“Eatin’s Cheatin’” echoes around the office on a Friday afternoon as women pick over their naked salads and extra extra light low fat Philly on Ryvita. The preparations for ‘Rosé o’clock’ are well under way. They’ll grumble their way through the afternoon and suppress the urge to be ‘naughty’ whenever anyone offers a biscuit, sweet or chocolate. Fun.
Unfortunately, this level of boring has become normal for far too many of us. On Monday as I was queuing in Tesco I overheard two work experience girls behind me dissecting what they’ll be eating (not much) during the week in order to enjoy their “fat weekend”. Increasingly, it seems as though we’ve slipped into a habit of making sacrifices to enable us to let go at the weekend. Making bargains with ourselves so that we feel we have ‘earned it’ when we crack open the Gallo Family Vineyard. For the most part, this new (and extremely tiresome) way of living from week to weekend doesn’t have a huge impact on our health -but some take it to extremes.
Here we have ‘drunkorexia’. I hate to even use the term. Making up slang terms off the back of anorexia both belittle those who suffer from it and trivialise, take away from the seriousness and suggest it is acceptable to be flippant about something that kills. I don’t think people would take too kindly to media making up catchy slang terms or nicknames for different types of cancer – so why this?
Last week, I read about 18-year old Nakhara Jacques, who starves herself for three days a week so that she can guzzle cider and down ridiculous amounts of vodka shots every weekend. She’s been living like this for two years and as a consequence has lost weight, hair and periods – worth it? I think not.
Again, of course, the blame is put on this constant pressure to be thin, to look like the models and celebrities we see splashed across every magazine and music channel. What the magazines don’t blame is the fact that a few pages on from circling bits of cellulite and praising the tone, lean figures of celeb mums in bikinis just weeks after giving birth, are pages packed with diet tips, low calorie recipes and instructions telling us what ‘bad’ foods we should swap with ‘good’ (boring) alternatives. Quite regularly, this includes alcohol. The labels on bottles of wine, beer, cider and spirits don’t tell us how many calories or carbs they contain – the magazines do.
For once, I’m not saying that this growing trend of restricting calories from food in favour of calories from alcohol is nothing to do with wanting to emulate thin role models – of course it is, but that’s not the only reason and magazines that claim it is are not only wrong, but extremely hypocritical.
The problem is that people, especially students are willing to make these sacrifices whether it harms their health or not. Being thin comes first, having fun comes second and nothing else matters – who wants a muffin top rolling out from under their bra-let and hot-pant twinset?
Young women may be vulnerable to fall into this trap, this destructive cycle – but they’re far from that when it comes to changing. They probably feel quite smug after a few days of eating very little and then getting tipsy after one glass of wine whilst being complimented on their weightloss. Any suggestion that they might be taking it a bit far, they’ll bat off with excuses, “Oh, don’t be silly, it’s not like I’m anorexic or anything!” But anorexic or not, restricting calorie intake below the recommended level for an extended period of time will take its toll. The hard part is, the longer this habit continues, the harder it is to break.
As with any addiction, habit or behaviour, a person who has developed a routine that they stick to religiously is not going to give it up easily. Nobody likes being told what to do or how to live their lives, especially at the age where dieting and binge-drinking go hand in hand – they just don’t want to know. Sadly then, the only way people affected by this are going to change is if something happens to them that makes them rethink – be it an illness, accident, pregnancy – it has to be something big. It’s too late to preach.
What we can do is work on prevention – and that needs to come through education in schools AND through magazines taking responsibility. They’ll claim that their diet pages promote a healthy lifestyle, but I beg to differ. They encourage this obsession with calorie counting, fad diets and ‘food swaps’ and make us feel guilty for even daring to think about eating anything vaguely tasty, hearty or satisfying. If they continue to do that, we’ll continue to have problems with people who take it in.