WOMEN
04/16/2014 11:13 am ET Updated Apr 16, 2014

Did I Trade An Eating Disorder For Alcoholism?

David Waldorf via Getty Images

Years ago, while researching for my book, How to Disappear Completely, I spent some time flipping through a photography book on eating disorders. I ended up discussing my opinion of this book at length in my work (spoiler alert: I am not a big fan) so I won’t write about that here. What I’ll focus on, instead, is something surprising I noticed in one interviewee’s daily intake of food. The item on the menu that struck me was a glass of wine to be consumed at 6:09 PM (or some other ridiculously specific time.) I thought, then, that this seemed very atypical for anorexics, usually so hesitant to cloud their disciplined mind. A glass of wine seemed like it would fall too easily into the category of “indulgent” — empty calories that would lead, particularly to someone who hadn’t consumed much else, to a heady intoxication. And when intoxicated, didn’t one risk dropping his or her guard and wandering toward the cupboard?

Since then, however, I’ve read a number of articles about how people with eating disorders are increasingly using alcohol in destructive ways, articles that usually employ the cutesy term “drunkorexia” to describe the behavior. The articles mostly focused on how people with eating disorders would save their calories for alcohol, thereby getting drunk twice as fast. By this point, I unfortunately had some personal experience with the issue, and no longer believed it odd that an anorexic would allot herself one glass of wine every evening. The foundation of the problem was created like this: During my later years in college, in periods of health, I had been able to engage in what was then normal social activity like keg parties and bar hopping. I therefore associated drinking with the carefree sensation of being able to fraternize as a “normal” twenty-something, which I had always opined when I was lonely and ill. When I began to relapse after college, I kept drinking as if doing so would prevent others from knowing something was wrong. (Spoiler alert again: didn’t work.) My tolerance dropped alongside my weight, which dropped in tandem because I often had wicked hangovers during which I couldn’t keep my food down — an added bonus for someone who had no interest in digestion. Fuzzy from a glass of wine, I’d experience a burst of energy that my nutritional reserves couldn’t afford me on their own. Occasionally I’d drink until I got an enormous case of the screw-its and attacked a jar of peanut butter left carelessly in my kitchen. Oh well, I’d say by means of self-comfort, that’s a good thing, right? Because you should be eating more.

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