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Eating disorder experts are seeing a new and dangerous trend among college-age students. “Drunkorexia” involves refraining from consuming any calories other than alcohol to control weight.
While anorexic tendencies are what gave “drunkorexia” its name, any form of an eating disorder can be paired with alcohol consumption. Bonnie Brennan, clinical director of partial hospital service at the Eating Recovery Center of Denver, said that the key to “drunkorexia” is the restriction of calories, be it through over-exercising, controlling the diet or purging.
“We have a dieting culture. We want to control emotions by wanting to control our body, enhancing our self esteem,” Brennan said. She later added, “People may limit their calorie intake or over-exercise during the day so that when they go out with their friends they don’t have to worry about gaining weight.”
Brennan explained that “drunkorexia” is commonly seen not only in anorexics, but in bulimics as well, who likely find it easier to purge their intake of calories without arising too much suspicion.
Gaining weight is a common fear that prompts eating disorders in college students. A 2011 study of over 7000 students shows that the dreaded “Freshman 15,” however, could be no more than a myth. In reality, Brennan added, people typically gain between 2 and 3 pounds their freshman year, mostly from malnutrition.
Nonetheless, the fear of gaining gross amounts of weight is a common prompter of eating disorders in students, Brennan said. “Drunkorexia” is the latest disorder to fit the bill.
Students are aware of “drunkorexia”‘s existence. In a conversation, they may not know the term, but the notion of preserving calories in favor of partying is nothing new for CU students around campus. Erin Eckstein, a 19-year-old psychology major, knows people that have done this.
“It starts from wanting to be confident about your body, but that stems from other stuff,” Eckstein said.
The pressure to be thin and fit in, Brennan says, is but one factor that may cause an eating disorder. “Thinspiration” posts on social media and other socially inflicted norms can motivate a largely female audience not to eat.
“They want to ration out their calories, and they like to drink,” said Lillian Waters, a 19-year-old international affairs major. “If you really want to drink, and food is your second priority, you’re going to drink rather than eat.”
Not limited to girls, men also exhibit the eating disorders, Brennan says. She has treated people of all genders and ages 9-81 years old.
Other possible motivators are stress, financial need and genetics. Simply having a mother or father with an eating disorder can increase your chance of developing one.
Brennan explains that an eating disorder alone is a health risk, but paired with alcohol it becomes an even more dangerous condition. The alcohol is absorbed faster, so three shots becomes five, and alcohol poisoning is more likely. Alcohol is an astringent by nature, Brennan said, which wears on your organs.
The other common risks of overdrinking are also associated with “drunkorexia,” but come on more quickly because of the lack of a buffer of food to slow absorption into the blood stream. Risky behavior and physical limitations occur at a faster and more dangerous rate due to the lack of a buffer in food. Brennan warns of cardiac problems later in life, especially in victims who purge.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Hannah Blatter at Hannah.email@example.com.