After a night of heavy drinking, college students often get a case of the “drunchies”—drunk munchies—where only fatty, salty, unhealthy foods will do, a new study shows.
“Given the obesity epidemic and the rates of alcohol consumption on college campuses, we need to be aware of not only the negative effect of alcohol consumption, but also the impact it has on what people are eating while they are drinking,” says Jessica Kruger, clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
Research on the effects of drinking and diet is scarce, Kruger says, adding that eating more unhealthy foods following alcohol consumption is an often overlooked behavior in traditional addiction research.
The inspiration for the study, which appears in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion, came from an ad in a university newspaper. “It said, ‘Got Drunchies?’ and had ads for pizza, tacos, and other fast-food places that were open late after the bars closed,” Kruger says.
After a night of drinking, college students are less likely to skip breakfast. But they’re not drinking milk. They’re eating tacos.
With 65 percent of US college students reporting that they regularly drink alcohol, it’s important, to study how alcohol consumption impacts diet, especially on and near college campuses, which tend to have a wealth of unhealthy fast-food options nearby, she adds.
Consider, for example, that the average beer contains 150 calories. If a person drinks five beers, that’s 750 calories, or a third of their daily energy intake. Add two slices of pizza or a burrito to that at the end of the night, and it’s a recipe for weight gain.
“So, we dug a bit deeper and first figured out what the drunchies were, and then decided this would be interesting to study. Our first study in this area focused on what people ate while drinking alcohol. This study explored what they eat the day after drinking,” Kruger says.
Participants were asked to complete an anonymous online survey, which began with general questions around diet, such as “What do you typically eat for your first meal of the day?” and “How often do you eat something before you go to bed?”
Later in the survey, participants were asked how often they ate something before bed on nights when they drank alcohol, and what they ate. They were also asked what they typically ate for their first meal the day after a night of binge drinking.
The findings show that drinking influenced study participants’ dietary behaviors before going to bed.
“All alcohol drinkers were more likely to eat something before they went to bed after drinking alcohol than in general before they go to bed,” the authors write.
Specifically, they were more likely to opt for salty snack foods and pizza. Healthy foods, such as dark green vegetables and other veggies they would ordinarily eat, weren’t as appealing.
Of particular concern, the researchers say, was the fact that participants didn’t report drinking more water or other non-alcoholic beverages before bed. That exacerbates dehydration, which may lead to additionally unhealthy food choices.
Food cues boost our cravings but not our pleasure
The day after drinking, participants’ dietary patterns varied from the night before. They were less likely to skip meals the morning after a night of drinking compared to a typical morning.
But they favored foods like pizza or tacos, rather than milk, dairy products, and grains, most likely because of the so-called hangover cures that get passed down to students and which entail eating foods that “soak up” the alcohol. Dispelling these myths is one way to promote a healthy diet even after a night of binge drinking, Kruger says.
So what’s happening in the body that causes the drunchies? “It is believed that after drinking alcohol, the amount of blood glucose in the body can rise and fall which stimulates the brain to feel hungry,” Kruger explains.
The findings point to the need for universities to encourage healthy eating at all times of the day, including late at night, by reducing the offerings of unhealthy foods and promoting nutrient dense options.
Source: University at Buffalo