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news: alcohol, food trade-off leads to danger

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(lots of detail, self-injury, suicide)

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Title/Topic: Alcohol, Food Trade-Off Leads to Danger
Posted On: 10/13/2009
Oct 13 2009, Kansas (University Daily Kansan) – Laura Erdall spends her Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights downing vodka tonics and Long Island iced teas. But she said she steers clear of beer, not because of the taste but because of the calories.

“There are a lot of calories in hard alcohol, but I have to drink more beers, so it takes more calories to get me to the point I’d like to be,” Erdall, Edina, Minn., senior, said.

Craig Johnson, director of the eating disorders program at the Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa, said drunkorexia might be a misleading term, because alcohol abuse is more common among bulimic patients than those with anorexia.

“Anorexics usually are very devoted to being very much in control of themselves,” Johnson said. “Alcohol use, of course, would threaten that source of internal control.”

Johnson said alcohol abuse is becoming more frequent with late-stage anorexic patients because it serves as a coping mechanism.

The National Eating Disorders Association defines anorexia nervosa as “a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.” Approximately 90 to 95 percent of people suffering from anorexia are female. Between 0.5 and 1 percent of American women suffer from anorexia.

According to NEDA, people with bulimia nervosa tend to binge eat and then, through self-induced vomiting, purge themselves of food. The eating disorder affects between 1 and 2 percent of adolescent and young adult women. Approximately 80 percent of people with bulimia are female.

Almost 10 million females and 1 million males in the United States suffer from these eating disorders.
Carly Banks, Wichita senior, employs the same logic: She sticks to vodka and uses diet sodas rather than beer for mixers to limit calories on her Friday and Saturday night drinking escapades.

“If you’re going to drink that many calories, you might as well not make it so bad,” Banks said.

Erdall and Banks have found relatively healthy ways to manage both their weight and social drinking, but others on campus and around the country use a different and dangerous way to balance the two.

In an effort to lose weight and maintain drinking habits, some people, particularly college-aged women, get their daily calories strictly from alcohol. This alcohol abuse, combined with an eating disorder is known to some as “drunkorexia.”

“It’s like balancing a checkbook,” said Lesley Latham, president of From the Inside Out, a peer education group on campus that promotes eating disorder awareness.

Latham, Republic senior, said people with drunkorexia calculated how much they wanted to drink in one night and subtracted that amount from their daily calorie limit. Latham said this could become a problem because those with eating disorders already had a low calorie intake.

Jenny McKee, health educator with the Wellness Resource Center, said she had seen the disorder on campus but not to the extreme of completely substituting alcohol for food. She said the presence of drunkorexia among college women was the convergence of two mainstream media messages.

“One is that being thin means you’re beautiful and desirable,” McKee said. “And the other is that alcohol will make you have a better time and make you more attractive. That’s a pretty terrifying dichotomy.”

Craig Johnson, director of the Eating Disorders Program at the Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa, said drunkorexia was “probably fairly common among college-age girls.” However, Johnson said the behavior probably fell short of a diagnosable eating disorder for most college-aged women.

He said substance abuse among actual eating disorder patients was neither new nor uncommon. Johnson said about 25 percent of all eating disorder patients across the country met the criteria for drug and alcohol abuse.

Although getting calories only from alcohol could cause weight loss, McKee said the habit came with its own set of health concerns. She said alcohol restricted the intake of nutrients, disrupted sleep cycles and inhibited the building and restoration of muscle tissue.

“It’s important to know what you’re putting into your body, but trying to limit nutritionally dense foods to make room for calories from alcohol is taking it to the extreme,” she said.

Not eating before going out is another way women try to avoid weight gain, Ann Chapman, coordinator of Nutritional Services with the WRC, said.

McKee said that people got drunk with less liquor when there was no food to absorb the alcohol, thereby limiting the calories from both food and alcohol.

Banks said she was sure to eat a good meal before going out, so that she did not become too drunk or sick.

Erdall said she had, on occasion, skipped the meal before going out as a way to be more economical with her money and her drinking. She said this habit had subsided since she turned 21.

Chapman said such a practice could irritate the stomach lining and increase the risk of ulcers if there was no food to act as a buffer.

Instead of skipping dinner, Chapman said students could eat a high protein, high fat meal such as eggs or peanut butter before drinking.

“Proteins and fats take longer to digest,” Chapman said. “They stay in your stomach longer, so you’ll be full for three to four hours.”

Chapman said eating a good meal before drinking also helped maintain blood sugar. Low blood sugar triggers hunger, which, she said, can lead to the infamous and typically unhealthy fourth meal. Chapman said students could eat a bowl of cereal before going to bed if they wanted a meal after a night out.

She also said to alternate alcoholic drinks with water or diet soda to reduce alcohol intake, re-hydrate and reduce calories.

“That cuts the calories from alcohol in half and keeps you hydrated so you’re not as likely to be hungover the next day,” she said.

Chapman said drinking light beers, wine spritzers and hard liquor with water or diet sodas were also effective ways to limit calories from alcohol.

If students are concerned about gaining weight from drinking, Chapman said they should limit themselves to one or two nights of drinking a week and compensate for the calories by exercising more, cutting back on unhealthy foods or both.

For example if students plan to drink 600 calories the equivalent of about four margaritas or about seven beers Chapman said they should cut 300 unhealthy calories from their daily diet and burn the other 300 calories by exercising.

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