What is Purging?

Woman wearing a hatPurging is when a person tries to rid their body of the food they eat by forcing the food out of their body quickly. Purging is a way of compensating for calorie intake after eating to influence body weight and shape and it often occurs in secret. A person who purges will spend a significant amount of time learning how to be highly effective – by learning “techniques,” types of foods that are hardest/easiest and behaviours to mask or hide their symptoms.

Types of purging behavior

Purging is a term that encompasses an array of different behaviours, all with the goal of ridding your body of what you perceive as excess calories. If you usually engage in any of the following behaviours, you are purging, and you need to seek professional help.

Self-induced vomiting

The most common form of purging is self-induced vomiting. It involves forcing yourself to throw up immediately after a meal. It occurs when you stimulate your gag reflex by sticking your fingers or an object down your throat, drinking salty water, or drinking another substance to cause vomiting.

Self-induced vomiting is an attempt to rid your body of the food that may cause you to gain weight. For some people, it has a direct link to binge eating. If you are purging, you often visit the restroom immediately after you eat so you can vomit. You will vomit in secret and feel guilty and ashamed afterward.

Abuse of laxatives and diuretics

Laxatives are medications used in the treatment of constipation. They act on your large intestine and trigger a bowel movement. Laxatives should only be used for short-term purposes such as relieving constipation, and before bowel examination or procedures. Abuse of laxatives refers to using the drugs to expel food that you have just consumed. It is an attempt to get rid of the food before your body absorbs calories.

Diuretics are medications used to treat high blood pressure and swelling of particular body parts. They are sometimes known as water pills because they expel water from your body. Diuretic abuse is using diuretics to reduce the water in your body in an attempt to lose weight.

Both laxatives and diuretics cause self-induced diarrhea, which pushes food and liquids rapidly through your body and cleans out the lower section of your digestive system. They are both dangerous because they can become habit forming (meaning your body learns to rely on them for normal bowel function), they can cause electrolyte disturbances and they can result in physical damage to your digestive organs. Long-term abuse of laxatives can result in fecal incontinence, which means loss of control of bowel movements.

Excessive exercise

Excessive exercise is when you exercise more often and for longer than what is normal or healthy. It can be compensatory where you work out to neutralize the calories in the food you eat. It can also be compulsive where the primary motive is to control your body weight or shape. You feel guilty, irritable, anxious, or depressed if you are unable to exercise.

Excessive exercise is a way of managing your mood by either producing positive feelings or avoiding negative feelings brought by lack of exercise. It continues for long hours and takes away time from other obligations. You may feel a drive to exercise and prefer your exercise routine over everything else.

What Purging Does to Your Body?

Purging has severe side effects on your body. It causes you to believe that your behavior is normal while in reality, the inappropriate compensatory behavior is causing grave health issues, some of which are permanent.

Purging damages different parts of your body gradually, from your vital internal organs to your mouth. Depending on the type of purging, physical complications may vary.

Effects of self-induced vomiting

If you are purging through vomiting, you probably know it is not healthy for you, but you are unable to stop. Also, you may think that because you do not feel any immediate side effects, you will not develop any complications. Unfortunately, the side-effects of your behaviour may occur later and may be life-threatening. It is, therefore, crucial that you know the medical ramifications of self-induced vomiting.

Electrolyte imbalance or abnormalities:

Electrolytes are chemicals that maintain the proper fluid amounts in your organs and blood vessels. Such electrolytes include potassium and sodium. When you vomit continually, you expel electrolytes and become dehydrated, which causes electrolyte imbalance. The imbalance can cause heart problems and sometimes death.

Heart complications:

Vomiting can cause dehydration leading to low levels of potassium in your blood. The results are low blood pressure, heart palpitations (rapid pounding or fluttering), an abnormal rhythm of your heart, and cardiac arrest. These complications are unpredictable and can occur even if you have previously vomited without experiencing any problems.

A damaged or burst esophagus:

The esophagus is the tube connecting your throat and your stomach. Vomiting exposes your esophagus to stomach acid and initially causes heartburn, nausea, and abdominal pain, but eventually, you suffer irreversible damage. Also, exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Forceful vomiting can tear the lining of the esophagus leading to life-threatening bleeding (Mallory-Weiss syndrome). A symptom of such tearing is vomit with bright red blood. Frequent forceful vomiting can burst your esophagus (Boerhaave syndrome), which is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgery.

