Purging disorder

Better-known eating disorders often overshadow purging disorder, but their unique challenges and impacts can be particularly devastating. If you are grappling with purging disorder, it might feel like you’re alone in a relentless struggle. However, this guide is designed to provide in-depth understanding and to show you that there is a path to purging disorder recovery. At UKAT, we recognise the complexity of purging disorder and offer specialised, compassionate treatment to help you rebuild a healthy relationship with food and set the foundations for a whole new life.


What is purging disorder?

Purging disorder is an eating disorder which causes recurrent purging behaviour to influence weight or shape. Purging disorder is classified under Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) in the DSM-5 and is recognised as a serious mental health condition. It primarily affects young adults and adolescents but can occur in any demographic group.

Potential purging behaviours can include:

  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas
  • Extreme exercise

Recognising the differences between purging disorder and similar conditions, notably bulimia, is vital for correct diagnosis and treatment planning. Unlike bulimia, where binge eating episodes precede purging, those with purging disorder often purge after eating normal or small amounts of food.

What causes purging disorder?

The causes of/risk factors for purging disorder are complex, and each person often has a unique combination of underlying personal challenges. However, some common contributing factors include:

Genetic vulnerability
Like many mental health conditions, there is thought to be a genetic component to the purging disorder. This means that a family history of eating disorders can increase your likelihood of developing the condition.
Psychological factors
Numerous psychological factors can also potentially play a role. Low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, perfectionism and a history of anxiety or depression are commonly associated with purging disorder. These factors often create a predisposition for the condition and/or exacerbate purging disorder symptoms.
Societal and cultural pressures
The societal glorification of thinness and specific body ideals significantly impacts the development of purging disorder. Constant exposure to these ideals through media and social networks can fuel body dissatisfaction and the pursuit of unhealthy weight control methods.
Traumatic experiences
Experiences of trauma, particularly in childhood, can be a potent trigger for purging disorder. Trauma can manifest in various forms, including physical, emotional or sexual abuse and can lead to the development of disordered eating behaviours as a coping mechanism.
Stress and life transitions
Periods of significant change or stress, such as starting a new school or job or experiencing grief or a relationship breakup, can all precipitate or exacerbate purging disorder. These life events can trigger a sense of loss of control, which you may try to regain through purging behaviours.
Other contributing factors
Other factors like peer pressure, bullying related to body image or a history of dieting can also contribute to the onset and ingraining of purging disorder.

What are the signs of purging disorder?

Recognising the signs and symptoms of purging disorder is critical for early intervention. Here is a detailed look at telltale purging disorder symptoms:

Physical purging disorder symptoms

  • Recurrent purging behaviours
  • Physical signs of vomiting, like swollen cheeks or dental erosion
  • Unusual fluctuations in weight
  • Gastrointestinal issues, including stomach cramps, constipation or irregular bowel movements.

Behavioural and emotional symptoms

  • Obsession with body shape and weight
  • Strict dieting followed by purging, even after eating normal or small amounts of food
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom immediately after meals
  • Feeling out of control during the act of purging
  • Emotional symptoms like guilt, shame, anxiety and depression surrounding eating habits
  • Withdrawal from social situations, especially those involving food

Recognising these signs of purging disorder in yourself or others can help you to seek timely and effective help. It is important to understand that purging disorder is a serious mental health issue and that the psychological aspects, particularly feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety around eating, can be as debilitating as the physical symptoms.

If someone you know exhibits these purging disorder symptoms, approach the situation with empathy and support, encouraging them to speak with a healthcare professional. Early purging disorder diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the chances of recovery and help in managing the disorder effectively.

What are the effects of purging disorder?

The consequences of Purging Disorder are severe and wide-reaching, affecting physical health, mental well-being and social relationships. Effects include:

Physical health impacts

  • Electrolyte imbalances leading to heart problems, seizures and, in severe cases, death
  • Damage to the oesophagus and teeth from stomach acid due to repeated vomiting
  • Chronic gastrointestinal problems, including irritable bowel syndrome
  • Nutritional deficiencies and potential malnutrition affecting overall health and organ function
  • Psychological impacts

  • Increased risk of mood disorders, including major depression and anxiety disorders
  • Distorted body image and severe self-criticism
  • A sense of identity that becomes increasingly intertwined with eating habits and body image
  • Feelings of inadequacy and failure
  • Heightened risk of substance abuse as a coping mechanism
  • Potential for self-harm and suicidal ideation
  • Social and relational impacts

  • Strained relationships due to secrecy and the isolating nature of purging eating disorder
  • Reduced ability to focus on work or academic pursuits
  • Social withdrawal and avoidance of social gatherings, particularly those involving food
  • Resulting feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • What does an accurate purging disorder diagnosis involve?

