British Columbia

Binge drinking, dieting linked in drunkorexia study

A Simon Fraser University study is warning calorie-conscious young people, worried about gaining weight from binge drinking, not to cut out food in order to save space for alcohol.

Research followed 227 students in Ontario

A Simon Fraser University study in British Columbia is warning calorie-conscious young people, worried about gaining weight from binge drinking, not to cut out food in order to save space for alcohol.

The practice of foregoing food in order to binge drink and not gain weight — known as "drunkorexia" — surfaced several years ago, but the SFU study is the first to look at its long-term effects.

SFU researcher Daniella Sieukaran followed 227 students at Toronto's York University, all aged between 17 and 21 years old, for four months.

Sieukaran said she found young people practising drunkorexia exhibit more risky behaviours.

"In particular, it was unprotected sex and also increased alcohol overdoses and they were actually being hospitalized more often for that," said Sieukaran.

"I think a lot of them know individually that dieting and drinking can be dangerous but they're probably not thinking what the combined effects can be."

But recently graduated Leah Ellacott says she understands why some of her peers won't eat in advance of a big party.

"I would say if there's a big night and we're all going out drinking, yeah, I wouldn't want to be having a big steak dinner before I go drinking," she said. 

"Probably that's not right, but I would say that's very common and a lot of people do that, because you don't want to feel gross and fat. You want to look good for the night you're going out drinking and partying."

SFU researcher Daniella Sieukaran hopes her research will help prevent drunkorexia. (CBC)

Sieukaran hopes her research will convince educational institutions to warn students of the dangers of drunkorexia.

"I think it's really important university and college administrators start thinking about these two behaviours together and realize that together they create a much more serious problem and start educating the students about it and making it clear that these behaviours can coincide and what they should be doing to try and prevent that in their own lives," said Sieukaran.

Sieukaran intends to go on to study the motivation behind drunkorexia, but is already confident it is tied to societal pressures pushing young people to stay thin.

"We are thinking that there is probably some body dissatisfaction that is linked to this, because young adults know how to get drunk anyway, they know to just drink more if they really want to get drunk, so we're thinking the motivation is wanting to stay slim and having what they deem an ideal weight."

With files from the CBC's Chad Pawson