A recent study suggests the practice of skipping meals before a night of drinking in an effort to save calories is growing in popularity among over half of female colleges students in Australia — and potentially elsewhere.
Performed by PhD student and researcher Alyssa Knight at the University of South Australia, the study takes a closer look in the social phenomenon known as "drunkorexia." The majority of the women who participated in the study, 57.7%, admitted to skipping meals on Friday as they planned to go out drinking on Saturday.
Knight states that drunkorexia is considered to be the coming together of two social cultures in the country: binge drinking and wanting to be thin.
"It's a new phenomena and it sort of involves the use of distorted eating, such as starvation, dietary restriction, purging, vomiting, excessive exercise â¦ for the sole purpose of saving calories for alcohol use," she told 891 ABC Adelaide.
She went on to say that the problem is that the two social norms conflict with each other because alcohol is full of fattening calories. She said that when a person binge drinks, they are actually consuming additional calories on top of what they normally would have otherwise.
The most common drunkorexia behaviors reported by the young women who participated in the study included skipping meals before drinking (37.5%), drinking low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages (46.3%), and exercising after the drinking event had concluded (51.2%).
Knight said these behaviors are dangerous because research shows that those who binge drink on an empty stomach or after exercising have an increased alcohol toxicity. She said that this increases the risk of the development of a number of physical and psychological health consequences such as brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression, and cognitive deficits, writes Aftab Ali for The Independent.
While several participants said they regularly participated in eating disorder activity, a large number admitted to using behaviors such as purging, starving themselves, extreme exercise, or taking laxatives prior to a drinking event.
The concerns of such behavior include the effects on a person's physical and mental wellbeing. Knight said drinking on an empty stomach makes alcohol ten times more potent than if the person had eaten first.
"You're at risk for developing very serious physical and or psychological health consequences, you're looking at things like hypoglycaemia, liver cirrhosis, memory lapses, depression," she said.
"For a lot of these young adults, most of them are at university or they're trying to obtain something similar so they can also be at risk of developing cognitive function deficits, which can obviously lead to and impact upon their learning capabilities things and so forth."
While traditional eating disorders are driven by a need to be thin, Knight said drunkorexia differs as it appears to be driven by a desire to drink more. However, she warns that as a result of this behavior, an eating disorder could develop.
Study results show a higher level of university students participating in drunkorexia behavior than similar research performed in America.