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  • Writer's pictureKatie Porter

Urge To Purge

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

Hello fellow readers,

As you many know, a large part of my practice revolves around individuals with eating disorders. From either side of the spectrum and everything in between, the goal for my clients is to help them discover their true potential, their purpose in life, and to help bring them to a place of feeling worthy, confident, and balanced.

Urge to Purge

Needless to say, purging behaviors are something that I discuss quite a bit with my clients.

Purging is not solely a part of Bulimia and can actually be part of other disordered eating behaviors, including Anorexia. Purging in the eating disorder world is the act of purposefully or intentionally throwing up one’s food. Interestingly enough, others may define purging as: ridding oneself of what is impure or undesirable, or to cleanse or purify, or to have the satisfaction of feeling empty.

I believe eating disorders are a developed coping mechanism. An eating disorder serves a very important purpose in one’s life – as a way to manage or cope with stress, to express their thoughts and feelings about trauma or abuse, or as a way to try and numb out their emotions or thoughts all together.

The “Why”

Behaviors within eating disorders vary widely and some can go unnoticed by family and friends for years – even purging activity. For those of you reading this article who have never experienced an eating disorder personally or have never walked through it with a loved one, you may ask, “Why in the world would someone throw up on purpose?” I hear it all the time. Again, it serves a purpose.

There are a lot of coping mechanisms from which we all rely on: some good, some not so good. Some healthy, some not so healthy. Purging is an example of an unhealthy coping mechanism. Just like any other addiction or impulse, in the moment it can make someone feel as though they have accomplished something. Sometimes individuals feel satisfied after a purge. For others, shame, disgust, and guilt follow; which then negatively impacts one’s self-esteem and relationship with food like a never-ending cycle.

For many of those who purge, there are also other disordered eating behaviors that are intertwined. When exploring some of the deeper reasons for the development of an eating disorder, there is typically a lot of pain involved. Pain from relationships, pain from experiences in one’s family of origin, issues with trust, experiences of trauma, and feelings of anxiety, depression, and perfectionistic tendencies.

In learning about one’s self and what has contributed to the development of each and every eating disorder, it is imperative to understand the triggers in this person’s every day life. Not only is it important to understand one’s triggers, it is also important to know what positive resources are available to help this person get through this particularly emotional time in a more healthy and productive way.

Many of my clients, especially those embarking on the road to recovery, talk about their “urge to purge”. It’s important to remember that eating disorders aren’t really “all about food”, just as purging really isn’t “throwing up”. It’s much more complicated than that and often has to do with the ways in which individuals cope with emotions, thoughts, relationships, stressors, triggers, and the overall ability to self-regulate.

I see it like this – purging is a symptom of something. An eating disorder is also a symptom

of something. Something serious. And this is how that person copes. When my clients discuss their urge to purge it almost always follows a stressful event or a rough day. It’s an intense urge, a craving; something that no matter if they feel relieved by it or filled with guilt afterwards is something they must do. To cope. To release the tension, to get rid of feelings, and empty themselves of an experience or feeling.

What To Do To Help

As someone who helps clients understand this part of their eating disorder and who educates them on the development of these coping systems, it is important to never invalidate them or make them feel like they are doing something “bad”. What is most important is to help them see why this coping system has become a habit and validate that. Help them to see what other systems are available to them for coping – healthy ones – and also to guide them in a way that makes them feel like they deserve healthy and positive things in life. Reinforce those.

This also goes to say that it is imperative to address the underlying issues: the roots from which this individual stands on and emerges from. This means addressing the trauma and working through it with a professional in a safe environment. Also, nourishing other aspects of that person’s life to bring a more purposeful and plentiful outlook into one’s abilities and sense of self.

The urge to purge is real. It’s an indication that one is in pain. It is valid and it serves a purpose. It is a coping mechanism, albeit there are healthier, more positive, and more enduring coping mechanisms out there. It is essential to work from within each individual and show compassion and understanding of these urges to purge with a goal to live a purge-free life, to guide them into a new sense of brighter self-worth and full belief that they are deserving of good and healthy things.

If you or someone you know has the urge to purge or has an eating disorder, I encourage you to reach out. Make the decision to change the ways you think about food and ultimately yourself! I’m just a phone call away.


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