Bingeing and purging are behaviors associated with certain eating disorders. What causes people to binge or purge is complex, but it’s usually due to a negative body image and a strong desire to lose weight. Bingeing and purging need to be taken seriously — they are both behaviors that can lead to very serious, and even life-threatening, health consequences.
Whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder like bulimia, bingeing and purging are behaviors that need to be controlled as much as possible. If you’ve found yourself bingeing and purging and don’t know how to stop, here are 5 tips that may help.
What Is Bingeing and Purging?
Bingeing and purging are eating-related behaviors that are most commonly associated with an eating disorder called bulimia nervosa. But they can, and do, happen with other eating disorders, like a specific type of anorexia nervosa.
Bingeing, or binge eating, is when a person eats uncontrollably during a period — usually a few hours. During this time, people feel completely out of control and eat more and faster than they usually do. Some people eat any food they have around them, but many binge-eat specific foods they crave.
Everyone overeats sometimes. But binge eating causes such serious health consequences because it’s frequent and uncontrolled. On top of the health consequences that binge eating leads to, people are usually consumed with feelings of shame, guilt, and regret after each binge-eating episode. This might lead to a dramatic swing back into dieting or restricting foods.
But the problem is that strict dieting usually causes the person to stay stuck in the binge-diet cycle. Restricting certain foods, especially enjoyable foods, leads the person to eat them uncontrollably during binge-eating episodes. The feeling of shame that follows these episodes leads them back into dieting, and the cycle continues.
Binge-eating episodes are characteristic of an eating disorder called binge eating disorder. People with a binge eating disorder experience binges, but do not purge afterward.
People with another eating disorder, called bulimia nervosa, can also experience binge-eating episodes. The main difference between bulimia and a binge eating disorder is that people with bulimia also engage in purging behaviors after their binges.
Purging is a behavior that is very specific to bulimia, a common eating disorder. People who purge try to compensate for their binge eating episodes by getting rid of the excess calories consumed in unhealthy ways. They may do this by making themselves vomit, taking too many laxatives, taking diuretics, or fasting. Some people exercise excessively after a binge-eating episode, which may indicate bulimia as well.
Health Consequences of Bingeing and Purging
Binge eating, even when it’s not accompanied by purging, comes with many serious health consequences. For example, binge eating has been found to increase your risk for obesity. Obesity can cause several severe and sometimes life-threatening consequences, including:
- Increased risk for diabetes
- Increased risk for heart disease
- High blood pressure
When binge eating is followed by purging, it becomes even more dangerous. Purging has been linked to a high likelihood of very serious health consequences. Especially when someone self-induces vomiting to purge, they can cause serious damage to their digestive tract and esophagus. Some additional serious physical consequences of purging include:
- Severe damage to tooth enamel
- Neurological complications (lower seizure threshold)
- Bleeding from throat and roof of the mouth
- Stomach ulcers and bleeding
- Chronic stomach scarring
- Tearing of gullet wall
- Hormone disruption
- “Moon face” (puffy salivary glands)
- Hair loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Side effects of over-the-counter diuretics and laxatives, including kidney failure
People who purge frequently may also not get the calories and nutrients their body needs. This can cause things like malnourishment, weight loss, and electrolyte imbalance.
This is why it’s important to stop bingeing and purging if you find yourself engaging in these behaviors. Binge eating or purging once or twice won’t kill you, but repeatedly engaging in these behaviors literally could.
Why Do People Binge and Purge?
Usually, people who binge and purge are diagnosed with an eating disorder called bulimia nervosa. This disorder is what causes people to engage in bingeing and purging behaviors.
The officially recognized symptoms of bulimia nervosa include: 
- Recurrent episodes of binge-eating
- Recurrent inappropriate behavior to compensate for the binge and avoid weight gain, like self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other weight loss medications, fasting, or excessive exercise
- Both the binge-eating and purging episodes occur at least once a week for 3 months
- Opinion of self is unduly characterized by weight or body shape
- These symptoms are not due to anorexia nervosa
There’s no one single explanation behind why people develop bulimia and start bingeing and purging. Eating disorders seem to have a genetic component; this means that if you have a family member with an eating disorder, you’re more likely to develop one too.
