Understanding Bingeing and Purging

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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.


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:

  • Bread
  • Candy
  • Cake
  • Chocolate
  • Cereal
  • Cookies
  • Doughnuts
  • Ice cream
  • Pizza
  • Popcorn
  • Potato chips
  • Sandwiches
  • Soda

Types of Purging

There are several different types of purging that people use to attempt to remove the excessive food they have eaten.


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.


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.

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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.
  1. Forney KJ, Buchman-Schmitt JM, Keel PK, Frank GK. The medical complications associated with purgingInt J Eat Disord. 2016;49(3):249–259. doi:10.1002/eat.22504

  2. Lydecker JA, Shea M, Grilo CM. Driven exercise in the absence of binge eating: Implications for purging disorderInt J Eat Disord. 2018;51(2):139–145. doi:10.1002/eat.22811

  3. Goldschmidt AB, Accurso EC, Schreiber-Gregory DN, et al. Behavioral, emotional, and situational context of purging episodes in anorexia nervosaInt J Eat Disord. 2015;48(3):341–344. doi:10.1002/eat.22381

Additional Reading

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.