On the Efficacy of Self-Induced Vomiting (Purging)

A single in-lab assessment of caloric consumption, loss, and retention during binge-purge episodes in individuals with bulimia nervosa (BN) is frequently cited as evidence that purging via self-induced vomiting is an ineffective strategy for calorie disposal and weight control (Kaye, Weltzin, Hsu, McConaha, & Bolton, 1993). These findings have been widely interpreted to mean that, on average, purging  rids the body of only about half of the calories consumed, regardless of total quantity.

However, a closer examination of the study does NOT support the notion that purging is an ineffective compensatory behavior. Indeed, the findings of Kaye et al. (1993) would appear to have been both misunderstood and overgeneralized in the subsequent decades. This has important implications for therapeutic alliance in clinical practice as well as for understanding the nature of symptoms, metabolic processes, and physiological alterations in EDs.


The study included 17 individuals, all of … Continue reading →

Bingeing and Purging: Keeping the “Positives” and Eliminating The Negatives?

I have been fascinated and perplexed by reports of the seemingly invigorating and anxiety reducing effects of bingeing and purging (purging by self-induced vomiting). Personally, I cringe at the idea of self-induced vomiting and have always wanted to avoid vomiting at all costs, including during food poisoning. The insight from recent blog entries and the subsequent comments has made an impact on me. I see that the motivation to engage in bingeing/purging behavior can be intense and can provide an effective way increase positive affect and reduce stress. The ameliorating effects of bingeing/purging remind me of drug addiction, with bingeing/purging behavior as the “drug.”  This made me wonder, what happens in the brain to impart such “addiction-like” reinforcement?

I know there are reports of opiate and endorphin release following purging, but to me, this seemed like an effect meant to counter the intense aversion (and discomfort?) of the … Continue reading →

What's The Point of Bingeing and Purging? And Why Can't You Just Stop?

I defended my MSc on Tuesday and I’m not going to lie: I was pretty symptomatic with bulimia in the days prior to my defence. As I explained to my boyfriend: the anxiety-reducing effects of purging are so powerful, and the compulsion to binge and purge (when I’m stressed/anxious/”not okay”) is so strong that it is much easier to do it, get it over with, and continue working (in a much calmer state).

I’ve mentioned before, for me, purging is very anxiety-reducing and in some ways, almost a positive experience. It is so tightly coupled with bingeing that it is hard to separate the two, but the anxiety-reducing effects are strongest when I binge and purge, non-existent when I binge, and weak when I purge a normal meal (which is exceptionally rare/almost never.)

It turns out, of course, that I’m not alone.

Negative emotional states and stressors have long been … Continue reading →

Bingeing and Purging Marathons: Repeated Binge/Purge Cycles in Bulimia Nervosa

I used to call them bingeing and purging marathons. If I binged and purged in the morning, chances were, I’d binge and purge throughout the day. The next time I’d eat, I was likely to end up–whether I wanted to or not–bingeing and purging. Not all individuals with bulimia nervosa binge and purge every day (or purge everything they eat, for that matter), but many do, and some binge and purge multiple times a day. In recovery, many people start by trying not to binge and purge before a certain time of the day–because once they binge and purge, it triggers a continuous cycle of bingeing and purging until they become to exhausted or otherwise end up going to bed.

I always wondered why that was, why was it so hard to keep a single episode of bingeing and purging from initiating a repeated cycle of bingeing and purging?

On … Continue reading →

Medical Complications of Purging in Bulimia Nervosa

Eating disorders are mental disorders with physical complications. Sometimes lots of them. I’ve blogged before about medical complications that are likely to come up in an emergency room setting, but that was a while ago. So I thought today I’d focus specifically on medical complications  that occur in bulimia nervosa (BN) as a result of purging (self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and diuretic abuse).

These complications are particularly important because patients with BN often appear healthy and can thus more easily hide their disorder, meaning that treatment is often initiated many years after disorder onset, and the duration of BN is often long, with recovery rates far lower than they should be (in one study, the 5-year recovery rate was a little more than 50%), which means that these complications can persist for many years.

I’ll go through some of the complications of self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, diuretic abuse, … Continue reading →

Self-Harm is Common Among Adolescents With Eating Disorders

Self-harm or non-suicidal self-injury (SI) are common among adolescents, particularly among adolescents with eating disorders. Previous studies have shown that SI seems to be associated with sexual trauma, mood disorders, and substance abuse. The present study aimed to find out whether (1) SI is associated with any specific eating disorder symptoms, such as bingeing, or purging, and (2) how often clinicians screen for SI behaviours (and whether particular patients are more likely to be screened than others).

Dr. Rebecka Peebles and colleagues looked retrospectively at intake evaluations of 1,432 patients between the ages of 10-21 (mean age 15). Three quarters of the patients were Caucasian, and slightly over 9% were male.  Sixty-three percent had an intake diagnosis of eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).


  • Of those screened for SI behaviours, 40.8% engaged in SI
  • Cutting was the most common SI behaviour reported (85%)
  • Bingeing/purging was
Continue reading →

Serotonin Function in Bulimia Nervosa – Brain Circuits & Behaviour

Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) is a neurotransmitter that is involved in just about everything. It helps ensure proper cell growth, maturation and migration during development. Serotonin is also important in regulating emotions, cognitive functions, appetite, pain, circadian rhythms, and our endocrine system in adulthood. It is hardly a surprise then, that the serotonergic system seems to be important in bulimia nervosa (BN).

I’ve written previously about serotonin in restricting-type anorexia nervosa, so for this post I’m going to be shifting focus and talk about bulimia and binge-purge type anorexia nervosa (AN-BP).

The information in this post isn’t coming from a review paper. Instead, I’m going to be summarizing and explaining information from a chapter in a book titled Behavioural Neurobiology of Eating Disorders. In the chapter on serotonin and bulimia, Howard Steiger and colleagues propose a model for serotonin action in bulimia nervosa which takes into account “diverse Continue reading →