    Purging disorder diagnosis is a nuanced process that requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach which seeks a detailed understanding of eating behaviours, psychological state and physical health. A team typically comprises a general practitioner, a psychiatrist or psychologist, a dietitian, and possibly a gastroenterologist, who are involved in purging disorder diagnosis to cover every aspect of the condition. The purging disorder diagnosis process may involve the following:

    Diagnostic criteria check

    The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for OSFED focuses on the presence of purging behaviours in the absence of binge eating (to differentiate it from bulimia). As noted above, this includes self-induced vomiting and misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas after eating.

    Physical evaluations

    Physical assessments are vital to identify the health consequences of purging, such as electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal issues and dental problems. This is necessary to create a treatment plan conducive to healing and also to recognise purging disorders in individuals who are reluctant to admit to a problem.

    Psychological evaluations

    Psychological assessments help to understand the underlying emotional and cognitive factors contributing to purging disorder. These evaluations also screen for co-occurring mental health issues like anxiety, depression or trauma-related conditions, which will require simultaneous management during purging disorder treatment.

    Nutritional evaluations

    A thorough nutritional assessment is essential to address deficiencies and understand the individual’s dietary habits, attitudes towards food, and perceptions of body image.

    Given the shame and guilt often associated with purging disorder, a compassionate approach is essential during purging disorder diagnostic. Building trust and ensuring a non-judgemental environment encourages honest disclosure of behaviours and thoughts, which will create an effective purging disorder treatment plan.

    What does purging disorder treatment involve?

    Purging disorder treatment at UKAT’s Banbury Lodge is multifaceted, addressing the physical, psychological and behavioural aspects of the condition. Our proven rehab treatment programme involves:

    Nutritional counselling
    A crucial component of treatment, nutritional counselling aims to normalise your eating patterns, address nutritional deficiencies and educate about healthy eating habits. Nutritional counselling involves working closely with a dietitian to develop a balanced meal plan and to challenge and change dysfunctional beliefs about food and body image.
    One-to-one therapy
    Individual therapy sessions provide a safe space to explore the underlying emotional triggers of purging disorder. Therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) are effective in changing negative thought and behaviour patterns around food and eating and developing healthier coping mechanisms.
    Group therapy
    Group therapy sessions offer support and validation from peers who share similar experiences. These sessions foster a sense of community and understanding, reducing feelings of isolation that often result from purging disorder.
    Family therapy
    Involving family members in the purging disorder treatment process can be invaluable. Family therapy helps in understanding family dynamics that may contribute to the disorder and educates family members on supporting your purging disorder recovery journey both during and after rehab.
    Holistic therapies
    Holistic therapies like art therapy, sound therapy and mindfulness practices are integrated into purging disorder treatment to provide a comprehensive approach. These therapies aid in self-expression, stress reduction and emotional regulation which can help prevent relapse.
    Motivational interviewing
    This technique is used to enhance motivation for change. It will help you resolve any ambivalence or doubt about purging disorder recovery and reinforce your commitment to change.
    Aftercare is critical to purging disorder treatment, ensuring ongoing support after leaving Banbury Lodge. It involves continued therapy sessions to keep you accountable and give you supportive and understanding professionals and peers to lean on during difficult moments.

    Reclaim your life from purging disorder today

    Purging disorder, with its complex web of causes, symptoms and effects, requires a compassionate, comprehensive approach to treatment. At UKAT, you will find a team of dedicated professionals and a supportive community, all committed to helping you reclaim your life. Contact us today to begin a new life free from the confines of purging disorder.

    Call us now for help


    Is purging disorder serious?
    Yes, purging disorder is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. It involves severe physical and psychological consequences, including electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal issues and an increased risk of heart problems. The recurrent purging behaviours, often done in secret, can lead to significant emotional distress, anxiety and depression. Like other eating disorders, purging disorder requires immediate attention and professional treatment to prevent long-term health complications and improve quality of life.
    Is purging disorder a mental illness?
    Purging Disorder is indeed classified as a mental illness in the DSM-5. This classification underscores its psychological nature, where disordered eating behaviours are often a manifestation of underlying emotional and cognitive issues. Treatment for purging disorder typically involves psychological interventions alongside medical and nutritional support, reflecting its status as a mental health condition.
    Does purging disorder develop at any specific age?
    Purging disorder can develop at any age but is most commonly observed in adolescents and young adults. However, individual experiences vary, and purging disorders can occur outside the typical age range due to genetic, psychological and environmental influences.