“We took her to doctors who just didn’t know what to call it,” says Andie, referring to her daughter Kelli. “Her weight was ok, and she didn’t binge, but she was throwing up after every meal. I just didn’t know what to do. I finally found someone who specialized in treating eating disorders, and she was able to help Kelli. What a rollercoaster.”
It’s not “sexy” like anorexia, and unlike anorexics, people with this disorder are generally of average weight. And it’s not bulimia there’s no binging.
Kelli has purging disorder, an eating disorder characterized by vomiting after meals. Unlike with its cousin, bulimia, people with purging disorder do not binge prior to purging and generally do not overeat. Other methods of purging include use of laxatives, diuretics or compulsive exercising. While once thought to be relatively rare, we now know that purging disorder is more common than anorexia or bulimia according to eating disorders watch group Anorexia and Related Disorders (ANAD).
University of Iowa researcher Pamela Keel has been studying purging disorder since 2007. “Purging disorder is new in the sense that it has not been officially recognized as a unique condition in the classification of eating disorders. But it’s not a new problem,” Keel said. “Women were struggling with purging disorder long before we began studying it.”
Although Keel and others are certain that purging disorder is a distinct eating disorder, it is currently not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. “The bottom line is there are women out there right now who have this condition, and very little is being done to figure out why they have this problem or how to help them with it,” Keel said.
One common sign of purging disorder is obsession about food, weight and appearance. Kelli, for example, kept detailed records of weight goals and a plan to reach those goals. Other signs of the disorder include going to the bathroom after eating, and use of laxatives or diuretics, swollen (chipmunk) cheeks, broken blood vessels in the eyes, and calluses on the knuckles.
Purging disorder has health risks similar to bulimia. These include dehydration, electrolyte imbalances (which can lead to heart problems), anemia, low blood pressure, irregular heart beat, and dental problems. People with the disorder are frequently fatigued, one of the side effects of purging. Purging can also lead to anxiety and depression.
If you think that you have purging disorder, please seek help. There are a number of resources that can help.