It’s true that alcohol is a part of college for many people. Whether you attend a wet campus or a dry one, it doesn’t really matter—most students will have had experience with alcohol by the time they graduate. As a college student myself, the thing I look forward to each week is going out on the weekends with my roommates and friends. It’s the social aspect I value, not the alcohol, but alcohol generally accompanies our evenings.
Throughout college, I’ve always considered my immediate group of friends to be a pretty healthy, responsible bunch. We drink socially, but in moderation. We all value our grades, health and jobs, so finding a balance is important. I remember being nervous freshman year about the decision to join a sorority because of the media stereotypes of dumb and skinny “sorority girls” who meticulously count calories and drink heavily. The group of friends I found, however, seemed to be just like me and valued the same things I did.
My senior year of college, I grew closer with a few girls who had previously only been friends of friends. I started to notice some strange behaviors among them. Thursday night was always the big night out, and we would often eat lunch at the sorority house together. One particular young woman’s eating habits stood out to me. She would nibble on a few fries or maybe a salad, but that’s it. Later at night, while we were all getting ready to go out and eating dinner or munching on snacks to make sure we all had something in our system, she would take four or five shots instead. By the time she got to the bar, she was wasted because there were no nutrients or calories in her body to sustain her. That didn’t stop her from drinking more. Blacking out seemed to be a typical occurrence for her. I wasn’t surprised if I heard in the morning that she had lost her wallet, phone or some other valuable.
Our friends had hushed conversations about it, because we didn’t really understand what she was doing. Generally, anorexics are so worried about calories that they don’t even drink alcohol. She would eat, technically, but not enough to sustain her for a night of drinking. So what could she be doing? There were also whispers that laxatives were a daily part of her diet. Still, though, no one ever really addressed her about it. Personally, I didn’t feel close enough to her to say anything about it.
Spring break was the point where I realized this was truly disordered eating. Her suitemates and close friends were worried about her because she barely ate anything the whole week. Our resort was all-inclusive, which meant that we had meal service available at almost any time of the day. As hearty eaters and lovers of all things food, my immediate friends and I took full advantage of the all-inclusive dining. However, I rarely saw her sit down to eat a meal. When she did, she would pick at the food on her plate, saying she wasn’t hungry. She did, however, take advantage of the all-inclusive drinking, which was available from morning to night. The only time I really saw her eat anything the whole week was near the pool, where there was a buffet of snack foods for guests. She would pick at chicken fingers or wings only after she had been drinking heavily all day and didn’t have as much control over her inhibitions.
When I saw a video a few weeks ago on Newsy.com about “drunkorexia,” it was like a light bulb went on. I realized this behavior was exactly what my friend was doing. I find this extremely sad because I have a hard time believing that the behavior will end once she is out of the binge-drinking days of college. There must be deeper psychological issues rooted in this than just calorie counting. Aside from the mental effects, the combination of drinking and not eating is horrible for your body, stomach and liver. Not all calories were created equal, and booze calories should not equate the calories you get from food and nutrients. It’s one thing to skip the extra cookie if you want to have a glass of wine later, but skipping all your meals to make up for all the alcohol you’re planning to drink is a severe problem.
I found the Newsy video to be extremely insightful on what drunkorexia is and what sort of debate surrounds the issue. It raises the question if swapping food for booze is a reasonable way to count calories, or if this is a serious problem. It includes clips from interviews with students who engage in the behavior as well as experts talking about drunkorexia’s dangerous effects.