It's a growing phenomenon among young adults: they skimp out on food at dinner in order to save space and reserve calories for alcohol during a night of binge drinking.
However, a study by a Simon Fraser University graduate student is warning that such behaviour can lead to greater alcoholassociated risk behaviours, such as engaging in unprotected sex after drinking and alcohol overdose.
"Drunkorexia," a term coined by an American researcher in 2010, is a growing epidemic among post-secondary students in which young women and sometimes men restrict their diets in order to reserve calories for consuming large quantities of alcohol.
Researcher Daniella Sieukaran, who is pursing a combined MA/PhD in clinical psychology, is the first to study the long-term relationship between dieting and heavy drinking among young adults.
As part of her research, Sieukaran followed 227 students between the ages of 17 and 21 at Toronto's York University, studying their dieting and drinking habits.
Over a four-month period, she concluded that students who engaged in drunkorexia often had more unprotected sex after drinking and were hospitalized more due to overdoses.
"We also looked at other eating disorders and we didn't find that relationship. It really brings us back to the idea of dieting being a motivator and an enabler for young adults to be able to drink more because they're saving those calories that they would normally eat," she said.
While students may not notice an immediate increase or decrease in body weight, Sieukaran believes long-term drunkorexia could be a gateway for other, more serious clinical eating disorders such an anorexia.
"If they think that it's an effective way to stay slim and muscular, they're going to continue this behaviour. It can definitely affect people's [health] long-term," she stated, adding that drinking and driving, and kidney and digestive system failures, could also cause problems in the future.
Sieukaran admitted it is difficult to try and pinpoint the reasons why students engage in drunkorexia, but suggested this calorie-conscious age group faces various pressures from society, the media and even family and friends to be the perfect shape and size without realizing the long-term consequences it can have on the body.
"It's really important for young adults to realize that when you combine these two behaviours, it's dangerous and that it isn't a healthy way to be reducing your calories even though society is telling you not to consume that many calories - it doesn't mean that you go and consume more alcohol."
She hopes her research will open more doors for university administrators and counsellors to educate the student population about the consequences of combining dieting and drinking to prevent students from participating in it. In the future, she hopes to create a profile of a drunkorexic.
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