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October 16, 2014

Purging Disorder: The Basics

The following post was written by K. Jean Forney, M.S., a Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology at Florida State University. Her interest lies in research for purging disorders. You can read more about her and her research here.

Within the realm of eating disorders, there are so many varying factors and potential risks for those who struggle. Research-based treatment can help people get better and live full, healthy lives. In addition, it’s important for us, as a general population, to understand that eating disorders, no matter the exact diagnosis, are incredibly dangerous. They are not a choice and they affect over 14 million people in the United States.

Purging disorder is an eating disorder that is not often discussed. Thank you to Jean for sharing some educational information about purging disorder with us today.

For anyone who is struggling, this post may contain information that could be triggering. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

By K. Jean Forney, M.S.

Purging disorder was added to the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-5, as an “other specified feeding or eating disorder.” It’s defined by recurrent purging in the absence of binge eating to influence weight or shape. What does that mean, exactly?

Recurrent purging: Individuals with purging self-induce vomiting and/or abuse laxatives and/or abuse diuretics to change or influence their shape and weight.

Absence of binge eating: Individuals with purging disorder do not experience binge eating episodes or times where they eat quantities that are more than most people would eat (think: a large pizza) while feeling out of control about their eating. Some individuals with purging disorder do sometimes feel out of control while eating, but it is on smaller amounts of food (think: a sandwich).

This absence of binge eating separates purging disorder from bulimia nervosa. The DSM-5 also indicates that meeting criteria for anorexia nervosa would “trump” a diagnosis of purging disorder. This means that individuals with purging disorder are not underweight. Individuals with purging disorder are at a normal weight or overweight.

Even though purging disorder is an “other specified” eating disorder, research suggests that it is equally as severe and impairing as bulimia nervosa. Purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, are associated with an increased risk of suicide and with health complications like tooth erosion, GERD, and unbalanced electrolytes. Individuals with purging disorder have increased mortality compared to the general population. Additionally, preliminary evidence suggests that individuals with purging disorder have higher mortality than individuals with bulimia nervosa. In some ways, purging disorder may be a more severe disorder than bulimia nervosa. Crude mortality rates did not differ between purging disorder and anorexia nervosa.

Purging disorder is a relatively prevalent eating disorder. Estimates vary, but up to 5% of women experience purging disorder in their lifetime. We don’t have any estimates on the lifetime prevalence of men yet, but available estimates suggest that at any given time, less than .5% of boys and young adult men have purging disorder.

So what should you do if you think you may have a purging disorder? Talk to a mental health professional. With treatment, you can overcome an eating disorder.

Thanks again to Jean for sharing this valuable information. If you think you or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, please contact The Emily Program. Our compassionate staff is here to help answers questions and get people the treatment they need. We can be contacted through our online form or by calling 1-888-364-5977.

Get help. Find hope.