Callused knuckles:

Using fingers to induce vomiting causes repeated scraping against your upper teeth. The scraping makes the skin on your knuckles hard and discolored (Rusell’s sign).

Oral problems:

Vomiting causes painful sores around the corners of your mouth. Stomach acid in vomit causes gum disease, decayed or discolored teeth, and damage to tooth enamel. Damaged enamel makes teeth sensitive to cold and hot.

Enlarged parotid glands:

Acid in vomit causes the salivary glands on the angles of your jaw to enlarge and sometimes become painful. The swelling causes your face to swell under your cheeks and jawline.

Frequent infections and sore throat:

Using your fingers to induce vomiting can cause tears at the back of your throat, leading to recurrent infections and a sore throat. You may also have more frequent infections in your upper respiratory system if you accidentally inhale vomit. Additionally, when you expose your throat and voice box to the stomach acid in vomit, you get a sore throat and a hoarse voice.

Bloating and constipation:

Vomiting causes slow movement in your intestines. If you stop vomiting, you can gradually reverse the condition.

Involuntary vomiting:

Repeated vomiting loosens the gastroesophageal sphincter, the muscle that prevents you from vomiting. Once the muscle tissue is loose, you may even vomit when you burp.

Effects of abusing laxatives and diuretics

Laxatives and diuretics may provide a temporary feeling of weight loss. However, the long term effects of abusing these medications are severe. These side effects include:


Short term use of laxatives and diuretics is safe. However, prolonged use alters your normal body functions, making you dependent on the drugs and your system unable to trigger bowel movement on its own.

Permanent impairment:

Abuse of laxatives impairs the muscles used during digestion. The impairment may cause paralysis to these muscles, leading to surgical removal of a section or the whole colon which necessitates dependency on a colostomy bag.

Kidney damage:

Laxatives draw water from your intestines and body muscles and expel it through stool. Dehydration damages your kidney, and you will require medical attention to restore its function or dialysis to expel toxins from your blood.

Electrolyte imbalance:

Electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, phosphate, and magnesium are vital for your body to function normally. Loss of electrolytes through self-induced diarrhea affects the function of your nerves, muscles, and vital organs, putting you at risk of kidney or heart failure and possible death.

Gastrointestinal problems:

Laxatives cause irregular digestive function and pancreatic damage. They also cause reflexive constipation because your bowel loses the ability to function naturally.


This is swelling due to fluid buildup in your body. It is a result of your body retaining fluid in response to excessive fluid loss. Edema causes tight or stiff joints and skin, decreased blood circulation, and difficulty walking.

Increased risk of cancer:

Prolonged use of laxatives causes damage to the colon, which increases your risk of developing colon cancer.

Effects of excessive exercise

Excessive exercise puts damaging stress on the body because your body needs extra energy to be active. Also, your body does not get enough time between workouts to rest, recharge, or heal. Complications of excessive exercise include:

  • Dehydration which leads to electrolyte imbalance, and kidney and heart failure
  • Stress fractures due to excess pressure on your bones
  • Subjecting your heart to too much stress during exercise causes increased resting heart rate.
  • Overuse injuries to your joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles
  • Weak bones because your body has no time to absorb essential nutrients
  • Exercise-induced amenorrhea (missed periods) due to low caloric uptake in your body.
  • Sleeplessness: Moderate exercise relaxes you to sleep blissfully. Excessive workouts exhaust your body, causing you restlessness and disturbed sleep.
  • Rhabdomyolysis: This is a condition where your damaged skeletal muscle breaks down and releases a harmful protein into your bloodstream. An excess of this protein causes kidney damage.
  • A Professional Will Help You

If you are struggling with any form of purging, there is hope that you will recover. The process will take some time, but you will have a team of professionals who will dedicate their time to help you heal. You will get help in managing your purging behavior and creating a plan that works for you. Call us or book a consultation session, and we will help you overcome your purging behavior.