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June 26, 2024

What Purging Is & How Does It Affect the Body?

What Purging Is & How Does It Affect the Body?

What Does Purging Mean?

Purging is a compensatory behavior experienced by many people with eating disorders. It refers to the act of compensating for or expelling food intake to influence body weight or “make up for” consuming calories. Purging is most commonly associated with self-induced vomiting but also includes the misuse of laxatives, diet pills, and diuretics, as well as excessive exercise. This is seen across eating disorder diagnoses, including bulimia, anorexia, and OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder).

There are many side effects purging can have on the human body. In this blog, we will break down a handful of different physical consequences of purging to explore what eating disorder behavior can do to the body in the long term. We discuss the effects of bulimia purging across your entire body, in addition to the effects that purging disorders can have on your mental and emotional state. We’ll examine how eating disorder purging can exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and how they can trigger new psychological challenges, including severe mood swings and stress-related disorders. Whether you’re struggling with this yourself or know someone who is, understanding the full scope of the impact of purging disorder is the first step toward recovery.

What Does Purging Do To Your Body?

If you’ve ever wondered, “What does purging do to your body?” you’re not alone. The following sections aim to provide a comprehensive overview of the effects of purging on each part of the body, both physically and mentally. From the hair on your head to the bottoms of your feet and the emotional turmoil within, we’ll delve into the various ways purging affects different aspects of your well-being. Our goal is to highlight the urgency of seeking professional help for eating disorders, offering insights into the long-term consequences and the importance of early intervention for a successful recovery.

What Is Purging Disorder’s Effect on Hair?

When the body is malnourished, it will make sure essential functions (such as organ function and retaining muscle tissue) are the top priority. The body will take nutrients from other sources, such as hair, which contains a protein called keratin. This may cause the hair to become dry, frizzy, break, or even fall out. Hair growth can stop altogether to focus on keeping the body alive when an individual has a purging eating disorder.

What Is Purging Disorder’s Effect on Eyes?

Forced vomiting puts pressure on the eyes, causing them to become red and irritated. This could also break a blood vessel in the eye, causing a large red patch in the whites of the eye, similar to a bruise on the eye. The eye sockets could also become sunken in and dark circles could appear under the eyes, all of which are commonly seen in patients struggling with purging disorders.

What Is Purging Disorder’s Effect on Teeth and Mouth?

Repeated self-induced vomiting can cause serious damage to teeth. Vomit contains stomach acids that corrode the enamel that protects the teeth. When the enamel wears away, a cavity could appear. If a cavity doesn’t get filled, the tooth could become loose and fall out. This can also cause gingivitis, which makes the gums red, inflamed, and bleed when brushed or subjected to pressure. Teeth can also become stained with a yellow color, take on a more glass-like appearance, chip much more easily, become brittle, or even take on a different shape. Overall, it can be incredibly painful if sensitive parts of the teeth are exposed, and hot and cold food may be too painful to consume. Often, the effects on teeth are irreversible without surgery.

The acids in the stomach can also cause swelling of the face and salivary glands. There could be swelling around the jaw and cheeks. Experiences of painful mouth sores on the roof of the mouth, inner cheeks, inner lips, throat, and tongue are also common among persons with a purging eating disorder. Those sores can swell up and become infected. Dry mouth could also be experienced by individuals who are purging, and, when paired with the mouth sores, could be incredibly painful. Dry mouth can change the taste and texture of food, which may increase the likelihood of it getting stuck in the mouth or throat and possibly cause choking.

What Is Purging Disorder’s Effect on Heart and Kidneys?

Frequent bingeing and purging often causes dehydration; it can also throw electrolytes out of balance and strain the heart. This could also cause a heart attack or a seizure. Those with bulimia, for example, are five times more likely to have a heart attack and six times more likely to have coronary artery disease than those without an eating disorder. An irregular heartbeat is also more likely in those with an eating disorder. Prolonged dehydration can cause urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and even kidney failure, which could be fatal. Hypovolemic shock/low blood volume shock can also occur when there is a drop in low blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in the body.

What Is Purging Disorder’s Effect on Skin?

Purging may cause skin to dry out or become scaly, rough, pale, and more likely to bruise or scar. Cheeks and other parts of the face can also become swollen. If fingers are used to induce vomiting, there could be permanent scarring or calluses from the teeth or stomach acid.

What Is Purging Disorder’s Effect on the Reproductive System?

Hormonal imbalances may also occur in individuals who purge. Fatigue from the consistent purging may cause a low sex drive and could even stop female menstrual cycles. Females may no longer release eggs and males can have low to no sperm production, which could contribute to infertility.

If a person is pregnant and purging, there can be many complications, such as a miscarriage, premature birth, breech birth, birth defects, higher risk of cesarean delivery, and stillbirth. After a person gives birth, there can be issues or difficulties with breastfeeding and weight gain that can cause stress and could, in turn, exacerbate the bingeing and purging cycle even further.

What Is Purging Disorder’s Effect on Mood and Stress?

Eating disorders like purging often co-occur with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eating disorders can cause people to feel shame and guilt about their compulsive behaviors. A person may even have a breakdown if they are denied purging after eating. The feelings of guilt may continue to manifest, reinforcing the purging cycle. Mood swings are common and there can be a lot of stressful feelings coming from purging. Stress is a common eating disorder trigger and could exacerbate the urge to purge. Irritability, guilt, isolation, secrecy, or physical self-harm may all be something a person is experiencing behind closed doors. As they struggle to try to hide the eating disorder, the person’s anxiety, stress, and mood may be a contributing factor in maintaining the eating disorder.

