Since time immemorial, fresh-faced collegiate youngsters have been skipping Tostada Bowl Day at the dining hall in anticipation of the "Babies and Mommies" party later tonight at ΑΤΩ.* Drinking on an empty stomach is as integral to the college experience as shower-flops and Glee Club incest—it facilitate maximal drunkenness at minimal cost. You get drunk faster on fewer drinks, which means you spend less money and you consume fewer Zima calories (plus you're already running on a deficit because your tostado-less stomach hasn't digested anything since yesterday!). And now, apparently, there's a term for it: "drunkorexia."
Drinking on an empty stomach is dangerous and awful, and it has probably caused the lion's share of the world's most embarrassing moments.** But does drinking-while-hungry—the practice of "saving" food calories so one can spend them on drink calories—really constitute its own eating disorder? Isn't anorexia just anorexia, regardless of the way it manifests itself in conjunction with alcohol abuse? And when we teach women that being thin is the most important thing, and that being "fun" (i.e. available and pliant) is the second most important thing, are we really surprised when women find innovative ways to marry drinking and calorie restriction?
Here's Jacoba Urist in the Atlantic:
While not yet a formally recognized eating disorder, habitually drinking on an empty stomach can of course have serious consequences. Alcohol marketers might not mind you equating food calories with booze calories, but health professionals agree that they're just not interchangeable.
Adam Barry, a professor of health education and behavior at the University of Florida, has compiled the most comprehensive research to-date on drunkorexia, published last spring in the Journal of American College Health.
Barry examined 22,000 college students across 40 universities and found that, even after controlling for race, school year, Greek affiliation and whether a student lived on campus (the authors did not control for whether a respondent played on a sports team), vigorous exercise, and disordered eating uniquely predicted binge drinking. In fact, those who exercised or dieted to lose weight were over 20 percent more likely to have five or more drinks in a single sitting. Students who had vomited or used laxatives in the previous month to shed pounds were 76 percent more likely to binge drink.
Now, personally, my instinctive reading of that data presented it the other way around—that students suffering from the kind of emotional issues and obsessive behaviors that accompany disordered eating might also be drawn to self-medicating with alcohol. But "drunkorexia" researchers seem to think that the desire to binge drink leads to unhealthy restriction of food calories. Whichever comes first, the two certainly have the potential to team up in a destructive feedback loop. I don't "forget" to have dinner on big party nights (anymore), but I certainly think about calories every time I drink. (Then I go, "fuck calories, bring me the gin," because my priorities have long since shifted.)
But still, it doesn't seem like a new eating disorder does it? It's just a facet of the classifications we already use.
The Atlantic piece also digs into the idea that current campaigns advertising "diet" alcoholic beverages to women, and whether or not it's irresponsible to market beer as a "health" product.
After decades of marketing alcohol by objectifying and mistreating women, the adult beverage world has suddenly discovered female consumers. It's like Virginia Slims all over again. "There's no question that the alcohol industry is presenting their goods to women as though they're diet products," he said. "Because that's what sells."
...According to Frank Coleman, the Distilled Sprits Council's senior vice president for public affairs, ads that mention calories and carbs don't even make a health claim to begin with. Offering a lighter version of an adult beverage product that already exists "is just a labeling issue."
Public health researchers and college health professionals aren't swayed by the labeling argument, though. They're increasingly concerned that diet alcohol ads encourage teens and college students to engage in the troubling behavior that more and more experts are actually calling drunkorexia — in academic journals.
I mean, okay. This is just a little bit outside of my priority-zone, and feels a lot like olds wringing their hands over the out-there antics of the callow youths-these-days. (As though kids didn't binge-drink in the '50s. As though doctors didn't literally prescribe meth for weight loss.) While it's obviously fucked up that every product needs to have a diet version to appeal to Americans' body anxieties, that's a problem with society at large. Chopping off this weird little Skinnygirl toe won't help. As long as there's a market for diet vodka, they're going to keep selling diet vodka, and women are going to keep thinking they need diet vodka. To solve that problem we need to fix the market—which means addressing people's relationships with their bodies and their health—not squashing one product at a time. (Product-squashing has its own utility, of course, which is drawing attention to these larger problems. It's a tool of change, but not a solution.)
And anyway, at least 55-calorie Budweiser is basically beige water. If kids are going to binge drink to oblivion (and they are), it might as well be the shitty, watered-down fake stuff instead of actual liquor that might actually kill them.***
*"Don't Blow Your Baby Batter!" read an actual poster at my actual college.
**To anyone who was in the audience at a certain 2009 Gong Show, my remorse knows no bounds. Now kindly go back in time and swap out my microphone for a meatball sub.
***Note to kids: THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOU CAN JUST DRINK AS MUCH FAKE BEER AS YOU WANT WITHOUT DYING.
Road to 'Drunkorexia' [Atlantic]