‘Drunkorexia,’ Or Skipping Meals After Binge Drinking, Can Cause Nutritional, Cognitive Deficits


May 18, 2020


Image credit: Andy Chen

In a recent study of around 500 Australian young adults, more than 80% were likely to skip meals, purge food, or exercise after a night of binge-drinking, in order to reduce their caloric intake. This is a clear example of the dangerous, and resolute hold of diet culture over society, and experts warn that such behavior can wreck havoc on one’s body.

Researchers named the behavior ‘Drunkorexia,’ and believe this is a form of disordered eating, as restricting food intake, purging, and fasting is used to offset the caloric gain from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

“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 hypoglycemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression, and cognitive deficits,” Alycia Powell-Jones, a clinical psychologist and the lead researcher of the study, said in a statement

Disordered eating is a habit that springs from both biological and psychological factors. The latter is deeply influenced by how society views bodies that are not thin. From a history of attempting to demonize fats, both processed and naturally found in food, to using clean eating as an excuse to drastically restrict what one can eat — diet culture and eating disorders share a need to aggressively control what the body consumes.

Psychotherapist Kalyani Sohoni confirms this, and says, “If nothing goes your way, at least food intake is something you can either control or rely on in order to reduce anxiety for the moment.” She adds, ‘Culturally, women also feel pressure to remain in shape, and look desirable for people, which pushes them towards disordered eating.”

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“Eating disorders are often enabled by fatphobia,” added Safvana Khalid, a psychologist. “The most recent example of this is Adele, and how her weight loss led to a glorification of thinness. Plus, a tendency to chase perfection reinforced by society makes individuals turn towards restricting calories in order to control exactly what their bodies look like.”

Another factor that weighs heavily on the combination of binge-drinking and restrictive eating behaviors is peer pressure. Both consuming large amounts of alcohol in groups at a young age, and restricting food in order to look good, are habits that are born while reluctantly trying to fit in with a larger peer group. “Not only may [binge drinking and restricted eating] 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,” adds Powell-Jones.

In order to discourage young adults from engaging in physically and mentally damaging behaviors such as restrictive eating after binge-drinking, there must be a large-scale societal effort to remove conventional beauty standards from its current pedestal. Powell-Jones says, “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 behavior, including cultural norms, beliefs that drive self-worth, a sense of belonging, and interpersonal connectedness.”


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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