Purging: Eating Disorder Behaviors Defined

Mental Health Terms Used in Treating Troubled Teens' with Eating Disorders

Woman leaning over toilet vomiting
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Purging is one of various behaviors used by teens and adults suffering with certain eating disorders. Also called Purging Disorder(PD), sufferers purge to expel food from the body as a way of cutting calories to avoid gaining weight. Purging behaviors are usually seen in troubled teens who are suffering from bulimia, an eating disorder with an obsessive pattern of overeating, also called binge-eating, followed by ridding the body of the food just eaten.

However, purging can be present in teens who eat normal amounts of food, or those who suffer with anorexia nervosa. If you suspect your teen has an eating disorder, it's important to keep an eye on their eating behavior and maintain open, non-judgmental communication.

Purging by Vomiting

The most common type of purging is self-induced vomiting. Various objects and methods that trigger the gag reflex are used to purge. Purging behavior is commonly done in secret. Feelings of guilt or shame are often experienced after purging.

Other Forms of Purging

Other purging methods include the misuse of laxatives, enemas, caffeine or diuretics to move food and liquids quickly through the body - some methods tried by teens are ineffective or only partially effective in terms of removing calories and have potentially dangerous side-effects including causing weight gain. Troubled teens involved in purging may search online for tips to make purging easier such as how to do it, what foods are most easily regurgitated and ways to cover up this behavior.

Side Effects of Purging

The physical and emotional side effects of repeated purging include:

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Low blood pressure
  • Kidney damage - rare
  • Depression
  • Feeling powerless
  • Fatigue
  • Depletion of minerals
  • Abdominal pain
  • Erosion of the teeth
  • Damage to the esophagus

Is Your Teen at Risk for Purging Disorder

If your teen is frequently isolating themselves soon after eating, or unable or unwilling to eat socially, there is cause for alarm.

Further, research shows self-injurious behavior or a suicide attempt is linked to purging behavior. A recent study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found, "extreme efforts to control weight coupled with the undue influence of weight or shape on self-evaluation," was a strong indicator of those with purging disorder. Some triggers for purging behavior also found in study results includes personality shifts such as increased negative affect, or extreme changes in negative emotions or lowered self-esteem before a purging episode followed by an increase in positive affect following purging. Talk to your teen about their body image, weight concerns, and other triggers that may be associated with PD. By keeping an open dialogue you may be able to gauge when changes occur and take steps to prevent this harmful behavior.


Haedt-Matt, Alissa A.; Keel, Pamela K. Affect regulation and purging: An ecological momentary assessment study in purging disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Vol 124(2), May 2015. pp 399-411.

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