The shocking rise of the Wine:1 diet
Following a new report on the rise of ‘drunkorexia’ – swapping meals in favour of alcohol – Polly Dunbar (right) reports on the women who are pursuing the extreme Wine:1 diet MOST OF THE TIME,
Naomi Isted follows a healthy, balanced diet, with plenty of fish and vegetables. But then there are the parties her career as a TV presenter and stylist take her to – the ones where alcohol is constantly flowing and everyone’s partaking. On those occasions, her diet alters drastically.
‘If I know I’m going to have a few drinks at a party, I’ve been known to skip meals and sometimes, I’ll only eat one meal that day because of this,’ she says. ‘Working in fashion, particularly on TV, it’s important that I stay slim. Usually, I manage to keep my weight at a level I’m happy with by counting calories and avoiding unhealthy food, but I do enjoy drinking when I’m socialising. That means if I’m going to an event later in the day, I’ll cut down on the food I eat so the calories I consume in alcohol don’t make me put on weight.’ Naomi is a responsible 37-year-old mother of two who is respected for her work. She’s also one of a growing number of equally successful, professional women who eat only one meal a day so they can save the calories to ‘spend’ on alcohol.
This month, new research by healthcare provider Benenden revealed that 40 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds admitted they skipped meals so they could ‘use’ the calories on drinking. A worrying number are following what Grazia has identified
as the Wine:1 diet – like the 5:2, but where fasting allows adherents to bingedrink without gaining weight. It’s a more extreme version of ‘drunkorexia’, and one which is potentially even more dangerous.
It’s particularly prevalent in the summer, when the pressure to look good in the sun collides with endless invites to embark on all-day drinking sessions.
‘I see women who save up their calories by eating one meal a day and use them on alcohol,’ says Dr Joanna Silver, counselling psychologist at The Nightingale Hospital. ‘They’re trying to control their weight, and often they also like the feeling of getting drunk on an empty stomach.
‘It’s an unhealthy approach to both food and alcohol because it encourages a cycle of bingeing and restricting. As alcohol has no nutritional value, it means women aren’t getting what the body needs.
‘As with all habits, the more someone does it, the more entrenched it can become. It can become a form of eating disorder,disorder but it’s a more socially acceptable version, because someone with a glass of wine in their hand seems fun. It’s more difficult, socially, to say no publicly to drinking than restrict what you eat privately.’
WOMEN WANT TO BE THIN BUT WE DON’T WANT TO LOOK LIKE WE’RE RESTRICTING OURSELVES
MANY BELIEVE IT’S A TREND FUELLED by the confusing messages we receive from social media. On the one hand, we’re bombarded with images of gorgeous food bloggers extolling the virtues of ‘clean’ eating, and it’s never been easier to track our calorie intake via diet and fitness apps. On the other hand, endless Instagram pictures of friends #lovinglife with an Aperol spritz in hand encourages us to embrace a party lifestyle. We’re left with the impression that we must be slim and ‘healthy’, while still being ‘fun’ enough to knock back a bottle of prosecco. ‘This is part of a bigger picture, which is all the pressure in our society,’ says Dr Silver. ‘Women want to be thin, but we don’t want to look like we’re restricting ourselves. Unfortunately, that’s encouraging patterns of behaviour that are worryingly unhealthy.’
Naomi turned to the Wine:1 diet after the birth of her first child five years ago. ‘Before I had my daughter, I used to go to the gym a lot and do yoga every day, but now I don’t have the time,’ she says. ‘It means I’m more likely to sacrifice food on a day where I’ll be drinking in the evening. I don’t do it often and the rest of the time I eat healthily, so I think it’s OK – so many women I know do the same.’
Claire*, 34, is another devotee, but she admits that she falls back on the diet far more often than occasionally. ‘Virtually every Saturday I have a lie-in, do a class at the gym without having breakfast, then have lunch and go out drinking in the evening without eating dinner,’ she says.
It’s a habit she began when she noticed she’d started to gain weight in her early
thirties. ‘As I got older I went up a couple of dress sizes. I wanted to lose the weight, but I didn’t want to stop going out drinking – I’m single and live alone, so my social life is incredibly important to me.
‘I worked out that a bottle of white wine is around 650 calories, and on an average Saturday night, I’ll usually drink at least that. I realised that by only eating lunch on days when I was drinking that much, I could still lose weight.
‘Now I just do it without thinking. I have a couple of other single friends who do it, too. We’re going out so much more than our friends in relationships, and looking good is more important to us because we’re all hoping to meet someone. I know it’s unhealthy – my hangovers are terrible; I’m usually wiped out for the whole of Sunday – but I don’t want to give up drinking and I want to stay slim.
‘When I’m hungover, I immediately crave pizza, but I make a list of the calories I’ve consumed in alcohol and that stops me from getting stuck into carbs.’
THE CHARITY DRINKAWARE WARNS that while being aware of the calories in alcohol is positive – as many people don’t realise how high its calorie content is – swapping food for wine can turn into a ‘dangerous obsession’.
Chief executive Elaine Hindal says, ‘Skipping meals can cause acute alcohol poisoning. Doing this regularly can put you at risk of chronic health harms like liver and heart disease and some cancers.’
The charity also warns that alcohol reduces the amount of fat the body burns, so excessive drinking will lead to weight gain even if calories have been saved for it.
As with any form of disordered eating, the Wine:1 diet also has psychological implications. ‘Eating disorders aren’t usually about losing weight, but about managing feelings,’ says Dr Silver. ‘If someone’s calorie restriction so they can drink alcohol has become an unhealthy pattern, I’d wonder if they’re trying to actually manage an emotion, such as anxiety.’
The eating disorder charity B-eat also points out the complicated relationship between counting calories as a way of asserting control, and drinking to excess. ‘Someone with an eating disorder who experiences a loss of control through an alcohol binge may attempt to get that control back through subsequent calorific restriction,’ says B-eat spokesperson Mary George.
Hayley Smith used to practise the Wine:1 diet, but has since stopped. Hayley, 28, who runs Boxed Out PR, says it never became an eating disorder for her. ‘It was a lifestyle choice,’ she says. ‘I did it as a student, when I’d often get up at 1pm, have lunch, go to lectures and then go to the pub straight afterwards without eating anything else to save calories.
‘It worked – I was absolutely tiny back then. I was young and didn’t worry about the consequences for my health. It also saved me money. After university, I spent a lot of time in Italy, where they don’t have our drinking culture, and that changed my perspective and broke the cycle. Now I still drink, but nowhere near as much. I am much more healthy.’