Types of Purging

When people think of purging, they often think of self-induced vomiting. In actuality, purging also includes abusing laxatives and diuretics, misusing insulin, and overexercising. Learn about the common kinds of purging below:

Self-induced vomiting: Most commonly associated with purging, self-induced vomiting is when a person forces themself to expel the food they consumed.

Laxative/diuretics abuse: Self-induced diarrhea is another kind of purging, typically achieved by abusing laxatives. Diuretics, which cause water loss in the body, are sometimes abused for weight loss as well.

Insulin misuse/mismanagement: People experiencing type 1 diabetes may restrict insulin or use extra insulin as a way of purging. Adolescent females with type 1 diabetes are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder as their non-diabetic peers (Jones, 2000).

Excessive exercise: Exercising may be used as a way to “make up” for calories consumed.

What Treatments Are Available for Purging Disorder?

Effective treatments for purging behaviors in eating disorders include a range of approaches tailored to individual needs. Here are some approaches that the eating disorder treatment specialists at The Emily Program may consider for you:

Psychotherapy: Individual, group, and family psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help address the underlying causes of purging behaviors and develop healthy coping strategies for purging eating disorder.

Medical Care and Monitoring: Medical supervision is important to address the physical consequences of purging and to monitor overall health.

Nutritional Counseling: Nutrition counseling can help individuals with purging eating disorder manage their diet and weight without resorting to purging behaviors.

Medications: In some cases, medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers may be prescribed to treat co-occurring conditions and help reduce purging behaviors.

Comprehensive Treatment Teams: A multidisciplinary approach involving doctors, mental health professionals, and dietitians can provide comprehensive support for individuals with purging behaviors.

Support Groups and Resources: Joining support groups and accessing resources for purging eating disorder treatment can be beneficial for individuals dealing with purging behaviors.

It’s important to note that treatment plans should be personalized to each individual’s specific needs, and seeking professional help is crucial for effectively addressing purging behaviors in the context of eating disorders.

How Can Family and Friends Support Someone with a Purging Disorder?

Family and friends can support someone with a purging disorder in several ways:

Encourage Treatment: Encourage the person to seek professional help and offer to accompany them to appointments if they are comfortable with it.

Provide Emotional Support: Be a listening ear and reassure them that you are there for them throughout their recovery journey. Avoid making judgmental comments and instead express your love and appreciation for them.

Promote Self-Esteem: Help build their self-esteem by highlighting their positive qualities and achievements. Avoid focusing on physical appearance or diet.

Maintain Inclusion: Continue to include them in activities and social events, even if they often decline. This can help them feel valued and connected.

Support at Mealtimes: Mealtimes can be challenging for those with eating disorders. Offer to accompany them during meals and provide a supportive, non-judgmental environment.

Educate Yourself: Learn about eating disorders from reputable sources to better understand their experiences and challenges.

Set a Positive Example: Model healthy eating habits and a positive body image. Avoid dieting, making self-critical remarks, or negative comments about others’ appearances.

Maintain Boundaries: While it’s important to be supportive, avoid enabling their disorder or being manipulated. Set clear, healthy boundaries.

Remember, recovery from purging disorder is a process that takes time and patience. It’s important to take care of your own mental health as well while supporting someone else. Explore our resources for families.

Purging Disorder Recovery Is Possible

Eating disorders are, first and foremost, mental disorders and the second most fatal mental disorder. There are many long-term health issues that can follow a person for many years even after recovery. However, recovery is possible and getting treatment as soon as possible will help prevent irreversible physical effects.

The best thing to do when someone is exhibiting warning signs of an eating disorder is to get immediate help. The Emily Program has many different care options and is committed to offering the very best evidence-based care to our patients. If you, a loved one, or a patient is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to us.

Key Takeaways about Purging Disorder

  • Purging refers to compensatory behaviors often associated with eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and OSFED, involving self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, or excessive exercise. These behaviors aim to influence body weight and compensate for calorie consumption.
  • Purging has multiple damaging physical effects including malnutrition leading to dry and brittle hair; pressure on the eyes causing redness, irritation, and potential damage to blood vessels; and serious dental issues such as tooth decay, gum inflammation, and potentially irreversible damage to the enamel due to the corrosive stomach acids in vomit. It can also cause swelling of the face and salivary glands, and painful mouth sores.
  • Purging can significantly harm the heart and kidneys due to frequent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, leading to heart attacks, seizures, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, kidney failure, and hypovolemic shock. It increases the risk of heart attacks and coronary artery diseases in individuals with bulimia.
  • It can adversely affect the skin and the reproductive system. Skin may become dry, rough, pale, and more prone to bruising or scarring. Hormonal imbalances may lead to low sex drive, cessation of menstrual cycles in females, reduced sperm production in males, and potential infertility. In pregnant individuals, purging can cause complications including miscarriage, premature birth, birth defects, and stillbirth.
  • Eating disorders, including those involving purging, often co-occur with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. These disorders can induce feelings of shame, guilt, stress, and contribute to a destructive cycle of purging. However, recovery is possible, with prompt treatment being crucial to prevent irreversible physical effects. Professional help, such as the services provided by The Emily Program, should be sought as soon as possible when signs of an eating disorder are noticed.

Get help. Find hope.