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What is purging?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Purging is what you do to try to get rid of the calories you have eaten. Usually, you do it after bingeing. You do it because you don't want to gain weight. Here are some of the things we know about purging.

  • People with anorexia purge by making themselves vomit, by taking laxatives or diuretics, or by giving themselves enemas.

  • People who make themselves vomit do it by gagging on their fingers or on something like a toothbrush handle. If you've had anorexia for a long time, you may be able to vomit without trying very hard. But vomiting only gets rid of between a third and half of the calories you've just eaten.

  • Vomiting and bingeing are things people do in secret.

  • Laxatives make food move through your gut faster. If you take a lot of them, you get bad diarrhoea. Taking laxatives can make you dehydrated and thirsty. Laxatives don't get rid of calories. This is because they don't work until the food you've eaten gets into your intestines. By then, most of the calories you've eaten are in your blood, from where they're either used to keep your body going or stored as fat.

  • Some people take diuretics (also called water pills) to purge. They make you pass urine a lot. This just makes your body lose water, not fat.

  • Some people think they can get rid of calories if they have enemas (washing out the bowel). This doesn't get rid of calories.

Some people get rid of calories from their binges in other ways. One way is to burn them off by exercising. But when someone does this to purge calories, it's different from healthy exercise. They may:

  • Exercise so much that it interferes with work or school

  • Exercise late into the night

  • Exercise very early in the morning

  • Insist on running or going to the gym even when they're injured.

Another way some people try to make up for binges is by not eating anything (also called fasting) for a day or more.



When you're dehydrated, you don't have enough fluid in your blood. This could be because you're not drinking enough or because you're losing water by sweating or having diarrhoea.


Diarrhoea is when you have loose, watery stools and you need to go to the toilet far more often than usual. Doctors say you have diarrhoea if you need to go to the toilet more than three times a day.


Diuretics are a type of medicine that reduce the amount of fluid in your body. The extra fluid is removed in your urine.


An enema is liquid that is poured into the rectum to clean it out. Many people find it uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it helps a doctor to see the inside of the bowels.


Laxatives are medicines that empty your bowels by making you go to the toilet more often than usual.

For more terms related to Anorexia


For references related to Anorexia click here.
Last Updated: September 19, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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