In a culture that's still obsessed with dieting, the U.S. weight loss industry is worth around $60 billion and growing. In recent years, there's been an important addition to that market: alcoholic beverage companies. Marketing increasingly plays to consumers' insecurities by perpetuating the myth that we can -- and should -- drink without gaining weight.
At the same time, researchers have noted a disturbing trend, especially among college students, that combines the worst of drinking and dieting. They call it "drunkorexia," which is colloquial for skipping meals or exercising heavily to "save" or burn calories, making room for drinking at night.
While not yet a formally recognized eating disorder, habitually drinking on an empty stomach can of course have serious consequences. Alcohol marketers might not mind you equating food calories with booze calories, but health professionals agree that they're just not interchangeable.
Adam Barry, a professor of health education and behavior at the University of Florida, has compiled the most comprehensive research to-date on drunkorexia, published last spring in the Journal of American College Health.
Barry examined 22,000 college students across 40 universities and found that, even after controlling for race, school year, Greek affiliation and whether a student lived on campus (the authors did not control for whether a respondent played on a sports team), vigorous exercise, and disordered eating uniquely predicted binge drinking. In fact, those who exercised or dieted to lose weight were over 20 percent more likely to have five or more drinks in a single sitting. Students who had vomited or used laxatives in the previous month to shed pounds were 76 percent more likely to binge drink.