By Rachel Hochstadt MS, RD, CSP
For some, there is nothing quite like a glass of wine or a cold beer after a long week . However, with drinking comes a responsibility. In most cases, drinking first starts in college despite the legal drinking age set at 21. College is associated with quite a high alcohol intake, close to 60% of college students aged 18-22 years drink alcohol (The Washington Post, 2019). A recent article in the Washington Post elaborated on the term “drunkorexia”, the combination of alcoholism and an eating disorder. The informal definition refers to skipping meals and or snacks in preparation for a night of drinking to avoid excessive caloric intake. The term was first noted around 10 years ago and was published in research starting in 2012 (The Washington Post, 2019). Not only is this behavior misguided but also puts the individual at risk for extreme inebriation and poor outcomes. Dr. Tavis Glassman, a professor at the University of Toledo, highlights the risks of drinking on an empty stomach: “getting home safe, sexual assault, unintentional injury, fights, blackouts, hangovers and poor school performance.” Registered Dietitian Ginger Hultin pointed out drunkorexia can also lead to nutrient deficiencies including calcium, B-vitamins, Magnesium, fiber and protein.
Why does this happen? The article highlights it is likely not a conscious decision but a combination of preexisting notions or behaviors. Studies show that having a preexisting eating disorder or alcoholism are predictors. It likely also is related to social behaviors. College involves clubs, greek life and sports teams. If this behavior is common among a few individuals, it likely influences that of the group.
Surveys on drunkorexia vary widely. One survey reported 34% of students engaged in this behavior, another college campus had 81% of students report “drunkorexia” behaviors. Professor Glassman is working with colleagues to have drunkorexia added as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), with the hope of providing support and medical care to those who need it. One of the major problems with treatment is the expense. Health care including nutrition, psychotherapy and medical care can be very expensive. Bringing awareness and official diagnosis to the term can help to address this.
Parents, educators, school counselors, medical professionals and peers can help identify these behaviors in students. It can be uncomfortable to bring this up but everyone in the “system” plays a role in supporting someone with these symptoms.
What can we do as nutritionists?
Spread the word. The more people (students, parents, siblings, professionals, etc) are familiar with the term and the behaviors, the more people are comfortable talking about it.
Drink on a nourished stomach. Eat a balanced meal before drinking. Your body will thank you! This also helps with hangovers - win win.
Pack in Protein. Protein slows down digestion - which will slow down the absorption of alcohol into your blood system. No surprises here thank you!
Drink Responsibly. We know many college students choose to drink. What can you do? Know your body’s limit to avoid dangerous situations. After every drink - have a glass of water to keep yourself hydrated.
No Shame. As professionals we need to highlight that everyone has struggles. . It’s okay to seek help and guidance if you find yourself participating in drunkorexia.
Spread Body Love. Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes. Trying to make some changes? There are several professionals that can help you find a healthy and balanced way to reach your goals - without skipping meals before you drink.