Those determined to lose weight are often preoccupied with “metabolic mathematics”: calories in must be less than calories out. Purging to lose weight can find its way into a person’s behavior when his or her self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.
You may immediately think of Bulimia Nervosa when you hear “purging.” You may have a mental image of someone gorging painful amounts of food with seemingly no control. Or perhaps you jump to the image of the person kneeling by a toilet to force it all up with a finger down his or her throat.
The DSM-5 contains the American Psychological Association’s revised diagnostic standard for bulimia. But those who use purging to lose weight may suffer the same physical and mental effects common to bulimia without meeting all the diagnostic criteria.
Perhaps the biggest shock to people obsessed with body image is that purging to lose weight can actually result in gaining weight. Even if a person goes straight from binging to purging, the body will have already absorbed most of the calories. Fewer than 50% will be eliminated, leaving the body to process a heavy dumping of unhealthful foods.
The bigger picture of purging to lose weight has less to do with weight and more to do with a laundry list of harmful systemic effects. Here is a condensed list of what the body suffers with repetitive purging.
- Oral and dental effects.
Bad breath will come as no surprise, but the damage to teeth and gums may. Stomach acid can discolor teeth, damage enamel and veneers, and change the shape, size and length of teeth. Teeth can become weakened, translucent, brittle and sensitive. And soft tissue lesions can form on the gums and cheeks.
- Dermatological effects.
It’s important to remember that purging to lose weight deprives the body and harms it. Severe dehydration will show up as pale, dry skin, brittle hair and nails, and even callouses on the hands from forced vomiting.
- Gastrointestinal effects.
Repetitive purging and use of laxatives can lead to laxity of the colon and loss of bowel control. It can also lead to bleeding, reflux, spontaneous vomiting from a relaxed esophagus, and, in extreme cases, gastric or esophageal rupture.
- Endocrine changes.
When the body is dehydrated, the kidneys are forced to recycle whatever is left in the body. That means dirty water and leftover electrolytes. Yuk! Glucose levels and hormone levels get out of balance. Women can experience a disruption in their menstrual cycles, and both men and women can experience infertility.
- Nervous system effects.
Given all the physical effects listed above, it should come as no surprise that mental focus and reasoning ability become hazy.
- Skeletal effects.
Who would think to connect purging to lose weight with the risk of broken bones? The loss of calcium caused by purging can lead to osteopenia or even osteoporosis.
- Cardiovascular risks.
Dehydration causes electrolyte imbalance, and can lead to muscle wasting and weakening of the heart.
- Failed weight loss.
Because of the immediate absorption of calories after eating and the loss of fluid from vomiting, the effort to lose weight can be futile. Water weight may come off, but that means the body is dehydrated, out of balance, and not metabolically healthy. True, sustainable weight loss requires a body that is nourished, not deprived.
When weight loss is viewed only in terms of “calories in, calories out,” the approach to achieving it is largely deprivational. You see the “outside” when you look in the mirror. Your body, however, has an entirely different enterprise operating on the inside, and it needs to be nourished.
It needs nutrients to fuel the fat-loss process and the growth and maintenance of healthy tissue. It needs clean, plentiful water for every function. It needs proper rest. And it needs healthy messages from your mind to support what you are asking it to do.
The SprintSet method is designed to guide the person on a weight-loss journey toward wholeness, not deprivation. When your body “learns” that it can trust you to provide what it needs — physically, nutritionally, emotionally, restoratively — it will naturally release what doesn’t serve it.