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Learn about purging

Updated: May 9

If you’re struggling with purging, we are here to help.

Throughout this blog, we will explain the different types of purging, bring clarity on why it happens, explain what it does to your body.

We hope this blog supports you in your recovery.

What is purging?

Purging aims to rid the body of calories and food. Someone who purging hopes to reduce the change of weight gain and ease the discomfort from eating.

5 types of purging methods in eating disorders, including bulimia. Includes self-induced vomitting, restricting, diuretics, over-exercise, and laxatives.

Purging methods include:

  • Vomiting

  • Abusing laxatives

  • Taking diet medications

  • Compulsive exercise

Although some people may purge after eating any amount of food, it frequently happens right after a binge-eating event.

Why do you purge?

There are many reasons as to why people purge after eating, but let’s start with the most widely used one:

1. To get rid of calories

A lot of people who purge usually tend to do it as a way to get rid of the calories they’ve just consumed through their food. As we said above, you can purge after eating any amount of food, but it often occurs after a binge eating episode.

Binging involves eating large amounts of food in one sitting, normally after food has been restricted for some time.

When you binge, typically you will continue to eat even if they feel full, have a lack of control over what they are eating, will eat a lot of food even though they’re not feeling hungry at the time and will eat much faster than usual.

After a binge, you may feel regretful about what you have done, and therefore use purging as a way to resolve it.

2. To deal with emotional distress and stress

Many people may use eating disorders as a way to cope with emotions like stress, anxiety or depression. Purging is often used in this way also.

You may feel so overwhelmed with daily life or some personal problems you have been encountering lately and find that purging is the only thing to help.

Although it may feel this way, purging has extremely harmful effects on the body and does a lot worse to you than good.

3. The urge to purge

The urge to purge is known as an impulsive or intense urge to get rid of food after it has been consumed.

Woman lying face down on a bed, tired with living with bulimia and the urge to purge

You may feel they have no control over the purging, similarly to people feeling they have no control over overeating when going through a binge.

4. The dopamine release

Some studies carried out have shown that there is a relation between purging and increased dopamine release in certain parts of the brain.

Because of this dopamine release, after you purge you may feel like you are on a ‘high’, and this may cause you to continue to purge to feel that feeling again.

5. It’s become a habit

You may find yourself continuing to purge after eating most things simply because it’s become a habit or part of your regular routine, it’s become familiar to you.

Any habit whether its smoking, biting your nails or purging can be hard to break, but with the right support and help it can be done.

This isn't to say that purging isn't happening for a reason - of course it is. But it can become a part of your ingrained routine.

Types of purging

There are different ways as to how someone can purge, so let’s get into them:

1. Vomiting

Vomiting is the most common way to purge. Vomiting frequently follows binge eating, and people with bulimia are especially prone to this kind of purging.

Usually, someone throws up their food after overeating or binging. There's likely feelings of guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment. These feelings increase the desire to consume food and purge again.

2. Laxatives and diuretics

Another type of purging is self-induced diarrhea, which is brought on by taking laxatives. The hope of laxatives is to lose weight, purge calories, and to feel empty.

Taking laxatives is common. It may even be more common than vomiting - based on one study.

Diuretics, which cause the body to lose water, are misused for weight loss too.

Neither laxatives or diuretics result in long term weight loss or stop calories from being absorbed.

This is because they act after the body has digested food.

3. Exercise

Over exercising is another typical way that someone may try quickly get rid of calories after eating.

Woman running outside on a path who is over-exercising to make up for food. She is struggling with bulimia.

Over exercising can have adverse effects such as:

  • Injury

  • Severe discomfort

  • Exhaustion

  • Hormone imbalance, such as period loss

  • Cardiovascular stress

  • Poor mental health

  • Obsession with exercise

We find that exercise is the most socially acceptable form of purging.

4. Restricting

Although you may not think it, restricting food is another form of purging.

Even though you’re not getting rid of the calories after consuming them, restricting yourself from consuming any calories in the first place is a way of purging.

Restricting yourself from foods too much often leads to episodes of binge eating or overeating.

What does purging do to your body?

Purging has many harmful and dangerous side effects to your body and mental health.

Physical effects

1. Hair and eyes

The body devotes all of its energy to vital processes when it is undernourished as a result of purging or other factors. This may result in the body removing nutrients from the hair, making it brittle or even causing it to fall out.

Eyes can become compressed as a result of forced vomiting and they may become inflamed and red from this pressure, also causing blood vessels to rupture. Sunken eye sockets and dark circles under the eyes are other potential symptoms.

2. Skin and teeth

Purging can result in skin that is drier, scaly, rough, pale, and more prone to bruises and scars. Swollen cheeks and other facial features are also another effect of purging. If vomiting is caused by using the fingers, the stomach acid may leave permanent scars or calluses.

Stomach acid can also greatly affect the mouth and teeth causing ulcers in mouth and the teeth to erode overtime if the acid is frequently in contact with them.

3. Vital organs

Purging can cause electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and cardiac strain. Unbalanced electrolytes might cause a heart attack or a seizure. Long-term dehydration brought on by purging can result in kidney stones, UTIs, and even kidney failure, which is potentially fatal.

4. Reproductive system

As a result of purging, hormonal imbalances may occur. Fatigue brought on by frequent purging may cause female menstrual periods to stop. Infertility may result from females ceasing to release eggs and males producing little or no sperm.

Mental effects

1. Mental health

Eating disorders frequently coincide with conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety disorders.

Purging can malnourish a person, which might change their brain chemistry and lead to stress and mood swings.

Purging can also increase feelings of shame, irritation, guilt, humiliation, and other negative emotions.

2. Food obsession

Purging depletes the body. So it makes sense that it goes into a famine response. You can read about how starvation and purging impact the body here.

The number one cause of food obsession? Not enough food being available. This is what's happening in your body during purging.

Psychological effects

Purging can lead to numerous psychological effects such as:

  • Body dysmorphia

  • Risk of developing anxiety or depression

  • Poor body image

  • Poor work or school performance

  • Negative feelings and emotions

Purging is a serious eating disorder behaviour that can be detrimental to your health. If you find that you’re relating to the information above and believe you are struggling with an eating disorder