What is so-called ‘drunkorexia’ and is it ever okay to substitute food for alcohol?

If it becomes a recurring habit, then it’s problematic for several reasons (Credits: Getty Images/fStop) Studies have shown that as many as 30% of women between 18 and 23 restrict their food calories to make ‘space’ for alcoholic calories. This is colloquially known as ‘drunkorexia’ – a non-medical slang term, that refers to this act of minimising calorific intake, while maximising levels of alcohol intoxication. It may see people skip meals, exercise or purge, in order to ‘save’ calories before alcohol consumption, explains nutritionist Lamorna Hollingsworth. ‘This results in the individual being able to engage in binge-drinking without weight gain and/or to experience the effects of alcohol at a lower financial cost due to the reduced amount required,’ she continues. On the surface, this might not sound like a huge deal, however it’s an extremely problematic behaviour that has been found to be linked to both binge drinking and disordered eating patterns. And there are many reasons that substituting food for alcohol is an unhealthy habit to form. ‘It assumes that all calories are created equal, and you can withdraw from your “calorie bank account” like money from a bank,’ explains Harriet Morris, host of The Eating Coach Podcast. ‘But in reality it is much more like spending your mend the roof fund money on a trip to Las Vegas. ‘Calories that should be consumed in the form of nutritious food are drunk as alcohol, which has zero nutritional value.’ ‘By reducing the calories you consume from food to replace with those found in alcohol, you’re not receiving any of the benefits that you would gain from eating whole foods – so at a higher risk for vitamin and mineral depletion, dehydration, lack of fibre, and skewed macronutrient distribution,’ Lamorna agrees.  It can also lead to people becoming hungry sooner, possibly while still drinking. In addition, alcohol has been shown to stimulate “hunger messengers” in the brain. Trading in food for booze is unhealthy for many reasons (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto) This might lead to people feeling even more hungry, and may result in binge eating as a result. ‘Additionally,’ explains Harriet, ‘there is hidden sugar in many alcoholic drinks, some types more than others. ‘The problem here is that sugar, as a refined carbohydrate, is far more likely to put you on the road to obesity and type II diabetes than a homemade dinner made using fresh ingredients. ‘By replacing a delicious meal that will keep you satisfied and healthy with a white wine spritzer, three pints of cider and a Jaegerbomb, you are making the very problem you are trying to solve worse.’ Missing meals in order to binge drink also sends a message to yourself that you have to suffer in order to earn pleasure. ‘Humans are evolutionarily wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain’ Harriet continues. ‘These are deeply ingrained survival strategies, because we are designed to enjoy things like eating that ensure the survival of the species. ‘Thanks to the diet industry, all of my clients come to me having banned pleasure in their lives, and thus pleasure ban only encourages binge eating – because in the end, evolution beats any diet. ‘For people with binge eating issues, “drunkorexic” behaviour makes it harder for them to connect to real pleasure – which is a key shift in recovery.’ There is a possibility ‘drunkorexia’ may also lead to binge drinking, and/or alcohol dependency, given that the more we expose our bodies to alcohol, the more of a tolerance it builds up. ‘There is currently no worldwide consensus on how many drinks constitute a “binge”,’ says Lamorna, ‘but in the UK one academic publication defines it as drinking more than twice the daily limit (so, drinking eight units or more for men and six units or more for women). ‘Individuals who engage in reduced eating and increased alcohol consumption may be at risk of developing an alcohol related disorder or eating disorders, both serious health concerns.’ Drunkorexia is not a medically recognised condition (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto) What’s in a name? Because this behaviour can have such a negative impact, it’s something that is worth recognising – particularly as, often, it can start of small before it grows into a bigger problem. As it doesn’t have an official, medical term, it has been assigned the label ‘drunkorexia’. However, some people believe that this name has the potential to play down the potential severity of the act – or discourage people from addressing their behaviour as it sounds so linked to a serious eating disorder and mental health condition. ‘Because this name is slang, risks trivialising and oversimplifying the problem,’ suggests Harriet, ‘in the same way that the suffix “gate” gets added to words to mean scandal, but also creates an element of comedy (for example “cat gate”). ‘I worry about the rash of possible variations that are possible on drunkorexia, such as holidayorexia, promorexia, and so on.’ And while the word ‘drunkorexia’ sounds similar to ‘anorexia’, it’s not necessarily the case that ‘drunkorexic’ behaviours are synonymous with those of anorexia, points out Lamorna.  ‘Putting this term under the umbrella of anorexia could lead to those who take part in this to brush it off as not being serious, because it’s “something that people who have an eating disorder” do – something which they don’t identify as having.’ And while ‘drunkorexia’ is not a diagnosable mental illness, research has found that people who struggle with disordered eating, especially bulimia, also sometimes develop unhealthy behaviours around alcohol. Don’t dismiss this behaviour as no big deal (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto) What to do if you recognise this behaviour Most unhealthy behaviour only has the power to impact you if it becomes a regular habit, says Harriet. She suggests asking yourself: How often do I have a big boozy night out? How miserable does my pre-going out fasting make me, on a scale of one to 10? Do I get more drunk because I am drinking on an empty stomach? ‘I often talk with clients about behaviour that has a painful price tag,’ she continues. ‘If your big night out costs you too much in terms of suffering hunger pangs all day, then a viscous hangover (plus munchies) the next, these are strong indications that it is not worth it.’ And if it’s something that is impacting you, there are some measures you can take. [metro-tag-post-strip] ‘The easiest first step is to remove the immediate trigger for pre-binge drinking fasting, which is to change your social calendar,’ suggests Harriet. ‘Replace those boozy nights out with evenings which don’t revolve around pubs and nightclubs: the cinema, a comedy club or theatre trip.  ‘Walking may be boring, but how about a ramble in the country with a group of friends? Start a book club. Take a cookery class and get the added bonus of more nutritious food.’ And, of course, if this is something that you’re struggling with, or feels like it stems from a deeper root problem, you should always seek help from a medical professional, such as your GP, a trained mental health professional, or an addiction expert. Alternatively, you can contact eating disorder charity, Beat, on their helpline, which is open 365 days a year. Do you have a story to share? Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk. 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What is so-called ‘drunkorexia’ and is it ever okay to substitute food for alcohol?

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