Purging is the process of using laxatives, forced vomiting, and other extraordinary measures to prevent the body from absorbing food, often in an attempt to avoid gaining weight.

Purging and Bulimia

Purging is strongly associated with bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder during which a person binges on large quantities of food and then purges to avoid gaining weight. People with bulimia eat larger quantities of food than are necessary for proper nutrition and health, often in response to stress or emotional turmoil. Both bingeing and purging often occur in secret.

When purging does not occur within the context of another eating disorder like bulimia, it is classified under the heading Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Risks of Purging

Purging poses numerous health risks. People who regularly purge may experience:

  • Dental problems, as acid from vomit erodes tooth enamel
  • Throat problems such as hoarseness, throat pain, and frequent coughing
  • Electrolyte imbalances in the body
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Malnourishment and/or dehydration
  • Unhealthily low body weight

Causes of Purging

Distortions in body image play a strong role in purging. Societal expectations can also increase the likelihood of purging, particularly in someone who has low self-esteem. Women are more likely to engage in purging behaviors, probably because of the strong pressure they face to conform to social expectations demanding a thin body. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues may also increase the risk of purging behavior, and purging can both worsen and contribute to mental health concerns.


  1. Keel, P. K. (2008). Purging disorder in practice. Eating Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.bulimia.com/client/client_pages/nl_edr_19_3.cfm
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012, April 03). Bulimia. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bulimia/DS00607

Last Updated: 08-18-2015

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