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"Purging" is another term for inducing vomiting — or throwing up on purpose. While most people are aware that this is generally a bad idea, some are nonetheless on the look-out for ways to facilitate this process and make it easier.

Why do people purge or induce vomiting?

Purging food is most commonly associated with bulimia nervosa. This eating disorder is characterized by periods in which the sufferer loses control over their eating and engages in binge-eating, frequently consuming large numbers of calories in short amounts of time. These binges are followed by a period of guilt, shame, and regret. The person wants to rid themselves of the calories they took in, and may do so by exercising excessively, using laxatives, using enemas, or inducing vomiting.

Purging disorder is another eating disorder, in which sufferers also purge — in all the same ways — in a bid to lose weight or prevent weight gain. This eating disorder is different in that it does not feature periods of binge eating.

Induced vomiting isn't always a sign of an eating disorder, however. Some people do it for spiritual reasons. Kunjal Kriya is, for instance, a yoga technique in which a person drinks large amounts of saline water on an empty stomach to later purge it. The practice is considered to be cleansing, and some (inconclusive) research even suggests in can have health benefits, such as strengthening the respiratory muscles.

Another reason to induce vomiting would be after consuming food that has gone bad, or after ingesting something poisonous. This last one seems like the only health-conscious reason to do so — your body may do it all by itself, after all.

Finally, some people who feel really nauseous and are sure that they need to vomit but it just doesn't seem to be happening may want to induce vomiting so they can feel better afterwards. This may be the case for someone who is suffering from a virus, or is pregnant.

Long-term consequences of regular induced vomiting

Purging, or induced vomiting, may irritate the esophagus, cause heartburn, cause dental problems, lead to an upset stomach, and even destroy the lining of your digestive tract. People who purge frequently can also develop severe nutritional deficiencies, with all the consequences that accompany them. They may begin feeling weak and unhealthy.

Should I induce vomiting after ingesting a poison?

This one kind of makes sense, and even doctors used to advise it. It is why many people, especially parents of young children, used to keep ipecac — a substance that reliably induces vomiting — around the house. This advice is no longer valid, however, and for good reason. Some poisons damage all the tissues they encounter, and that holds true not just for "the way down", but also "the way out". By inducing vomiting, you could inadvertently do even more damage. Instead, people who (think they) have ingested a poison, or whose child or someone else in their care has done so, should call poison control for further instructions. If they advise you to induce vomiting, that would be one scenario in which you can go ahead and do so.

How to purge food

Ipecac works. Sticking a finger down your throat, sometimes repeatedly, also works. Drinking salty water — or even copious amounts of normal water — can also do the trick, though you may have to consume a lot before you're finally able to throw up. Everyone knows that vomiting can be very uncomfortable and painful, and purging isn't the most pleasant experience. This should tell you that it's best not to do it.

We wouldn't blame anyone who is sure that they're going to vomit anyway, because they're sick or pregnant, or even because they, for instance, consumed pork by accident but are Muslim, for wanting to get it over with — the experience can bring relief and help you feel better.

However, it would be medically irresponsible for anyone to recommend this practice, and you certainly do not want to do it on a regular basis. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, we would strongly recommend that you seek diagnosis and treatment. If you have ingested a poison or think you may have, there's only one sane bit of advice — get in touch with poison control right away, and if you don't have the number or no poison control center is available where you live, call emergency medical services instead.

Inducing vomiting is, on the whole, a bad idea that can have serious negative consequences.

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