5 Questions About Drunkorexia: If You Have It, #5 Says It All

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of drunkorexia, but you might know someone who has it. It’s easy to miss, especially among young people and on college campuses. But it’s very real, insidious, and destructive.

People with drunkorexia restrict the calories they take in from food — either by skipping meals or by purging — so they can drink more alcohol without gaining weight. Besides weight, some are motivated by the desire to get drunk faster. And, according to a 2011 study from the University of Missouri, some would rather spend their money on alcohol than food.

One thing they all have in common is that they’re endangering their long-term physical and emotional health. Because women metabolize alcohol differently than men, they are at greater risk of damaging vital organs faster than men.

Eating disorder activist Lindsay Hall writes about drunkorexia on her blog, I Haven’t Shaved in 6 Weeks: All The Truths About Eating Disorder Rehab. The not-quite-26-year-old says she’s had drunkorexic qualities since entering college, when she realized that binge-drinking was part of the social culture at school. She graciously agreed to share her insights with Care2 via a Q & A. It’s a little long, but I decided not to cut it, because it’s worth reading about this troubling trend from someone who is living it.

If you have drunkorexia, make sure you read through to #5. It says it all.

1. Does drunkorexia always go hand in hand with another eating disorder?

Lindsay: Not necessarily, but researchers are realizing that it belongs as part of the eating disorder “cycle.” While some people may only exhibit certain eating disorder patterns (i.e. starving, binging, over-exercising), the behaviors of all eating disorders have the same base features that include manipulating your food intake and lack of “mindful eating.” The drunkorexia cycle is no different and exhibits the same type of disordered eating perils that anorexia, binge-eating, exercise bulimia, and the likes contain.

Long before I started drinking. I was exhibiting all characteristics of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating), but the drunkorexia developed when I was 18 and realized how easy it was to avoid food with alcohol.

I knew the high caloric count in alcohol and because I was a control freak about everything that went into my mouth, I leveraged the two when I started drinking. I decided that I’d still be “okay” if I worked out two or three hours a day, and then used those burned calories for a couple glasses of wine that would inevitably subdue my hunger cues.

young woman refusing to eat

2. Do your peers know about drunkorexia and do they see it as a problem?

Lindsay: I hear and observe the drunkorexia mentality in nearly every social situation I find myself in, but no I do not think most of my peers have awareness enough to understand that it is rapidly becoming the “new” eating disorder of our culture.

While I think most people have a base awareness of eating disorders, the concept of drunkorexia has been smoke-screened by the much larger binge-drinking epidemic hitting millennials and 20-somethings, and so often people ignore the behaviors of drunkorexia by accepting it as part of the alcohol culture of our social lives.

In college, for instance, I can remember waking up at 9 or 10 a.m. on football game days and starting my morning off drinking mimosas (champagne and orange juice) with my roommates in the kitchen. Oftentimes, we wouldn’t eat till whenever the game ended, and that could be anywhere from 3 to 5 p.m. I can recall numerous times that we’d be intoxicated at the tailgates, sipping our vodka waters and making jokes about how we were “consuming our meals via liquid today.”

As disordered as it sounds upon reflection, I didn’t really think anything of it at the time, other than I was “beating the system” of weight gain. It was very much the norm amidst our friends. We’d eat at some point, we figured, and we were all so concerned with keeping our trim figures that we didn’t want to pile on extra calories with the alcohol.

While one or two drinks is all I’ve ever really needed to quiet my hunger cues, I find I still have the tendency to hide behind the drunkorexia cycle in my mid-20s through our culture’s very popular “Saturday or Sunday brunches,” Happy Hours, and wine-filled networking events for my job.

3. Your blog has received an overwhelming response from women aged 18-25 who relate to your story. Are these generally women who’ve overcome it or those who plan to continue this behavior?

Lindsay: The feedback I’ve received has been varied in terms of how invested people feel towards their own drunkorexia, or drunkorexia in others. I’d say it predominately concludes with people feeling like they can relate to my experience, or wanting to pass it along to someone they feel might be exhibiting the same kind of lifestyle.

I think by putting a definition to the trend it sets off a little “a-ha” moment in people and I’ve received a lot of commentary on how other women around my age have caught themselves doing the same thing in terms of avoiding food and solely drinking in place of it.

Do I think these are women necessarily trying to overcome it? I can’t say for sure, but I’d bank on the idea that they feel as conflicted as I still feel towards socializing and drinking a year into recovery.

drunkorexics obsess about weight

4. How are you trying to overcome it and why do you blog about it?

Lindsay: I’ve been asked before why I continue to drink in recovery if it allows so much room for self-manipulation — and truthfully, I don’t pretend to have answers or to justify.

