Alcohol + Food = Binge?

Are you more likely to overeat when you drink? (photo by defekto)

A common Saturday night scene in my early twenties would go a little something like this:

Me and my (very fun) roommate would hit a bar or hip hop club to dance, we would drink too much, stumble home on the subway, and upon arrival home I would immediately call the local diner and order a cheeseburger and fries for delivery. Then, half asleep, and definitely NOT hungry, I would devour the entire container of cold fries and the whole, huge, unimpressive hamburger.

Even when I wasn’t actively binge-eating anymore, if I would have one glass of wine too many, it could trigger an overeating session. Alcohol reduces our inhibitions, and also stimulates appetite, so it’s no wonder that so many people who have overeating issues find it to be a prelude to a binge. Like Sandra*, a reader who sent me an email recently looking for some help and hope:

“I have struggled with my weight my whole life, first as a chubby kid, then as a chubby teenager and I dabbled in different eating disorders along the way, including bulimia and anorexia. I am now heavier than I have been in about 4 years.  My weight and body image is a constant source of disappointment, frustration, and deeply and wrenchingly affects how I value myself.  I love so much about myself and my life, but it is the one thing that I can never be okay with.”

“Reading your website helps me a lot with being kinder to myself, and it has also helped me realize that I have developed binge eating disorder. I have passed it off as ‘drunk eating’ for many years, but I now realize it for what it is, and can’t excuse it under the guise of alcohol.  As a single, 25 year old law student, I do go out on weekends, and I do get drunk regularly (which I know isn’t the greatest habit in the world, but I’m working on it!), and I regularly come home and just engage in massive binge eating. It’s embarrassing because I have two roommates, who have boyfriends that regularly spend the weekends here, and are witness to the binge eating, or the after effects in the kitchen.”

“I am humiliated every weekend, to the point that it has deterred me from going out and enjoying my social life.  I eat anything and everything, regardless if it is mine or not, or if I like it, in strange combinations and huge quantities.  I want to stop so badly, but I just can’t seem to.  No one understands why I do this, I can barely understand it, I never do it sober, but even one or two drinks will trigger my need to eat everything in sight.  I need help!”

Well, Sandra, it sounds as if you know that you have struggled with eating disorders for a while now. Are you regularly doing anything to help yourself get more sane about food and your body, like reading books, seeing a therapist, or going to a support group? Anyone who’s read my story knows how key those three things were to me getting better.

Once I was already well on my way to recovery, a mentor in one of my support groups helped me realize that alcohol was still a binge trigger for me—and he (yep, he! Men struggle big-time with this, too) suggested that I put a firm limit on the amount of booze I drank in one evening. I realized from experience that the third drink was the one that really put me over the edge, so I placed a two-drink limit on myself and stuck to it most of the time. It helped immensely. I also have some friends who gave up alcohol altogether for a while (or even for good) in order to help them get a handle on their bingeing.

All that said, if I hadn’t already been doing other things to help myself stay sane about food, I don’t think just limiting alcohol would’ve helped a whole lot. I’m sure the bingeing would’ve popped up at other times, instead. I have another question for you: You said that your weight and your body image is a big issue for you right now and that you feel bad about yourself. Are you restricting or dieting at all during the day? If so, it may be that your mind and body are just waiting for ANY excuse (like a little boozy buzz) to let it all out and eat all the things you haven’t been allowing yourself to eat on a regular basis.

Now, to the rest of the community: Have you ever felt like booze was a binge trigger for you? What did you do/are you doing about it?


14 Responses to Alcohol + Food = Binge?

  1. Just last weekend, I hosted a girly get-together at my house. The drinks were flowing and I put out several big bowls of nibbles for my friends, which they indulged in throughout the night as we enjoyed the festivities.

    I am currently trying to tackle my binge-eating tendencies and to practice Intuitive Eating, so I decided not to eat any of the snacks because I wasn’t physically hungry.

    However, as the night went on and the alcohol started to have its affect, I felt myself drawn to the salty nibbles. I didn’t feel out of control while eating them, and it was by no means a binge. But I certainly believe that booze does lower our awareness levels, and even if it doesn’t lead to binging, it can certainly lead to eating unconciously.

  2. Alcohol is definitely a trigger for me too. Lately, I’ve avoided certain social situations that would normally involve drinking. This works on one hand, but it doesn’t help with my tendency to isolate myself. I’m trying to figure out a compromise. My excuse to friends right now is that I gave up alcohol for Lent.

  3. LovesCatsinCA says:

    Hi, Sunny. Alcohol is not a binge trigger for me (and I don’t normally don’t even get tipsy anymore in my 40s…)

    But I can tell you that I can eat an amazing amount of what I call “alcohol defense eating”. This is the eating way beyond full of things I would normally not eat (heavy, oily, rich) at either a charity wine and food gala, or when going to wineries in wine country. It slows down alcohol absorption to have heavy food going in the stomach…

    So of course I limit those occasions but if I’m just having a drink or two without needing to be able to taste more wines or drive later on, I don’t shovel in the food…

    On the other hand, I still have binge triggers sometimes that have nothing to do with alcohol. Carol Solomon who is a conquering binge and stress eating coach, calls it “tense tiredness” when we are most triggered and I find it true. And I would think a law student would have plenty of that!

