How to Stop Drunk Eating

If you’ve ever experienced a night of one too many drinks, you likely have woken up to this scene at least once: your head is pounding, your eye makeup is smeared, your party clothes are either still on your body or in a heap on your floor alongside all the contents of your purse and—oh, what’s that? AN EMPTY PIZZA BOX? NO! NOT AGAIN! The realization that you singlehandedly polished off a large pizza (while sending texts that you’ll regret in the morning) and the accompanying food baby in your stomach may haunt you for the rest of the day, yet you may still find yourself shoveling spoonfuls of Ben and Jerry’s into your mouth the next time you drink. So what gives? What is this dreaded “drunk eating” phenomenon, why does it happen, and how can we kick this habit for good? Since so many collegiettes are all too familiar with eating unhealthily under the influence, Her Campus is here to answer those questions.

What is “drunk eating” and why do we do it?

Drunk eating is the mindless consumption of food—typically unhealthy food and in large portions—while under the influence of alcohol. Since alcohol impairs our judgment, decision-making abilities, and self-control, it is no surprise that we are less able to regulate what and how much we are eating, especially since eating healthily is something that requires so much willpower to begin with.

Dr. Jennifer Wider: nationally renowned women’s health expert and author of The Doctor’s Complete College Girls’ Health Guide, explains that there is actually scientific evidence to explain why drunk eating occurs. “There are several theories on why people eat more when they are drunk,” she says. “One study from Dutch researchers found that it actually took people longer to feel full when they drank alcohol... that their bodies didn't recognize the alcohol calories as much as calories from other sources like protein.” What this means is that although you are consuming calories from the alcohol, your body and mind are not really registering those calories—and then on top of that, it is taking you longer to feel full so you will eat more than you normally would.

Dr. Ria Gilday, Naturopathic Doctor and Certified Nutritionist at Queen’s Health Centers and author of the new book Healthy Weight Loss; Fast, Easy, and Safe further explains the science behind drunk eating by pointing to the fact that alcohol is “technically sugar,” which means that it is absorbed into the bloodstream right away. “The body’s natural defense against elevated blood is to raise insulin level and rid the sugar from blood. When insulin is released it will cause the blood sugar levels drop rapidly (by burning it and storing it as fat) but this response provokes a vicious cycle of wanting more sugar and fats, hence the person drinks more, or eats more,” she says.

Unfortunately, it gets worse—alcohol does not just trigger hunger for anything, but for specific types of foods that happen to be relatively unhealthy. You’ve probably seen more drunk people chow down on carbo-loaded treats than salads, right? Dr. Ria asserts that the reason why we mainly crave carbohydrates when drunk is because “those are the foods that will provide fast relief of the symptoms associated with low blood glucose levels.”

Dr. Wider offers more evidence for our unhealthy drunken food choices. “A study from Northwestern U found that people may crave greasy or more fattening foods when drinking alcohol—that the cravings were both physical and emotional,” she says. She adds, “people don't crave healthy foods when they are drinking alcohol because it is thought that alcohol enhances the taste of salt and fat... that's why certain foods taste good when you are intoxicated.”

Our less-than-healthy choices can also be attributed to the fact that, as collegiettes, we face a lot of pressure to carefully monitor what we eat on a daily basis, so the second we lose some of our inhibition and control, we may feel tempted to go on an all-out binge on whatever food is laying around (or just a phone call away from being delivered to our door) to make up for feeling restricted.

“I find that my friends are very conscious of what they eat throughout the day and try to maintain a healthy diet, but then when we get back home from a night out we all go straight to the kitchen and will eat everything in sight,” Meredith from the University of Michigan says. “Then, in the morning everyone either regrets it so much or doesn’t even remember how much they ate… the other morning the first thing my friend asked me when she woke up was, ‘did I drunk eat last night? Please say no.’”