Eating Disorders Symptoms Understanding Bingeing and Purging By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 23, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print ZoneCreative / DigitalVision / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Types of Bingeing Types of Purging Are They Eating Disorders? Help Available Bingeing and purging involves eating much larger amounts than normal (bingeing), then attempting to compensate by removing the food consumed from the body (purging). A binge consists of eating larger portions than normal, quickly, in a short period of time, and feeling a loss of control. Warning For people with a history of an eating disorder, reading about bingeing and purging may be a trigger for them. Types of Bingeing People can binge on any type of food, although typically high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods are used, both because of their "forbidden" nature, particularly to those who are concerned about their body weight, and because of the concern they cause when eaten. Common binge foods include: BreadCandyCakeChocolateCerealCookiesDoughnutsIce creamPizzaPopcornPotato chipsSandwichesSoda Types of Purging There are several different types of purging that people use to attempt to remove the excessive food they have eaten. Vomiting The most commonly recognized form of purging is self-induced vomiting where the person will stimulate the gag reflex by putting their fingers down their throat to induce vomiting or they will drink salty water or another substance to induce vomiting. Vomiting can be harmful to the digestive system and can cause dehydration. Exposure of the teeth to the stomach acid in vomit can also cause irreparable damage and tooth decay. Diarrhea Another type of purging is self-induced diarrhea. This is typically achieved by using laxatives to clear out the lower part of the digestive system. Diarrhea is also harmful to the digestive system, causing dehydration and malabsorption of vitamins, and over time, risking constipation if laxatives are over-used. Diuretics are also sometimes used to lose weight, although these drugs simply cause water loss, which is quickly gained back. Excessive Exercise A less well-recognized form of purging is excessive exercise. Exercise is typically considered to be a healthy behavior, particularly among people who are overweight or obese, so exercise is rarely discouraged until harm results from it. Exercising enough to burn off the calories of a binge can take hours per day, resulting in time being taken away from other activities. People who are not taking in enough nutrients through a balanced diet to support the demands on the body of excessive exercise may become malnourished. Empty calories taken in through binges may not be adequate to build and repair muscle and bone. And without carefully managing your fluid and mineral intake through the exercise process, you can risk dehydration or hyponatremia. Purging with exercise can also be fueled by the use of stimulant drugs, such as meth and other amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy or caffeine. These drugs can give temporary bursts of energy, increase physical and mental alertness and increase the ability to exercise for prolonged periods of time. Typically, these drugs have a rebound effect, resulting in exhaustion after they wear off. Are They Eating Disorders? Bingeing and purging are not, in themselves, eating disorders, although individually and in combination, they can be symptoms of an eating disorder such as binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa. Both bingeing and purging are compulsive behaviors, meaning that people can get into a pattern of repeatedly carrying out these behaviors, even against their better judgment. Often, the trigger for bingeing and purging is stress or low self-esteem, rather than an objective assessment of the need for weight control. Press Play for Advice On Creating a Healthy Relationship With Food Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring "The Fitness Chef" Graeme Tomlinson, shares how to establish a healthier relationship with food. Click below to listen now. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts Help Available Bingeing and purging are well recognized within the mental health system. Talk to your family doctor about your concerns regarding bingeing and purging and get an appropriate referral. Typically, people who binge and purge are referred to a to a mental health professional or to a specialized eating disorders clinic. Although bingeing and purging may be part of an addiction problem, they are typically not treated by addiction services unless there is a co-existing alcohol or drug problem, or it is a particularly enlightened clinic which treats concurrent disorders and/or behavioral addictions. If you or a loved one are coping with bingeing and purging, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Forney KJ, Buchman-Schmitt JM, Keel PK, Frank GK. The medical complications associated with purging. Int J Eat Disord. 2016;49(3):249–259. doi:10.1002/eat.22504 Lydecker JA, Shea M, Grilo CM. Driven exercise in the absence of binge eating: Implications for purging disorder. Int J Eat Disord. 2018;51(2):139–145. doi:10.1002/eat.22811 Goldschmidt AB, Accurso EC, Schreiber-Gregory DN, et al. Behavioral, emotional, and situational context of purging episodes in anorexia nervosa. Int J Eat Disord. 2015;48(3):341–344. doi:10.1002/eat.22381 Additional Reading Fairburn, C. Overcoming Binge Eating. New York: Guilford. 1995. Kessler, D. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York: Rodale. 2009. By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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