‘Drunkorexia.’ It’s a silly term that was originally coined to describe the behaviour of skinny celebrities who appear to survive on nothing but booze. However, such behaviour is not contained within Holywood. The word is now used to describe someone using the same methods as anorexia or bulimia – restricting food intake to reserve calories for alcohol and binge drinking.
Unsurprisingly, this is most common at college – but though the behaviour may start here, it doesn’t necessarily end with graduation. Certainly, it was a tactic I used at university and beyond – not just because of the calories, but to save money and because you get drunk quicker on an empty stomach. If you’re prone to anxiety and perfectionism, alcohol also helps to switch off the internal demands.
But whilst it might look like a perfect solution, all the alcohol sets you up for many more health problems – as if an ED on its own wasn’t enough. Writing in this month’s Company, Dr Mary Sturgar comments,
the emotional need met by maintaining status within a social group encourages women to diet together, or drink together. But, if you’re starving yourself all day then downing six glasses of wine so that you can keep up with your friends and try to keep your weight down, health-wise, it’s going to catch up with you.
Of course the consequences aren’t just physical. It affects your relationships, your behaviour and your emotional health. Veering constantly from the highs of drunkenness and starvation to the lows of hangover and hunger does not a balanced person make. Yet it isn’t just a problem for those who imbibe vast quantities of booze.
Rhena Branch, a cognitive behavioural therapist, makes this observation:
I think the problem is more widespread at a subclinical level – such as the young woman at university who drinks neat vodka because it has fewer calories, on top of not eating much and taking antidepressants prescribed for an eating disorder. The quantities drunk may be quite low, but, in the context of being underweight and underfed, are extremely harmful. Even a so-called normal woman, the one saving up calories or points so she can drink, is still a messy binge scenario.
Of course ‘cross-addictions’ and eating disorders are nothing new. Research from Columbia University suggests that people with eating disorders are five times more likely to be substance abusers, while substance abusers are 11 times more likely to have eating disorders. It noted that eating disorders and substance abuse have several significant characteristics in common: brain chemistry, family history, stress triggers and the prevalence of affected people also suffering from low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or a history of abuse. This is reinforced by social pressures to be skinny and to binge-drink.
In the world’s eyes, it’s okay to be blind drunk, but it’s not okay to be fat.