Drunchies, or the desire to eat salty, unhealthy foods after a night of heavy drinking, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic among college students, scientists say.
Researchers from University at Buffalo in the US decided to look at a sample of 286 college students to better understand how drinking affects what they eat, both that night and for their first meal the next day when, most likely, they are hungover.
"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," said Jessica Kruger, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo.
Research on the effects of drinking and diet is scarce, Kruger said, adding that eating more unhealthy foods following alcohol consumption is an often overlooked behaviour in traditional addiction research.
The inspiration for the study, published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion, came from an ad researchers saw 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 said.
An average beer contains 150 calories. If a person drinks five beers, it accounts for 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, she said.
"So, we dug a bit deeper and first figured out what the 'drunchies' were, and then decided this would be interesting to study," Kruger said.
Study participants were asked to complete an anonymous online survey.
Researchers found that drinking influenced study participants' dietary behaviours 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.
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, were not as appealing.
Of particular concern, the researchers noted, was the fact that participants did not report drinking more water or other non-alcoholic beverages before bed.
That exacerbates dehydration, which may lead to additionally unhealthy food choices.
The following 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.
They favoured foods like pizza or tacos over milk and 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 said.