Another thing that eating disorders have in common is a negative body image and a strong association between one’s self-esteem and body shape or size. People who tie their self-worth to what they look like or the size of their body are more likely to develop disordered eating, including a binge eating disorder and bulimia.
5 Tips to Help You Overcome Bingeing and Purging
It’s important to note that both binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa are serious eating disorders and mental health conditions that usually require treatment. Although some people may be able to curb these behaviors on their own, many people will need professional help to overcome these disorders, and that’s okay. Receiving needed treatment is nothing to feel ashamed about, and can increase your chances of recovering from these disorders and living a long and fulfilling life.
But there are some tips you can use to try to combat bingeing and purging on your own. Here are 5 tips that can help you to beat bulimia and overcome these behaviors.
1. Stay away from dieting
One of the reasons why some people binge eat is because they put themselves on strict diets. Food brings comfort to most people, and there’s nothing inherently damaging about that. But when you deny yourself of the foods you love, you put yourself at risk for binge eating these “forbidden” delicacies down the line. And, if you have bulimia, you’re at risk for purging after each binge-eating episode.
One of the best things you can do to break the binge-purge cycle is to stop restricting food intake. Eat on a regular basis (3 meals a day plus snacks), and make sure you include foods that you enjoy, even if they’re high in calories. Don’t overeat, but eat full, nourishing, and delicious meals. Be mindful of trigger foods, which may tempt you to binge-eat. But if you haven’t restricted yourself of your favorite foods, then you may be less likely to binge.
When you don’t binge-eat, you develop a healthier relationship with food. You also have less reason to feel the need to purge if you haven’t had a binge.
2. Practice mindful eating
Mindfulness is a popular practice that originated in ancient Eastern spiritual traditions. But you don’t need to belong to any particular religion to benefit from it; in the world of modern psychology, mindfulness is considered an evidence-based intervention for depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Mindfulness, in essence, is the practice of paying intentional attention to each present moment. Instead of judging ourselves or others, we simply notice what’s happening inside and around us with no judgment.
Mindfulness meditation is a common practice, but it isn’t the only way to practice mindfulness. Mindful eating is the practice of paying intentional attention to your meals. Instead of scarfing down unhealthy food that doesn’t even fulfill you, mindful eating invites you to savor each bite. This helps you to make healthier eating choices and consume fewer calories during each meal.
When you can control binge eating, you may become less likely to feel the need to purge. Practicing mindfulness regularly can start to seep into the other areas of your life. With a strong mindfulness habit, you may become more likely to be able to pause and rethink before bingeing or purging as well.
3. Use healthy distractions
To be clear, it’s not likely that you can distract bulimia away. Bulimia nervosa is a serious mental health condition, and distraction alone may not be enough to overcome it. But using distractions in healthy ways can help you to ride out the urge to binge-eat or purge and resist the temptation to engage in these behaviors.
The longer you can wait after the urge to binge or purge comes on without actually doing it, the less likely you become to give in.
Try to wait just one minute after the urge comes on. You can fill this time with healthy distractions, like:
- Calling a friend
- Completing a puzzle
- Going for a walk or run around the block
- Coloring or drawing
- Playing a game on your phone
- Rearranging your room
Next time, try waiting for three minutes after the urge comes on before giving into it. Fill the time with the distractions above. The following time, wait five minutes, and then ten, and so on. The idea is to try to distract yourself, and put off giving in to the urge, for as long as possible.
If you still end up purgeing after the distraction, don’t beat yourself up. Simply try again next time.
4. Plan ahead
One thing you can try to prevent bingeing and purging behaviors is to plan your days. Fill your waking hours with enough activities to keep you distracted from bingeing and purging, but not so much that you become stressed (stress could increase your risk for bingeing and purging).
Make sure you schedule enough meals into your daily plan as well. Many experts recommend eating 3 meals per day, plus snacks. Preparing these meals ahead of time may help you to stick to your plan instead of being tempted to binge-eat. Remember, don’t deny yourself your favorite foods. Prepare some special treats for yourself as well. If you live with someone like a family member, get their support in keeping you accountable to your meal plan.
