The Science of Pigging Out After Drinks

Admit it: you’ve walked home from a bar after a long night of drinking and suddenly found yourself chowing down on anything you can possibly find in your kitchen. Do a couple of drinks suddenly turn you into a Cookie Monster-like creature that can tear through a sleeve of Chips Ahoy in mere moments? You’re not alone, and science can explain why!

drunk food
Just a light midnight snack
(image via Mike Saechang)

Of course you’re not alone. If you were, people wouldn’t swarm diners and drive-thrus across America ten minutes after the bars close.

It’s common knowledge that alcohol makes you hungry in the same way that salty foods make you thirsty. That’s why so many bars provide popcorn, pretzels, Chex Mix and other cheap salty snacks: to make you drink more.

But even though thirst can make you hungry, it’s not actually why you end up craving junk food, at least according to Dr. Paul Christiansen, a researcher at the University of Liverpool who just published a study in the medical journal Health Psychology.

Christiansen’s studysplit  60 undergraduate females into two groups. One group received a cocktail of vodka and lemonade, while the other group got a non-alcoholic drink disguised as a cocktail (a mocktail?). They simulated a boozy taste in the mocktails by misting vodka over the top of a glass of lemonade. Who knew that would work? Perhaps females undergraduate aren’t the most discerning drinkers?

Anyway, after the drink, the young women answered a survey about food cravings and then an unrelated survey about colors, which gave the alcohol a chance to kick in. Afterwards, they received chocolate chip cookies and were told they could have as many as they wanted. The girls drinking the real cocktails ate way more cookies than the other group.

According to Dr. Christiansen, the alcohol didn’t increase their cravings. Instead, the alcohol lowered many girls’ inhibitions. Soberly they might have politely taken just one cookie, even if they wanted all the cookies, but with a buzz they just went for it — OM! NOM! NOM! This didn’t happen across the board, mind you. “Restrained eaters” who were strictly watching their diets didn’t budge. Otherwise, those cookies had no chance.

To test his inhibition hypothesis, Dr. Christiansen says he’d need to conduct more research, particularly with male participants.

(featured image via jeffreyw)