It’s Friday night, 6pm. You just got home from school or work and you’re waiting to head out to a bar with some friends. Everyone’s on a budget these days so you’ve all decided to eat at home first rather than going out to an expensive restaurant. You know you’re going to be having a few drinks (and your mom always told you that drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea!), so what do you eat for dinner?
Well, for many people (and more than a few fashion models) the answer to this question would be ‘absolutely nothing’. Why? Because they want to minimize their calorie intake for the day, and they would rather skip dinner than cut back on their drinking later that night.
This is classic ‘drunkorexia’. So what does it mean to be drunkorexic? It’s certainly not a medical term, but an expression that has gained popularity over the last few years. It describes a person that is following a strict calorie-focused diet, while getting most of those calories from alcoholic beverages. A person who assigns the same value to every calorie, without regard for nutritional content.
The logic goes like this. A vodka, lime and soda is one of the lowest-calorie alcoholic drink you’ll find. A single contains around 76 calories, so if you drink 5 of those in a night that’s 380 calories total. Meanwhile, a typical fashion model’s diet might be 1200 calories of food per day, comprised of healthy items like wholewheat bread, grilled proteins and steamed vegetables. But to keep within that 1200 limit on a day when she goes out drinking, she would need to cut that food consumption down to only 820 calories. By changing her diet like this she keeps to her calorie target, but the quality of calories that she is consuming has got markedly worse.
It’s something that you often see in the modeling industry due to the pressures of staying thin, but it’s certainly not exclusive to fashion models. Women process alcohol a lot slower than men and suffer from greater pressures to stay thin, so you almost certainly have a female friend or colleague that’s a drunkorexic.
In the words of Douglas Bunnell at the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia, “There are women who are afraid to put a grape in their mouth, but have no problem drinking a beer”. This is not quite in the same dangerous category as anorexia or bulimia, but nonetheless it is an attitude that can have a damaging effect on your health and it can certainly shorten your modeling career.
Here are three questions you should ask yourself, or any other aspiring models who you think are getting close to drunkorexia.
Cutting back on eating before an evening out is a classic sign of drunkorexia. We’re not just talking about your evening meal - many girls will have a light breakfast and then nothing for the rest of the day, in the mistaken belief that this will balance out their drinking later on. So if you notice yourself or a friend skipping meals before an evening out, or strictly calorie-counting at Friday lunchtime, that’s a clear danger sign.
According to one Harvard student, “When I was a freshman, my roommate and I would consume less than 300 calories on days that we were going to go out drinking. We would eat egg whites for breakfast and then a vegan Boca burger with mustard and no bun for lunch and dinner.” One consequence of going out on an empty stomach is that you will tend to get drunk more quickly, which helps to explain why so many students do it. However it also makes vomiting more likely (see below), and will do terrible things to your complexion.
There’s nothing worse than that nauseous feeling when you know you’ve overdone it and you’re going to be ill. Most of us have been there and it’s no fun at all. However, drunkorexics have a different perspective. From their point of view, this is just another way to reduce their calorie intake. They might not be purging like those suffering from bulimia, but it has much the same effect. Less food in the stomach means less calories absorbed, and you can go on to drink another day in the knowledge that your evening out wasn’t too ‘costly’ in terms of your diet.
However as we know, there is a cost to this, even beyond the psychological effects and the potentially dangerous path to addiction and eating disorders (this is nothing to joke about - around 30% of bulimia sufferers also struggle with alcohol or drug addiction). Throwing up releases a huge amount of acidic bile from your stomach. When your throat is regularly exposed to this, you put yourself at risk of a particularly dangerous cancer known as esophageal cancer. That same stomach acid will damage your teeth too.
The low quality of calories in alcohol (it contains almost no nutritional value at all) mean that drunkorexics are just not getting the nutrients they need to function properly. This might manifest itself in tiredness, fatigue and brain fog. But more importantly for us in the fashion industry, it also deadens your complexion and makes you look tired, grey and older. This is more than just a hangover, it’s actually your body telling you that it’s not getting what it needs. That’s why your skin takes even longer to recover.
You can see the difference between the models who have taken care of their looks and those who haven’t. Too much partying and not enough healthy food is a recipe for a short and unsuccessful career. There are many successful fashion models who have taken care of themselves and are still working in their thirties and forties (but look 10 years younger).
When some fashion models begin their careers it can be a whirlwind of exciting events and free drinks that gets quickly out of control. Combined with the pressures of staying thin, it’s a sad fact that some models do develop eating disorders, even if they begin their careers following a healthy diet. If you think that you or your friends are suffering from drunkorexia, just remember that it’s actually counterproductive. As always, if you want to maintain a healthy weight and enjoy a long career in the modeling industry, eating healthy food and exercising is the key!
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