You could also consider the timing of your meals. For example, some people schedule meals right before they have a prior commitment (like a work meeting or class) so that they aren’t able to purge after the meal. When you can, share meals with other people. Many people feel more tempted to binge-eat or purge when they eat alone.
Meal planning also has the benefit of reducing food costs for most people. Planning ahead can also limit the number of times you need to go grocery shopping, an activity that is stressful for many people with eating disorders.
5. Practice self-compassion
People with bulimia and other eating disorders often experience distorted thoughts. These thoughts are often about body shape or size, but can be about other things, too. Negative thoughts can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem — feelings that can then cause an increased temptation to binge-eat or purge.
Notice the way you talk to yourself, especially right before and after you have a binge-eating or purging episode. What sort of thoughts do you hear in your mind? How do you think of yourself, and what kind of tone do you use when you talk to yourself? Is it a kind tone or a judgmental and critical one?
Often, people with bulimia and other eating disorders deal with negative thoughts like:
- “I hate my body”
- “I’m so fat and ugly”
- “I’m a disgusting disgrace”
- “I messed up, yet again; I can’t get anything right”
- “I’m not enough”
Needless to say, this kind of self-talk would make anybody feel worse. So many of us treat ourselves much worse than we treat the people we love. You would probably be forgiving and kind toward a friend if they came to you with the problem you’re having, but it’s harder to direct that kindness toward yourself.
Beating yourself up only puts you at higher risk for bingeing and/or purging. Notice when you’re having the above (or similar) thoughts, and gently challenge them. Try to replace these thoughts with more helpful, accurate, and self-compassionate ones.
For example, maybe after you’ve had a binge-eating episode, you have the thought: “I am so disgusting. I have no discipline. What’s wrong with me?”
Recognize that you’re treating yourself unkindly. Now, imagine what you’d say if a friend came to you and shared they had a binge-eating episode, and they were feeling low. What would you say to that friend? You probably wouldn’t call them disgusting, or berate them for not having enough discipline.
Try to direct this same compassion toward yourself, and treat yourself as you would a dear friend. Even if you feel disgusting, it’s unhelpful to talk this way to yourself. Replace these thoughts with something more helpful and more accurate, like: “I was hoping to stop these behaviors, so I’m disappointed, and it’s okay to feel that way. But this isn’t the end of my journey, and I will keep trying.”
Seek professional support
Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek professional support for bulimia or other eating disorders. Often, this is what it takes for people to finally be able to break the cycle and resist the strong pull of bingeing and purging.
Although the stigma against eating disorders and other mental health conditions is strong, getting treatment is nothing to be ashamed of. Bulimia is an illness, and you deserve treatment just as much as any other person living with illness.
There are two basic levels of care for eating disorder treatment: inpatient and outpatient.
Inpatient treatment allows you to live, eat, and receive treatment all at the same place. Inpatient treatment is a good option for people who are just starting to walk away from bingeing and purging, but can be helpful for those who have relapsed, as well. An inpatient facility can take you away from your usual triggers and give you the 24/7 support you may need during this part of your journey.
Eventually, everyone must transition to outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment is when you live at home and commute to a treatment clinic to receive therapy and other interventions. Outpatient treatment has different levels, from going to treatment multiple hours a day (usually called intensive outpatient program) or seeing a therapist once a week. Together, you and your treatment team will decide which level of care is best for you.
Some therapy methods that are commonly used for bulimia and other eating disorders include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Family therapy
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
Beat Bulimia at The Center • A Place of HOPE
At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we have over three decades of experience helping people overcome bulimia and other eating disorders. We treat every person who walks through our doors as a complete human being with unique strengths and needs.
Bulimia treatment at The Center is based on our unique Whole-Person Approach. We strive not only to help you change your eating behaviors, but also to address your physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health. We know that you are so much more than your eating disorder, and treat every part of you as important.
It is time to choose the truth. Contrary to what you may have heard or feared, it really is possible to recover from your eating disorder.
Get in touch with our intake department today to learn more about admissions.