  4. emma says:

    I identify with this totally. Drinking and then bingeing seems to be the one area that I still struggle with even after being away from my eating disorder for some time. I know how embarrassing it is to have people see it and the guilt about that makes me feel worse too.
    I get anxious when I go to meet up with friends for drinks and because I know that I usually binge after drinks…beccause I’m anxious then I drink more and thus I end up bingeing.
    For me I really have to stick to a drink limit. Period.
    And if I slip up and have a binge, I forgive myself, know it’s an area that is still in progress and try, try again. : )

    • Sandra says:

      Thank you so much for this comment! I honestly thought I was completely alone in this, and it really helps to know that there are other people who have struggled with this. The anxiety you describe is spot on, as well as its effect. I have chosen not to go out with my friends because of my fear of binging later, and its just awful to feel even more isolated by my eating and body issues. Hopefully I can get to the place of forgiveness and progress like you have!

      • Claire says:

        Dear Sandra,

        Thank you so much for being open about your struggles with binge eating and drinking. I, too, have been struggling with the same cycle. In the last year I have gained 25 lbs., and almost all of it has been due to drunk binging. It’s so embarassing and I feel so disgusted. I feel like everyone can see through me and know how gross my body must be. I try every day to start “fresh,” and think of it as the first day of a clean slate, but my resolve seems to fail.

        It is so comforting to know that there are others who struggle with this, and I am wondering if you have an advice on what you do/have done to make things better.


  5. Trish says:

    wow, i definitely identify with this. i am also a 24 yr old law student and the combination of stress and drinking is a disaster for me. my roommate and friends are all relatively fit and healthy, but engage in minor “alcohol binge eating” after nights out. They often walk over to the 24 hr bagel place down the block…and I used to go with them and buy $15 worth of crappy packaged food and eat it all. I really have no idea how I stopped — I think it was a combination of guilt and finally removing all the triggers. For example, I would say ‘no’ to going with them to the bagel store or if I wanted them to bring me back something. I would either not buy or hide the snack foods in my apartment so when I came home wasted, I’d lose my patience looking for something to eat and go in my bed to sleep. The best thing that I did? When I got home from a long night of drinking, I’d take a shower! I know it sounds totally weird but I’d go right in the shower and forget all about the food.

  6. Lucy says:

    This is definitely the case for me. Often when I’m out and drinking, I may still feel anxious and snack on the party food that is around. Hungover the next day, I often resort to sugary tea and carbs to feel better

  7. Rush says:

    It is such a relief to know that there are so many others out there struggling along with me. In my case, I have to finish the bottle of wine, or the container of ice cream, or the can of nuts, etc. Why must I feel the need to finish things like that? Anyone have that feeling? Drinking is definitely the trigger. I can have one glass & let all my dieting knowledge fly out the window & I’m like a zombie eating without knowing what to put in my mouth next. I only do this when I’m at home & by myself. Then of course I regret everything & hate myself terribly for it, until I come across sites like this one with others struggling & the advice helps. Thank you. Today will be alcohol free so as not to fall into another binge tonight.

    • Sarah says:

      I’ve just woken up after enjoying a glass of wine which turned into a lot of wine and then binge eating everything, everything…. In sight. All chocolate, cakes and nuts which have made me feel so disgusting and disappointed. I do this every now+ again and feel like I want to give up drink which I can do for a while then I feel like I’m missing out. I’m thinking about hypnosis and just giving up all drinking, devoted to being tee total but it’s hard getting support on it or I am scared I’ll fancy that one glass….

  8. latrisha says:

    I totally have a problem ignoring my kids leftovers! I don’t make them clean their plates,just eat decently,but then I can’t just throw the food out! Then I feel so guilty. I never knew I had an ED into i read these posts. I would eat one icecream cone,then go eat the whole box,almost compulsively. Then I would cry for 2 days,because I was so nasty and piggish. Hard to believe I didn’t know,huh? Lol.

  9. Ashley says:

    Alcohol is definitely a trigger!!! I have been battling body image issues and eating issues now for about 10 years and notice that when I restrict calories my body craves anything and everything, so after a few glasses of wine those Doritos I scoffed at in the checkout lane are suddenly “heaven sent”. I still get these crazy cravings without the alcohol, but can keep them in check and just eat something sensible instead of the whole world.

  10. Megan says:

    Oh my gosh this is so me! I’ve been struggling this week with bingeing, and I”ve spent some time writing trying to figure out my pattern. For me, it starts with drinking. I don’t always binge when I’m drinking, but the next day or two I just eat and eat and eat.

    I’m so glad I’ve found this website! Thank you for sharing your story.

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.