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'Drunkorexics' offset calories from drink by skipping meals

They are calling it "drunkorexia" and while it is not a strict medical term, dietitians believe there is a link between binge drinking and eating disorders.

The phenomenon first spotted in the cocktail bars of New York has now crossed the Atlantic to Britain and affects mostly weight-conscious women who offset the calories from heavy drinking by skipping meals.

Realising that they're going to drink heavily and not wanting to put on any weight (two large glasses of white wine contain 300 calories, the same as a Snickers chocolate bar) "drunkorexics" will starve themselves in preparation for a night on the town.

Experts say the "drunkorexic" demographic comprises mainly young women, many of whom experience a combination of social pressures at university. "At university there is huge pressure to drink and also to look thin. In my experience many young women find the only way they can cope with both is to drink rather than eat, to substitute alcohol for food", says Louise Noble, chief dietitian to the Berkshire Healthcare Trust.

"Many of my clients hit the hard-drinking culture of student life and find they can't opt out," said Ms Noble, adding that images of stick-thin celebrities with cocktail in hand can play a significant role in pressurising young women. She added: "Young women look up to many of these celebrities, and try to emulate their lifestyles."

Popular US websites, including the 5 Resolutions fashion blog, Salon.com, and The Huffington Post news site, are awash with women confessing their own methods of calorie off-setting.

Dr Douglas Bennell, of the Renfrew Centre for eating disorders, in Philadelphia, told The New York Times: "Binge drinking is almost cool and hip, and losing weight and being thin is a cultural imperative for women in America. Mixing both is not surprising."

The correlation between eating disorders and alcoholism has been established for some time. Last year a report published in the American journal Biological Psychiatry found that up to a third of bulimics struggle with alcohol or drug abuse.

Another academic survey discovered that 36 per cent of women receiving treatment for alcohol abuse also confessed to eating disorders.

"The link between alcohol misuse and eating disorders is not a new one. Experts have known about this for more than 40 years", said Ann Fennell, a specialist dietitian in eating disorders.

"But we also know that the incidence of anorexia is greater now than it has ever been, and that binge drinking is on the rise. Given that both alcoholism and anorexia have a shared emotional heritage, it's reasonable to speculate about a link", she said.

"I would skip a piece of toast and an apple for a beer"

By Alice-Azania Jarvis

I'd like to make one thing clear: I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, have an eating disorder.

I have never binged and purged (although I've done my fair share of bingeing); I have never starved myself senseless (although I've certainly passed up the odd carb); and I have never popped a diet pill.

But I am young, female and just ever so slightly ... what's the word? Oh yes: vain.

So I care about what I eat, how much of it I consume, and how many calories it contains. More importantly I care about what I drink.

Because while I'm really rather fond of being drunk, I'm not prepared to get fat.

So ever since my first booze-fuelled week at university, I've counted up the calories in what I drink and subtracted them from the food I'm allowed to eat.

One beer means skipping both a piece of toast and an apple. One vodka on the other hand means skipping only an apple (and maybe a few grapes). So guess which I choose? Oh – and with a diet mixer, thanks.

But apparently it's not just me. Increasing numbers of young women are doing the exact same thing – so much so that it has its very own buzzword, "drunkorexia".

Google it and you'll get 23,900 hits.

Ask around and you'll be surprised by how widespread it is (according to one recent study 30 per cent of women aged 18 to 23 diet so they can drink).

In fact it's not even that new a phenomenon: one of my earliest dieting experiences was as a six-year-old watching my mother join Weight Watchers. As part of the plan she was allowed one "treat" per week; a chocolate biscuit, a chunk of cheese, or – surprise, surprise – a small glass of wine. In her mind there was no contest – she chose the wine. And who can blame her?

After all, it may have the same number of calories but it is twice as much fun.