February 22 to 28 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. We’ll be sharing information about this important issue throughout the week, from what to do if you or a friend is suffering from an eating disorder to how to love your body just the way it is! Be sure to check out all of our content here.
We’ve seen it happen in the Hollywood spotlight all too often: A young starlet with a promising career quickly starts eating less, dropping weight, and partying more. She quickly graces the covers of tabloids everywhere, not for her talent, but for her dangerous lifestyle. More often than not, said celebrity ends up in rehab, or in more extreme cases, when her actions harm others, jail.
As surprising as it may be, the Lindsay Lohans of the world aren’t only celebrities. College women all over the country can pick up these dangerous drinking and eating habits as well. As starvation mixed with binge drinking became more common, the buzzword “Drunkorexia” was born.
One Harvard student explains her own experience with drunkorexia.
“When I was a freshman, my roommate and I would consume less than 300 calories on days that we were going to go out drinking. We would eat egg whites for breakfast and then a vegan boca burger with mustard and no bun for lunch and dinner. We would also only drink water and black coffee. We would eat our meals together and encourage each other not to eat anything else. I cringe now thinking about it.”
What is it?
Drunkorexia is not exactly a medical term. While no one can exactly pinpoint where it came from, medical experts across the country are using it to describe a new eating disorder phenomenon. “The original concept was when women and girls, or anyone, don’t eat all day and then they drink all night,” says Dr. Kevin Wandler, the Chief Medical Officer at Remuda Ranch Programs for Eating and Anxiety Disorders who has been working with patients with eating disorders for 15 years. “That’s about all the calories they get all day.”
Drunkorexia can be described as a hybrid between anorexia, bulimia, and alcoholism, although the symptoms are not exactly like any one of the diseases. Anorexics typically don’t eat anything all day, and bulimics typically binge and purge, says Wandler. Drunkorexics typically only binge at nights, and while in some cases they have no problem eating copious amounts of food while drunk, often times, they only binge drink. Wandler also points out that many drunkorexics binge eat while drinking because it’s easier to throw up.
A Cornell University student explained a tendency of drunkorexia leaning towards bulimia she had seen in her friends.
“One of my friends wouldn’t eat at all before she went out, then would get super drunk, and drunk eat a lot—pizza, macaroni and cheese, whatever she could get her hands on and would make herself throw it up. She’d claim she was so drunk and didn’t mean to throw up, but it was clearly intentional.”
And these binges can lead to caloric remorse, like for one student at James Madison University:
“I had a suitemate freshman year who was very weight-conscious. She would not eat dinner and then go out so she could get drunker faster, but save her calories to spend on alcohol. She would come home and then completely binge on everything in sight and even order out for food. The next morning, it wasn’t uncommon for her to look at the wrappers that had accumulated and freak about the calorie amounts.”
While binging can be more obvious, anorexia is just as prevalent.
“I had a friend who didn’t drink all that much, who would refrain from eating as long as she possibly could before her or her boyfriend’s formal events,” another college student explained.
“The week before one of these events she would eat next to nothing and then the day of the event she would actually eat nothing—citing that she wanted to be able to get drunk fast and look good at the events. However, this would almost always result in her profusely vomiting at the event due to a lack of frequent college binge drinking and never eating. It would lead to her throwing up bile/alcohol and her boyfriend fighting with her for not eating.”
“Drunkorexics are probably starving, because they’re not getting any nutritional value,” says Wandler. “But they’re probably not losing weight because they are drinking their daily calories in alcohol.”
How dangerous is it?
Drunkorexia is such a serious condition, but often times, young women don’t realize the serious risks associated with it, or that it’s a problem at all. “A lot of the patients I see binge drink and have eight to 10 alcoholic beverages at night over only a few hours,” says Wandler. When you don’t have anything in your stomach to absorb the alcohol, this is a serious amount of drinks.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 who have eating disorders have the highest risk of death, and the death rate is 12 times higher for people in that age group. This stat covers only the eating disorder, and doesn’t even include the binge drinking associated with drunkorexia. “Now you have a patient who has a drinking problem on top of an eating problem, that’s a double whammy,” says Wandler.
Who suffers from it?
In general, women typically suffer from eating disorders more often than men. Ninety percent of those with eating disorders are women, and only 10 percent are men.
The serious binge drinking occurs in both sexes, but many more women suffer from drunkorexia than men.
What are the signs of it?
The signs of drunkorexia are pretty straightforward and easy to spot, but often times, those who suffer from it try to hide their symptoms. Drunkorexics go out and party all the time, skip multiple meals per day, and almost always have a hangover. Another sign is malnutrition, which comes with passing out, getting extremely thin extremely fast, and having problems with cognitions. “Like bulimia, the signs of drunkorexia are hard to spot because most of the patients are normal weight,” says Wandler.
Amy Campbell*, a rising senior at Michigan State University, saw drunkorexia occur right before her eyes freshman year. She recalls that her roommate was always counting calories, and once she found the college party scene, she limited her intake to just shots. “She originally started counting the calories in beer, wine and hard alcohol, but once she realized that she could get drunk quicker and easier when she had nothing in her stomach, she barely ate during the day,” said Campbell. “She calculated that shots [with] no chaser had the least amount of calories, so she’d just starve all day, take four or five shots, and be ready to go.”
Things progressively got worse for Campbell’s roommate, and eventually, after getting her stomach pumped three times, she finally got help.
Having any kind of eating disorder is serious, and if you or someone you know is engaging in any of these habits, it’s best to reach out for help. Contact your school’s health center to set up an appointment to speak with someone.
For more tips on how to help a roommate struggling with an eating disorder, check out this Her Campus article.
Think you might be suffering from an eating disorder? The National Eating Disorders Association has a free and confidential screening to help you determine next steps. If you’re looking for more information, be sure to call the NEDA helpline. Looking for ways to help spread the word? Find out how you can get involved on your campus.