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Drinking your dinner

By River Reporter Dec 8, 2011

By Francesca Griffin and Rebecca Louise Coles

One in five of us are skipping meals to save calories for binge drinking sessions according to a survey among Kingston University students.

Young women, in particular, are faced with the conflicting pressures of social drinking and staying slim.

A 21-year-old business student said “When I go out with my friends, I want to look as good as them, no one wants to be the fattest one. Being tagged in photos on Facebook means you can really compare yourself to other girls. So I decided I would stop having dinner before I went out. I used to be hungry but, to me, feeling more confident in my dress was worth it.”

Alarmingly, this student’s story is representative of the drinking habits of many students.

This phenomenon of skipping meals in exchange for alcohol has been widely identified in many American universities, but The River’s investigation revealed it is also seemingly quite an undetected problem among UK students.

A great concern

Dieticians coined the term ‘drunkorexia’ as they believe that there is a link between binge drinking and eating disorders. They argue that it shows the unhealthy, deteriorating relationship we have towards food and calories.

Although an overwhelming 86 per cent of those surveyed thought that not eating before drinking was dangerous, the need to be slim was a far greater concern.

The majority of female students we spoke to had the same, worrying, attitude. A 23-year-old design student said: “There is a huge pressure to go out, get drunk and have a good time, it’s a way of fitting in at university.

“But at the same time staying skinny is also a concern.”

Dr Chris Easton, a senior health lecturer at Kingston University, explained that eating a meal before drinking alcohol is essential. He warned that those who deliberately don’t eat before going out are risking serious health consequences.

“Drinking on an empty stomach will increase the likelihood of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), leading to traumatic brain injuries such as blackouts. There is an increased risk of nutritional deficits and damage to organs such as the stomach and liver,” he said.

Risky behaviour

This toxic combination of starving and binge drinking is putting people at risk of developing more serious eating disorders and alcohol abuse problems, as well as the danger of alcohol poising, chronic diseases and risky sexual behaviour.

Student, Emily Clark, 21, regularly attends the sport social events and knows, only too well, the out of character sexual behaviour that can occur due to excess alcohol. She said “Me and a friend were walking back from town really drunk, as it had been an unplanned night, which means straight from work and no dinner. We were talking to these boys and my friend decided to invite them back.

“I fell asleep on the sofa as soon as we got home but I was woken up to my friend stark naked on the other sofa having a threesome with the two strangers!

“She would never usually do anything like that and has felt nothing but regret about the whole thing ever since.”

Irresponsible antics

Leanne Poole, 20, studies law and criminology and is a self confessed ‘drunkorexic’. Although she admits that she is aware of how dangerous her habit is, she still chooses not to eat before going out. “I want to have a flat tummy and not look like a bowling ball in a small dress”. She also says it saves her money as she gets drunker, quicker.

But her irresponsible antics have meant she has ended up in many a compromising situation and even had to spend the night in hospital. “The most outrageous night I can remember was at McClusky’s nightclub. I planned to go out with no dinner and I drank a whole bottle of wine and some vodka shots before I even left the house. I had ridiculously high heels on and after we decided to leave the club I was messing around with the girls and went to tackle my friend. I misjudged the gap between us and smashed my head on the pavement.

“I was laying on the floor for about 3 or 4 minutes. When I was finally able to get up, a lump the size of a golf ball had appeared on my head and I felt so sick and dizzy. My friend called the NHS helpline and I was rushed into hospital.”

A recent survey showed that 57% of students said that they thought their alcohol intake had no impact on their university work, and just over 30 per cent saying they had never even thought about the impact it would have on their studies.

Dr Easton cautions that: “Alcohol can kill brain cells that are used to store memories and are responsible for future learning and cognitive abilities. The increased toxicity from drinking on an empty stomach is likely to worsen these effects.”

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