Every day, hundreds of young Australian women are forgoing food in the name of getting drunk. Here’s why it happens, and why it’s anything but healthy.
Have you ever skipped out on lunch because you knew you were in for a big dinner that night? Or maybe you stuck to a super healthy diet a week before you went on holiday so you could eat whatever you wanted while you were there?
This kind of reasoning is a form of disordered eating – and when your treat ‘meal’ is actually a cocktail or line of shots, it’s called drunkorexia.
A form of binge drinking, drunkorexia (where someone voluntarily starves themselves so they can save their calories for alcoholic beverages) is becoming an increasing problem among young women in Australia, with a large number of uni students participating in the trend.
In fact, after examining the drinking patterns of almost 500 female students between the ages of 18 and 24, researchers from the University of South Australia found that 82.7 per cent of students had participated in drunkorexic behaviours sometime in the past three months.
“Due to their age and stage of development, young adults are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours, which can include drinking excess alcohol,” notes clinical psychologist and study author Alycia Powell-Jones.
“Certainly, many of us have drunk too much alcohol at some point in time, and we know just by how we feel the next day, that this is not good for us, but when nearly a third of young female uni students are intentionally cutting back on food purely to offset alcohol calories; it’s a serious health concern.”
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What is drunkorexia?
If you’ve ever not eaten a meal or forgone food for a day or more so you could drink booze without worrying about weight gain, you’ve engaged in drunkorexic behaviour. The same goes for over-exercising before or after a big night of drinking so you can sweat out the calories you clocked up, and, in extreme cases, you might have even made yourself throw up so you could ‘purge’ the unwanted calories away – something 25 per cent of Aussie students admit to doing.
Drunkorexia isn’t just a problem in Australia, either. Studies from all over the world, including Italy, America and France, have shown that young people (women in particular) often fall victim to this type of behaviour, and it’s thanks in part to societal norms that say women should be thin and sexy.
When being thin matters more than being healthy
It’s no secret that booze – especially cocktails, wine and beer – can be packed with sugar, so a lot of young women are choosing to drink their calorie quota for the day instead because a) they don’t want to gain weight, b) they want to party or be seen as cool and c) drinking on an empty stomach can get them drunk faster.
Whether at uni or at home in isolation, young women are especially susceptible to negative body image and eating disorders, and if you look at the problematic way we talk about weight loss (it’s the ultimate goal everyone should be striving for, right?) it’s almost easy to understand the rationale behind drunkorexia.
According to Powell-Jones, “Not only may [drunkorexia] be a coping strategy to manage social anxieties through becoming accepted and fitting in with peer group or cultural expectations, but it also shows a reliance on avoidant coping strategies.”
Powell-Jones and her team also discovered that most people who engage in drunkorexic behaviour have poor self-control and experience emotional deprivation and social isolation.
“It is important that clinicians, educators, parents and friends are aware of the factors that motivate young women to engage in this harmful and dangerous behaviour, including cultural norms, beliefs that drive self-worth, a sense of belonging, and interpersonal connectedness,” Powell-Jones notes.
If you notice that you, a friend or a loved one is engaging in drunkorexic behaviour, discuss things with a GP or book a consultation with a psychologist. While binge drinking and starvation might make you feel in control in the short-term, both can leave you feeling and looking worse off in the long run.
“Excess alcohol consumption combined with restrictive and disordered eating patterns is extremely dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of developing serious physical and psychological consequences, including hypoglycaemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression and cognitive deficits,” warns Powell-Jones.
If you need support or somebody to talk to, please contact the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.