Purging disorder and bulimia share similar symptoms, and both involve purging food from the body through vomit or using medications.

Bulimia and purging disorder are two distinct types of eating disorders. They both involve periods of purging food through self-induced vomiting or medications, such as laxatives.

About 9% of the population of the United States will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime, but only around 6% have underweight, according to current healthcare classifications.

This article reviews the purging disorder and bulimia, their similarities, differences, and possible treatments.

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Purging disorder falls under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR)category of “other specified feeding or eating disorders.”

According to a 2018 review, purging disorder is “not quite” anorexia and “not quite” bulimia. A person with purging disorder does not engage in binge eating, which is a characteristic of bulimia, and does not have underweight, which is a characteristic of anorexia.

The researchers note this provides a challenge for healthcare and mental health care professionals to diagnose properly. They recommend future studies focus on identifying and understanding purging disorders.


A person with purging disorder may have the following signs or symptoms:

These are similar to the symptoms relating to bulimia.

Read about eating disorders.

Bulimia is an eating disorder that involves periods of bingeing and purging mixed with periods of eating calorie-safe or limited amounts of food. Bingeing typically occurs at least once per week.

Binge eating involves uncontrolled eating of large quantities of food in a short period. Often, a person will hide the behavior and do it in private. They also typically feel ashamed or guilty while eating or shortly after.

The feeling of guilt or shame alongside body image issues leads to purging to atone or make up for the loss of control.

A person living with bulimia may have different body sizes and may have obesity. However, people who have underweight typically receive a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa of the binge-eating or purging type.


Potential symptoms or signs of bulimia can include:

  • misusing diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives
  • often going to the bathroom following a meal
  • frequent sore throat
  • disappearance of large amounts of food or unexplained piles of food wrappers
  • tooth decay due to stomach acid
  • swelling of the salivary glands in the cheeks
  • unexplained, recurrent diarrhea
  • gastroesophageal reflux
  • fainting or feeling dizzy from dehydration relating to purging

Read more about bulimia.

Bulimia and purging disorders are distinct types of eating disorders.

What separates them is the presence or absence of bingeing behavior.

A person with bulimia will engage in uncontrolled episodes of eating large amounts of food, often in secret. In contrast, someone with purging disorder does not engage in binge eating.

Bulimia and purging disorder share several aspects.

A person may fall into any weight category except underweight in both conditions. For example, someone with obesity may be living with purging disorder or bulimia. However, those who have underweight would not fit either condition. Still, they may have a different eating disorder, such as anorexia.

Both conditions also involve purging food either through self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives. Purging can lead to several symptoms that could occur in both conditions, such as:

  • sore throat
  • tooth decay
  • heartburn
  • dehydration
  • misusing diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics
  • frequent periods of diarrhea

Treatment for bulimia and purging disorder may be similar, and both may face similar challenges, such as low commitment and high dropout rates.

Cognitive behavior therapy is a shared treatment option. It involves changing how a person thinks and feels to help normalize their eating behavior. Evidence suggests CBT may help with purging disorder, but several limitations may affect results.

Other therapies that may help with eating disorders in general include:

  • individual or group psychotherapy
  • medications such as mood stabilizers or antidepressants
  • medical monitoring and care
  • nutritional counseling

A person may benefit from a combination of different approaches. Involving family and friends in treatment may also help someone recover from an eating disorder.

The following are answers to common questions about purging disorders.

What is a purging behavior?

Purging behavior involves intentionally removing food from the body. A person may do this through inducing vomiting or misusing medications such as laxatives or diuretics.

Purging behavior is a symptom of different eating disorders, including both purging disorder and bulimia. Bulimia involves periods of bingeing and purging, while purging disorder involves purging behavior but not bingeing.

Is purging a bad thing?

Purging is often a symptom of an eating disorder. A person who purges may have self-body image issues, low self-esteem, or other comorbid mental health issues. It can also have lasting effects on a person’s body and overall health. Someone who purges needs to consult a healthcare and mental health professional about getting help.

Purging disorder and bulimia are two types of eating disorders. Both involve purging food from the body either through forcing vomit or misuse of medications, such as laxatives.

Both can cause similar symptoms, such as sore throat and tooth decay. A person may vary in their overall weight.

Bulimia differs from purging disorder because bulimia also includes periods of binge eating.

A person may benefit from treatment for either condition. Treatments can include medications, psychotherapy, or combinations of different approaches.