There are many times I avoid going out for the exact reason of recovery, but I’m also 25 years old and in the most “alive” city in the world (NYC). Sometimes, all I want is to sit at a sushi restaurant on a Wednesday night splitting a bottle of wine with three of my girlfriends, joking about how “HBO Girls” our lives can be.

I blog about my eating disorder now as a way to help overcome it, so the two go hand in hand. I opened up this avenue first through a Facebook status — later through my blog — because I was tired of omitting, manipulating, concealing, and lying to every single person I ever came into contact with. I hadn’t told the truth about my life since I was 16 years old and because of that, I felt like no matter how “social” I was, no one ever truly knew me. My best friends knew I was suffering but after years of listening to me lie about it – what else is there to say?

When my family intervened I was at a point in my life that I really didn’t care anymore about my well-being. I was running 10-12 miles a day. I was starving. I was purging. I was drinking excessively. I didn’t care about anything to do with my health – only that I was “in control” of my weight.

What rehab gave me was the opportunity to be honest. It was hard, yes, but after it was done it felt like a weight was lifted from me. Once I left, I just knew that life couldn’t continue on the same way. I’d always know what it was like to have a “healthy mind” and I couldn’t continue to lie to everyone around me about where I’d been for two months.

So, I came clean. I wrote it out. I continue to write it out. It keeps me accountable and it keeps my family “in the know” about how I’m doing. Writing keeps me in a “healthy” mind. It reminds me what I truly want out of recovery.

5. What advice would you give a young person who thinks this is a good way to drink and control weight?

Lindsay: Being tipsy (or blacking out) isn’t any way to live. Being drunk and making choices you’d otherwise think twice about opens up the floodgates to anxiety, depression and regret. It opens up the doors to larger eating disorder manipulations, which are isolating and exhausting.

Our bodies weren’t made to operate in this way. In the lowest point of my drunkorexia cycle, I was 21 years old and a bartender in college. I ate one meal a day and drank every shift I worked (5x a week). I figured if I was moving around a lot, I was burning the calories of whatever alcohol I was sipping behind the counter, but when I look back at pictures of that year I see a noticeable difference in how puffy my face looked living like that. I was constantly tired, broken out, and half the time I was so hungry after work was over that I’d end up drunk and binge-eating Jimmy John’s at 3 a.m. before turning around and throwing it right back up.

I was a mess with my eating disorder. The cycle of it controlled everything about my life and when I finally went to rehab, the experience allowed me to get a grip on what’s important in my life; what I really want to take away from it at the end of the day.

The days where I eat three meals casually and without anxiety make my life feel a lot more grounded. When I’m not preoccupied with my “eating disorder mind” it allows me the opportunity to live in the present and not be constantly focused on what I have or haven’t eaten – and all the little, distracting, manipulative games that go into an eating disorder. I was shocked by how much I could eat in rehab – and not even gain a pound once my weight settled on what it wanted to be. Once I finally hit my healthy weight, it never budged even though I was eating three full meals a day and having snacks with them. Your body wants to work for you, not against.

I missed a lot of years of my life – and that’s what I tell people now. I’m new in recovery so I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that what I regret most about being sick for so many years, is the life I missed because of it. I enjoyed Thanksgiving this year – something I haven’t known how to do since I was 16. I was able to listen to my family and be present in the conversation, and that’s worth every pound on my body I have now.

Related Reading
5 Things To Know Before You Take That Drink
Dear America, We Have a Drinking Problem

Reference: University of Missouri-Columbia. (2011, October 17). ‘Drunkorexia:’ A recipe for disaster. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 20, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111017171506.htm

Photos
Red wine woman: Marco Lensi | iStock | Thinkstock
OMG scale: saje | iStock | Thinkstock
Pizza woman: nicoletaionescu | iStock | Thinkstock

93 comments

william Miller
william Miller3 years ago

scary

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sen Senz
Sayenne H3 years ago

Wow... I didn't know there was a name for it but I do think I know people who have had this

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Sandra Haddock
Sandra Haddock3 years ago

Never heard of it before, but there was a segment on the Today Show this past week that when men are in the bar looking to meet someone new, that a girl drinking wine is more beautiful that one who is drinking beer or a mixed drink! Who'da thunk it?

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DaleLovesOttawa O.

Drunkorexia is something that I was not familiar with. An interesting article on a very serious problem that some people are coping with.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thanks

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey3 years ago

Surely more likely to be linked with bulaemia.

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Natalie Descent
Natalie Descent3 years ago

Alchohol has alot of calories but you need to eat too! Everything in moderation.

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Julianna D.
Juliana D3 years ago

Sounds poorly thought out on the part of the college student... if you want to get drunk and not fat- drink hard alcohol and skip the chaser like an adult.

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