The other side of Eating Disorders: Purging


Insights on purging disorder, treatment required for purging, and how to live a purge free life.

Purging at times, can have a benign connotation when connected with inanimate objects, purging one’s closet of unwanted clothing, purging the refrigerator of old or expired food, purging the garage of old toys and treasures. The removal of, to make space for, an opportunity to clean, etc. When purging is associated with our bodies’ however, it takes on a whole new and negative meaning. Instead of ridding to provide space for new, purging can become a serious eating disorder causing grave physical harm, filling the individual with shame not success, anxiety not relief.

What is purging?

Purging is an act of ridding the body of an unwanted thing. A purge can take on two forms, a physical purge and emotional or psychological. An emotional or psychological purge is ridding the mind of unwanted thoughts and feelings. An emotional purge can be restorative and rejuvenating, removing negativity and creating space for positivity and space to grow. A physical purge, however, does not have the same positive impact, the intentions of a physical purge are not pure. A physical purge is an elimination of, most often food, from the body that is considered a compensatory action or behaviour. Meaning, the individual is “making up” for eating by purging, most commonly vomiting, and in some instances also ingesting laxatives, diuretics, and engaging in extreme exercise. In some very small and specific instances, the individual who engages in purging is not compensating for food consumption alone; their purging is more formulaic to them. Although the purging is not to negate consumption, it is still an unhealthy and harmful practice. 

Are there home remedies for purging disorders?

 It is not uncommon for all of us to get sick a handful of times in our life! Whether it be the flu or food poisoning, we have experienced the discomfort of vomiting with no lasting impacts to our bodies. However, constant purging is harmful in more ways than we can imagine. The human stomach has incredibly powerful acid that acts as a digestive aid to help further breakdown our food. When we vomit, that stomach acid is regurgitated and disrupts our esophageal lining and wreaks havoc on our tooth enamel. Our stomach acid is so strong, with incessant purging, our esophagus can degrade to the point of developing sores and ulcers. If prolonged purging occurs, the esophagus can become so damaged it can rip or tear. We can however, moderately combat the negative impacts purging has on our mouth. As stomach acid is just that, acid, to rebalance and combat the strong acidity it is suggested that a simple baking soda (which is basic) and water rinse will help. Not only is stomach acid harmful for our bodies but in purging we are removing electrolytes and other nutrients before they have had time to get properly digested. An electrolyte drink is important to consume post purge to help restore. 

When is it time to see a doctor?

 It is time to see a doctor when purging is happening at all.  Purging can indicate that an eating disorder is present, and it is critical to receive support and intervention to prevent the eating disorder or any purging behaviour from persisting. Your GP or any doctor for that matter can point you or an individual in the appropriate direction to receive further treatment if the GP feels they are unqualified to treat the eating disorder themselves. However, it is important to note that unless vomiting is not self induced, there are not many tests that a doctor can initiate that will indicate if something is physically wrong. Eating disorders are a psychological battle and it is important to receive care at the hands of a therapist, eating disorder specialist, or trained counselor. 



 Q: How common is purging disorder?

A: Eating disorders are notoriously under-reported and underrepresented from a statistical standpoint.  Many people with eating disorders do not seek help and are hesitant to self identify.  It is assumed EDs are much more common and prevalent than any data set may indicate, at least 1-2% of the population suffers from them. 


Q: What are the types of purging?

A: The most common methods of purging are primarily vomiting followed by exercise, then laxatives, and lastly the use of diuretics. 


Q: What happens when you stop purging?

A: Our bodies are incredibly resilient, wonderous things! When an individual stops purging, the body quickly adjusts and recalibrates.  Initially, the individual may feel digestive discomfort as the stomach and body are adjusting to the feeling of completing the digestive cycle.  The negative impacts of constant purging will slowly fade too, such as: dehydration, headaches, fatigue, swollen salivary glands, acid burns on face, etc.

Dr. Natalie Mulligan graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). She completed her clinical internship at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic with a focused interest in mental health. Prior to attending CCNM, she completed a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Waterloo.