“Drunkorexia” is a non-medical term describing the behavior of people who severely restrict their calorie intake, but continue to drink alcohol, often to excess. Almost a third of college students say they engage in the practice. For Lindsey Hall, now 27, the main motive was trying to maintain her weight while she studied and partied at the University of Arkansas. Hall shares why she often chose drinking in place of eating.
Everyone around me in college did it. My roommates and I called it the “liquid diet.” We all wanted to be thin and we were all very, very focused on that.
Drunkorexia really came a lot out of my eating disorder behavior. I started having tendencies like bulimia and anorexia when I was 16. When I was 18, my best friend died in a freak accident.
I was new in college, everybody was drinking. I drank a lot because I didn’t know how to really handle my grief. Drinking also helped me curb my appetite. If I had two glasses of wine, I stopped feeling hungry.
I always like to make very clear that I never binge-drank. I didn’t have that desire to get really, really drunk. This was totally about weight maintenance. I was always trying to find ways to cut calories.
I was very social. I was in a sorority, so I was always at events or parties and there was always food around. I didn’t want to eat and if I drank, I would forget about the food because alcohol dulls your awareness of what’s around you.
Plus, I was going through a lot emotionally with all my grief with my best friend, so it was a lot easier to feel tipsy and forget about food.
Wine was huge. I really liked wine and it has this emphasis on it being a social drink. “You’ve had a bad day, you’re stressed out, why don’t you have a glass of wine to take the edge off?” I got to hide behind that a lot.
At my worst, right as I was getting out of college, I tried to eat less than 800 calories per day. I was also running at least 8 miles a day.
I would skip breakfast entirely. I would eat a little bit of a lunch and count everything, so I’d have six blueberries, maybe a cup of yogurt, half of a can of tuna, half a banana and seven almonds.
I never drank during the day — I had classes and a job. For dinner, that’s when I would drink. When I went out, I’d usually drink a glass of wine or two right before. When I got there, I’d immediately start socializing with everybody. I’m very extroverted and energetic.
I’d probably have food at some point. I would just nibble on things. But then, I would come home and binge-eat everything in my pantry. I’d throw up afterwards. When you’re playing that kind of eating disorder game with yourself all the time, you eventually crack.
I’m 5 feet 3 inches tall and at my lowest, I weighed 82 pounds. I definitely looked very sallow back then, my hair was falling out.
I continued this pattern after graduating. I went to rehab when I was 24 and I was doing it right up the day before. I was really tired of myself and really depressed. I didn’t know how to change my thought process or my habits. I felt completely consumed by it.
There were also health effects: I had nine cavities in a year from not taking care of myself. I was running excessively, so I had stress fractures in both my tibias. I had osteopenia — doctors said I had the bones of an 82-year-old.
I was in rehab for about two months. It was a wonderful experience.
Today, I’m good. I’m totally healthy and I weigh 113 pounds — that’s normal and healthy for my size. I haven’t binged or purged in over a year and a half.
I still drink alcohol now, just not in the same way. I wouldn’t say I was an alcoholic because I knew when to stop and I don’t feel triggered by alcohol.
My recovery is up and down. Some days, I still have tendencies to do things. I am not perfect, but I’m a lot better.
— As told to TODAY's A. Pawlowski