You’re less likely to skip meals on the day after a night of drinking alcohol compared to the days after not being intoxicated, a new study finds.
Blame science the next time you devour half a pizza after you go on a bender.
People are more likely to eat fatty and salty snacks rather than healthy ones like green vegetables during a night of heavy drinking and the morning after, according to a new study published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion — and anyone who’s ever had one too many. But now researchers are referring to this insatiable desire to eat unhealthy comfort foods under the influence with the scientific term “drunchies,” or drunk munchies.
After seeing a college newspaper ad promoting unhealthy late night snacks to students who were craving food after a night of drinking, head researcher of the study Jessica Kruger, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior at the University at Buffalo, wanted to further study the effects of excessive alcohol consumption on eating habits.
And the 286 coeds surveyed for the study not only noshed more fatty and salty foods, but researchers found that the participants were also less likely to skip breakfast (or brunch) on the day after a night of drinking alcohol (14%) compared to mornings not following alcohol consumption (3%). These unhealthy habits hungover into the next day, as many students reported they were still grabbing greasy bacon, eggs and cheese sammies instead of granola. Just look at the brunch industry; food and consulting research firm NPD Group reported last year that breakfast was “the one bright spot” in the restaurant industry, increasing 1% last year in part thanks to greasy new breakfast options from McDonald’s and Taco Bell.
“What we found was that people are continuing the unhealthy eating the day after drinking as well,” Kruger told Moneyish. “And colleges don’t typically cover the importance of eating healthy, or the importance of eating before you go out drinking to reduce the effects of alcohol consumption.”
In fact, 65% of the U.S student population reports regularly drinking alcohol, the survey reports. And almost 60% of college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month, while about two out of three of them engaged in binge drinking, defined as five or more alcoholic drinks for males and four or more alcoholic drinks for females at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other on at least one day in the past month.
But what most people don’t know is that eating those feel-good foods can actually make you feel worse after a heavy night of drinking. Kruger explained that salt and fat make you dehydrated and can often add to the headaches and other hangover symptoms — so you’re much better off opting for some water and dark green vegetables, like kale and spinach, that can replenish your body.
This isn’t the first study that has linked drinking to food cravings afterwards. An Indiana University School of Medicine study found that the brain responds more to the smell of food when intoxicated than it does when not, leading to an increase in the amount of calories consumed.
And the body also craves food after drinking in excess, because your blood glucose levels rise and fall as your body tries to get rid of the alcohol you consumed, Kruger said. But while this explains the general feeling of hunger after drinking, there are other social and environmental reasons why people are usually mostly drawn to fatty and unhealthy foods, she added.
“When people are drinking, it’s late at night and it’s easier to find a slice of pizza rather than a slice of kale,” she said. And common misconceptions about “hangover cures” play a part, too. “There are tales that fatty foods can soak up all of this alcohol, when in fact none of them work,” Kruger said. “The only way to get over a hangover is to not get one in the first place — to drink less alcohol and drink more water.”
Bowen, a 21-year-old recent grad from Bard College that asked to withhold her last name, swallows this skewed logic as much as most people her age. In fact, when she recently woke up after a night of heavy drinking, she told Moneyish that she immediately craved a burger because she thought it would help her body feel better.
“I think that’s why I needed to get food so badly that day,” she said, adding that she thinks everyone feels that fatty and carb-filled foods serve as the perfect hangover cure. “When you’re drunk at night, or your friend is too drunk, that’s why you feed them a cracker or bread — to soak up the alcohol.”
And even if her college dished healthier late-night options, she admitted that she probably would have grabbed the junk food, anyway. “Whenever I’m drunk or hungover, my first thought isn’t ‘Hey let me grab a salad or baby carrot,’” she said.
But Kruger hopes the drunchies study will at least spark a discussion about having healthier food choices available to students on college campuses. “We’re just bringing awareness to this and putting a name to it to have college campuses talk about it, and even offer some healthy late-night options in their dining halls,” she said.
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