How 'Drunkorexia' Became A Socially Acceptable Gen-Y Eating Disorder

by Lindsey Hall

I’ve been a drunkorexic for as long as I can remember. If you haven’t heard of the term, don’t worry, it's not yet formally classified as an eating disorder. But, researchers are finally beginning to take note on this epidemic that combines the worst of drinking and dieting.

Drunkorexia: The colloquialism for skipping meals or exercising heavily to “save” or burn calories, making room for drinking at night. (Basically every college girl you know.)

Unfortunately, this disturbing trend is regularly accepted in our Millennial culture because it hides under our nation's larger binge-drinking epidemic.

I realized this weekend while I was running back from Sunday brunch, that even though I've been in recovery for over a year from an eight-year struggle with an eating disorder, I tend to hide behind the smokescreen of this present trend.

Cue brunch, the culture staple of our weekends, where you gather with your friends at around 2 or 3 pm at a restaurant that offers half-priced alcohol with a meal.

This is standard practice for many, and my participation in this culture drives my recovery therapist up the wall.

How’d you eat this weekend? She always asks. Did you eat three meals?

No, I usually admit. I brunched on Saturday, so you know how that goes.

Therapist (unamused): So, you ate one meal, and then got drunk?

Now, cue the daily Monday night-therapy squabble. This is where I go into my tired explanation of how it only happens "on weekends" and how on Sundays, I usually don’t even "drink that much" at brunch.

The truth, however, is that even though I'm a year into recovery, I still found myself at brunch last Sunday, eating only half of a sandwich and when I thought about it on my run home, the sole reason I did that was because I had a half-consumed Bloody Mary sitting precociously beside my plate.

Like many others, I have always used alcohol as a sneaky means of compensating my eating disorder. I medicate my disordered anxieties with it, and I justify not eating properly because of it, too. Though I felt like I wanted to eat more of my grilled cheese this weekend, I turned to the Bloody Mary instead, sipping it lightly in place of food.

This "drunkorexic" side of me started long before I was 21, too. Already in the midst of my full-blown eating disorder when I first started college, I remember my friends joking about the “freshman 15,” and it absolutely terrified me.

Drinking alcohol further fueled the anxiety of gaining weight, yet everyone around me seemed to be doing it. I, myself, had been no stranger to drinking. I got drunk for the first time at 16 and I drank casually on the weekends throughout high school, though never on the regular, bingeing basis as I was suddenly realizing college was all about.

Alcohol was everywhere, and binge-drinking was the culture. Drinking for no reason was available any day of the week. Thursdays? Thirsty Thursdays at the corner bar. Wednesdays? Wine Wednesdays with the roomies. And, don’t even get me started on the football tailgates, the mid-week frat parties, the Saturday keggers and sneaking into bars underage.

I was very much part of this culture on the outside, but on the inside, it gave me a daily does of anxiety in terms of my eating disorder.

While I was obsessive about getting my exercise, I’d read enough to know that an elliptical session wouldn't compensate for 400 calories of wine and sugar. I felt torn by my love for socializing and my weight, so I did what so many other people in this country are doing now. I cut the food because food was not as fun as wine.

Admittedly, I’ve always been a lightweight. I’ve never needed more than two glasses of alcohol in order to "feel” the effect, which is both a blessing and a curse. While I don't binge drink, per se, the moment I put a glass of wine to my lips, I can nearly feel it soothing my anxieties of the day. I can feel it hitting my head, and everything becomes lighter, dulled and subdued.

And this includes my hunger cues.

You give me one glass of wine, and I feel “full.” Whether or not it’s a “real feeling” is up for debate, but I can be famished walking into a meal and as soon as I drink a glass of wine before the main dish arrives, the alcohol dulls my desire to eat as much as I should.

This drunkorexia pattern has been my way of living for as long as I can remember. I have never had a balanced relationship between alcohol and food together. Even in recovery, if you put a drink or food in front of me, I will want the alcohol because it’s a soother for the food.

Some might wonder why I continue to drink if it allows this much room for manipulation.

Truthfully, I don’t pretend to have answers. There are many times I avoid going out for the exact reason of recovery, but I’m also 25 years old in the most "alive" city in the world. Sometimes, all I want is to sit at a sushi restaurant on a Wednesday night splitting a bottle of red wine with three of my girlfriends, giggling to ourselves about how HBO "Girls” our lives can be.

There are many nights that I’m fine to do this, too. There are nights that I know I need to eat regardless of what the wine dulls in my stomach, and there are times I eat too much pasta and push away the wine because I’m too full to finish it. However, I have to constantly be aware of the decisions I'm making in recovery because when I get lazy, I allow myself to be manipulated, and I manipulate myself.

The alcohol industry as a whole has increasingly targeted young people with weight-conscious marketing, tapping straight into teen and 20-something body anxiety. And because of this, it’s working on a wider basis every day, encouraging the behaviors (and consequences) of eating disorders.

Drinking on an empty stomach leads to more rapid absorption of alcohol and higher levels of impairment and intoxication. So, every time people purposely do it, they incur increased risks of things, like sexual assault and DUIs, and, in the long run, gastritis, ulcers and malnutrition.

The other reason it’s an issue is that the tactics of drunkorexia consist of the same game of deception and manipulation that standard eating disorders hold.

Being tipsy (or blackout) to avoid a meal isn’t any way to live. Being drunk and making choices you’d otherwise think twice about opens up the floodgates to anxiety, depression and isolation. It opens up the doors to larger eating disorder manipulations, which are isolating and exhausting.

I go days at a time when my eating is the most normal it can be, and those are days that I remember a lot more about my life. The days when I eat three meals with pleasure make my life a lot rounder because it gives me the opportunity to live in the present and not be constantly focused on body image.

When you live your life constantly thinking of your weight, you start to lose control over your priorities. Throw in alcohol and those babies are tossed right out the door.

So much of recovery is changing the way you think and accepting the truths of what you do. I, myself, am a drunkorexic; that's my truth. I’m trying to learn how to be a sociable 25-year-old in spite of it. One day at a time.