Kristen Fuller is a medical doctor that completed her residency in Family Medicine. During this residency, she became very involved in treating patients with acute psychiatric illnesses such as depression, suicidal ideations, and eating disorders. She currently works as a mental health content writer for Center for Discovery, Psychology Today, and other media. Today Kristen talks with us about a new eating disorder that she terms “Drunkorexia.”
In your Psychology Today article “Drunkorexia and the Rise of ‘Rexias’ in Disordered Eating,” what is Drunkorexia?
“Drunkorexia is the unhealthy practice of engaging in excessive dieting while also consuming large amount of alcohol in a short time. Many individuals will restrict food calories in order to consume calories in the form of alcohol to either feel drunk faster while decreasing their overall daily caloric intake.”
Why do you think this disorder is more prevalent among college campuses?
“There are a few reasons for this:
1) binge drinking is more common among college students because for many, it is their first time away from home. Binge drinking is also more prevalent among this population because of the stress of balancing school, work and social life as well as the peer pressure many college students feel.
2) Physical appearances and social pressure to fit in are extremely high in college, resulting in many college students wanting to lose weight or gain muscle in order to look their best. As a result, eating disorders are very prevalent among college campuses and when mixed with binge drinking, drunkorexia is the final result.”
Why is Drunkorexia more common for women than men?
“In general, eating disorders are more common in women than men. Statistics have shown that 20 million women will be diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their life compared to 10 million men. Women often feel a large societal pressure to be skinny due to the constant images from fashion magazines, social media accounts and the Hollywood image. Studies have shown that girls as young as eight years of age are dieting in order to look skinny because that is what society is telling them to do.
Although eating disorders do occur in men, societal pressures are not as ingrained to look skinny and beautiful for men and therefore men do not engage in disordered eating as much as women. Although men are more common to engage in binge drinking behaviors than women, drunkorexia is more common in women due to their increase prevalence in disordered eating.”
What are the consequences of restricting diet while increasing alcohol consumption?
“A higher risk of alcohol poisoning which can be life threatening. In addition, individuals who restrict food caloric intake in order to drink more alcohol are at risk for becoming intoxicated at a faster rate, which can lead to a decrease in inhibition resulting in poor decision-making and even dangerous behavior such as sexual assault, abuse, and driving under the influence. Additionally, drunkorexia is known to have an increased incidence for the development of alcohol abuse disorder and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.”
Do you feel that there is a link between addiction and eating disorders in general?
“Absolutely. Eating disorders are a type of addiction because individuals who have an eating disorder often see them self as in control of their eating disorder however they are not able to stop these unhealthy behaviors from occurring because each time an individual engages in binging or purging, a large increase in dopamine is released in their brains, creating a pleasurable feeling.
Like with any other addiction, eating disorders are characterized by a need for control in individuals who lack control in all other aspects of their life. Food rarely has anything to do with eating disorders but instead underlying triggers such as past abuse or trauma, low-self esteem, bullying, poor parental relationships, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, non-suicidal self-injury disorder (NSSI), a perfectionistic personality, difficulty communicating negative emotions, difficulty resolving conflict, and genetics are known to cultivate eating disorders in individuals. Individuals with eating disorders will constantly obsess over food and eventually engage in compulsive behaviors such as binging or purging in order to carry out their obsessions.”
Why do you see this disorder as a category of obsessive behavior?
“Many individuals, who are diagnosed with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa will often exhibit signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder as well, which is a specific type of anxiety disorder. In fact, approximately 40% of individuals with an eating disorder are diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and two-thirds of individuals with eating disorders have a previous history of at least one anxiety disorder. Similar to OCD, eating disorders are characterized by obsessive thoughts such as telling oneself they must lose weight, change their body image or restrict calories and these thoughts are followed by compulsive actions that include the following:
- Counting calories or weighing food
- The use of diuretics or laxative to reduce weight
- Excessive exercise
- Self-induced vomiting
- Participating in ritualistic behaviors while eating a meal
- Constantly checking body shape and appearance in mirrors
- Rigidly tracking weight loss and intake of sugars and carbohydrates
- Frequently weighing oneself”
In the future, what can we do to recognize and treat Drunkorexia?
“The biggest thing is to keep educating each other on this disorder and if you do see signs or symptoms in an individual then it is important to address in a loving way. Hiding these disorders under the rug and pretending that they do not exist will only make it worse. It is also important to disengage is any form of social media that involves body shaming or bullying as these behaviors are detrimental to individuals in society. Also pay close attention to the individuals you associate with in order to recognize their actions and behaviors. By being more aware of your surroundings, you will pick up on signs and symptoms associated with drunkorexia.”
To read more about Kristen Fuller, click here.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please visit eatingdisorderhope.com.