who believes this diet works and doesn’t have any plans of stopping. “I’ve done [drunkorexia] for years and I’m still healthy. And I’m skinny,” he quotes her as saying. “That’s the best of both worlds to me, so it’s not likely that I’ll stop doing it anytime soon.”
Savannah is far from the only one; an article published in August 2012 by CBC documents Simon Fraser University researcher Daniella Sieukaran’s findings.
She followed 227 York University students aged 17 to 21 for four months and observed that people were partaking in drunkorexia.
Sieukaran noted that those who practiced the dangerous diet exhibited more risky behaviour, mainly unprotected sex, and were more frequently hospitalized.
But the article went on to mention how, despite these facts, recent graduate Leah Ellacott sympathized with those who practise it. “I would say if there’s a big night and we’re all going out drinking, yeah, I wouldn’t want to be having a big steak dinner before I go drinking,” said Ellacott. “Probably that’s not right, but I would say that’s very common and a lot of people do that, because you don’t want to feel gross and fat. You want to look good for the night you’re going out drinking and partying.”
But “being skinny does not equate to being healthy,” comments Phillip Mariano, a third-year psychology UTM student. And Archer more specifically writes that “with no food in the stomach, blood alcohol levels are higher and there is almost certainly an increased risk over the long term for alcohol-related medical conditions, from liver disease to diabetes to dementia”.
Sieukaran summarizes her article with a comment for those in positions where they can help students. “I think it’s really important that university and college administrators start thinking about these two behaviours together and realize that together they create a much more serious problem,” she says. “[They should] start educating the students about it and making it clear that these behaviours can coincide and what they should be doing to try and prevent that in their own lives.”