Purging disorder is an eating disorder that involves “purging” behavior to induce weight loss or manipulate body shape. Purging can mean a number of things, including:
- self-induced vomiting
- misuse of laxatives or medications
- excessive exercise
It’s critical to remember that eating disorders are among the deadliest mental health conditions. They can cause significant harm to both physical and mental health.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, remember that you aren’t alone and help is always available.
Purging disorder vs. bulimia
Bulimia is a serious eating disorder that often occurs in a cycle of binge-eating behavior followed by a period of purging.
While bulimia and purging disorder can both share purging behaviors, the main difference between the two is that there’s a compulsion to binge eat with bulimia.
Purging disorder is defined as engaging in purging behaviors without it being in response to a binge-eating episode.
As a recognized eating disorder, purging disorder can be identified by many of the same symptoms as other eating disorders. Symptoms might include:
- recurring episodes of purging behaviors to lose weight, including:
- self-induced vomiting
- laxative or diuretic misuse
- misuse of enemas
- excessive exercise
- significant emotional distress or disruption to social, work, or personal life
- fear of gaining weight or obsession with losing weight
- self-esteem issues heavily influenced by body shape or weight
You can be any shape or size and have an eating disorder. This is why it’s important to recognize the symptoms before your health is damaged.
If you think you or a loved one may have an eating disorder, you can take an online-self assessment to determine if you have any behaviors that could potentially result in an eating disorder.
However, it’s important to note that these assessments don’t qualify as a diagnosis. If you think you have an eating disorder, speak with your doctor.
Who does it affect?
Eating disorders like purging disorder can affect anyone, regardless of:
- sexual orientation
Stereotypes that eating disorders only affect teenage girls are both incorrect and damaging. This idea can often discourage people from seeking treatment.
What the research says
There are certain factors that might contribute to higher rates of eating disorders among certain people.
Sexual and physical abuse, or participating in appearance or weight-focused sports, are potential risk factors.
While studies suggest that eating disorders are more common during late childhood and adolescence, it’s possible for eating disorders to occur at any time in life.
Men are also at risk for eating disorders. A recent review concluded that at least 25 percent of people with eating disorders are male. Plus, eating disorders like purging disorder are actually increasing at a faster rate among males than females.
People who have an eating disorder are also more likely to have another mood disorder at the same time. One study concluded that as many as 89 percent of individuals with eating disorders often have concurrent mood disorders, such as:
- impulse control issues
- substance use
Eating disorders are a serious mental health condition, not a choice. There’s no shame in getting help.
Treatment for purging disorder can vary based on each person. Some people may benefit from more intensive inpatient treatment and recovery programs, while others might prefer outpatient therapy options.
Inpatient treatment is more common in cases that require medical monitoring or daily assessments. Outpatient treatment might include psychotherapy and nutrition counseling.
Medications aren’t used to treat purging disorder. Rather, they may be prescribed to treat concurrent mood disorders that may be causing additional stress or making it harder to cope with recovery. Talk with your doctor about medication options.
Purging disorder can cause many serious side effects to your health, including:
- feeling faint
- tooth decay
- throat swelling
- facial swelling
- mood swings
- irregular heartbeat and other heart problems
- scarred hands
- pregnancy complications
- kidney failure
- digestive issues or constipation
- nutrient deficiencies
- electrolyte or chemical imbalances
Self-induced vomiting can also lead to severe damage to other areas of your body over time, including your:
- digestive system
- cardiovascular system
How to find help
If you or someone you know has purging disorder, you can:
- Call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline for resources, treatment options, and support.
- Get free or low-cost support options for anyone who may not have access to inpatient treatment or therapy.
Remember that eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, not a question of willpower. Don’t feel ashamed to seek treatment or additional help, and know that you’re not alone.
Recovering from an eating disorder is possible, but it takes time. Be patient with yourself over the course of your recovery. Everyone is different, and healing is an ongoing process.
Consider continuing therapy, journaling, or joining a support group to help as you recover. Relapses might happen, but you’re not a failure if they do. Help is always there to get you back on track.Bottom Line:
Purging disorder is a serious mental health condition caused by repeated cycles of purging in order to manipulate weight or body shape. Purging can take many different forms, which can cause serious nutritional and metabolic imbalances and lead to lasting damage to your health.
It’s important to seek professional treatment for purging disorder as soon as possible, whether that’s joining a support group or seeking more intensive therapy.
While recovery from an eating disorder is an ongoing process, it’s absolutely possible to live a happy and healthy life. The goal is to restore your relationship with food and your body. Remember, the first step to breaking the cycle of purging is to reach out for help.References:
Classifying eating disorders - DSM-5. (2016).
Dahlgren CL, et al. (2017). Feeding and eating disorders in the DSM-5 era: A systematic review of prevalence rates in non-clinical male and female samples. DOI:
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Forney KJ, et al. (2016). The medical complications associated with purging. DOI:
Free & low-cost support. (n.d.).
Hudson JI, et al. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. DOI:
Mitchison D, et al. (2013). The epidemiology of eating disorders: Genetic, environmental, and societal factors. DOI:
National Eating Disorders Association helpline. (n.d.).
Purging disorder treatment. (n.d.)
Schaumberg K, et al. (2017). The science behind the academy for eating disorders' nine truths about eating disorders. DOI:
Smith KE, et al. (2017). A review of purging disorder through meta-analysis. DOI:
Sweeting H, et. al. (2015). Prevalence of eating disorders in males: A review of rates reported in academic research and UK mass media.
Types of treatment. (n.d.)