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The drunk diet: The science behind why you crave NYPD after a night of partying

Illustration by Megan Mulholland
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By Lucy Perkins, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 10, 2012

Every weekend night between 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., BTB rings up more than 500 customers.

What's your favorite late-night drunk food?

Choices

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“Our motto is fast, fresh and open late,” General Manager Brent Hegwood said. “And I always tell my employees that ‘fast’ is the first part, so if we aren’t fast, that’s a problem.”

Hegwood, who is also the manager of BTB Cantina and Good Time Charley’s on South University Avenue, says his favorite time of the year is Welcome Week, and it’s obvious why: Food sales increase astronomically when students have alcohol pumping in their systems.

Like any self-respecting Wolverine, when I drink, I’m going to eat. The geography of Ann Arbor’s campus confirms my desires. The warm lights of Pizza House beckon after a long night at Rick’s, the garlicky aroma luring in students like moths to a porch light.

For LSA junior Alexa Shull, eating after a night of partying is nearly guaranteed.

Shull said her favorite place to crash is Pizza House — “feta bread and a peanut butter Oreo milkshake, definitely,” she said. “I’d probably say three out of five times I go out, I’ll get food.”

Shull’s friend and LSA sophomore Federica Jonas follows suit. Jonas goes out three or four nights a week and often stops at Jimmy John’s or Pizza House afterward for a personal pizza or a Big John with cheese.

“I’m just hungry, and I want to eat something that tastes good,” Jonas said. “Jimmy John’s and Pizza House are just what’s open.”

There’s actually a scientific explanation for this drink-and-eat behavior. Stuart Farrimond, a doctor and lecturer in food and health sciences at Wiltshire College in the United Kingdom, explained that alcohol skews how the brain regulates caloric intake.

“Alcohol can cause the blood sugar level to drop, which was presumed to be the reason for post-drink hunger-pangs,” Farrimond wrote in an e-mail interview.

Recent research has shown that alcohol directly affects the hypothalamus, the area of our brain that controls the appetite. So when alcohol binds to receptors on the brain, the hypothalamus is stimulated, and that’s what causes us to get hungry.

But that doesn’t mean you’d want to eat a salad after going out. When we’re hungry, we want something fast and unhealthy.

That’s because when alcohol impairs the brain, our “primitive” survival drive kicks in and we instinctually want to eat high-calorie foods, according to Farrimond. This primitive drive Farrimond is talking about is the same thing that happens after a period of fasting, and this makes fatty foods seem infinitely more attractive.

This makes sense, especially when you see ravenous students inhaling tacos at Panchero’s at 2 a.m.

And, if Welcome Week got you in the habit of eating drunk food, it will just get harder to avoid eating after a night out. Farrimond said that psychologically, we tend to repeat positive cycles. Meaning if you got cheesy bread on the way home after a lapse in judgment at Necto, you’ll probably do it again.

This isn’t promising news, and it gets worse.

“We can regulate our food intake up to about one shot of liquor — any more than that and the appetite goes AWOL,” Farrimond wrote.

So basically, if you’re drunk, there’s little to no chance that your brain will tell you to control yourself when it comes to the greasy goodness of late night South University food.

How to cure a hangover

After a night of house parties or scurrying between South U bars, many students feel the most common symptoms of a hangover: an overly achy body and nausea.

For some, late night food stops serve as a precaution to ward off hangovers. Buying a fishbowl can automatically mean a trip afterward to Jimmy John’s. Others swear by Backroom or the doughy masses of Pizza House’s cheesy bread.

“It tastes really good but it definitely soaks up the alcohol too,” Shull said.

But here’s what’s happening chemically as you watch “Friday Night Lights” in bed for three hours the next morning.

When alcohol enters your body, it breaks down in several stages, but before it can be passed through your body, it is broken down into a highly toxic chemical substance called acetaldehyde.

Then, the liver processes the acetaldehyde into acetic acid, a much less toxic substance. But, if the liver is overloaded — aka one too many Jamaican Long Islands — it can’t process everything at once and leads to that hungover feeling we know and love.

The rest of this article may contain information you wish wasn’t true.

Farrimond dismisses urban myths regarding legends of burrito-curing hangovers — food doesn’t do anything to sober you up. He added that even drinking water isn’t going to prevent the impending doom of a hangover, though it may help relieve some symptoms — for instance, boosting the blood sugar level to reduce fatigue.

But some lucky students never feel the effects, because the liver’s ability to cope with alcohol is completely determined by our genes, Farrimond said.

So, regardless of how many slices of NYPD students cram down their throats, there’s not a whole lot they can do except let their liver slowly process everything.

Cue, hangover.

Though the magical and medicinal purposes of drunk food may have been expelled, it still tastes good, and no matter what students think it’s going to do for them, they’ll still buy it.

After all, it’s almost impossible to resist cheesy bread.


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