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“Saving Up” Calories: More Harmful Than You Might Think

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

If you are currently struggling with or in recovery from an eating disorder, you may feel anxious and uneasy around foods and beverages deemed “unhealthy” by diet culture. Although anxiety around food can be experienced across the lifespan, it becomes a more noticeable issue for some people during college, when eating out and going to parties with friends are common occurrences. College students may restrict their food intake all day in order to “save calories” for fun foods and alcohol at night. And while this might not sound like a big deal, limiting calories and skipping meals is harmful for both mental and physical health. Restrictive behaviors around food should be avoided at all costs, as they can lead to or intensify a current eating disorder, or cause a relapse back into past disordered eating tendencies.

Additionally, restricting food intake throughout the day significantly increases the likelihood of engaging in binge eating behaviors. Imagine if you went all day without consuming any water. When you finally drink water, you’ll undoubtedly drink a lot of it because your body will have sent powerful thirst signals to your brain in response to being dehydrated. The same thing happens when you go all day without eating food – when you finally allow yourself to eat at or after a party, your ravenous hunger levels result in impulsive eating behaviors that may cause you to eat well beyond comfortable fullness. Bingeing on pizza at a party can lead you to feel extremely full to the point of sickness, and may lead to uncomfortable and painful digestive problems.

Skipping meals or snacks leading up to a party that involves alcohol consumption has other dangerous risks associated with it. Having food in your stomach while drinking slows down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed, meaning it takes additional time and alcohol intake to become intoxicated. When you drink on an empty stomach, you reach intoxication much faster and have a higher chance of vomiting or passing out, creating additional health and safety concerns.

So how can you enjoy a typical college lifestyle while maintaining healthy and intuitive eating behaviors? Making peace with food is the first step in eliminating the urge to “save calories” ahead of a social event. When you stop feeling stressed about food, you’ll realize that it’s okay to eat varying amounts of food on different days. You’ll see that eating fun foods can be enjoyable, not nerve wracking, and that enjoying the foods and beverages you love does not require restricting beforehand or afterwards. The action of “saving calories” only promotes disordered eating tendencies and increases the likelihood of binge eating and unsafe drinking behaviors.

Interested in learning more about making peace with food and the other principles of Intuitive Eating? Check out our blog series, or contact us to learn how we can help you heal your relationship with food.

Written by Simone Gmuca, nutrition volunteer at Restore Family Therapy.

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