For most people, it sounds strange to make yourself throw up. Indeed, self-induced vomiting can produce all sorts of harmful side effects, including dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, digestive disorders, and more.
Yet, if you are one of the 30 million Americans of all ages and genders living with an eating disorder, you may make yourself throw up to lose weight. However, that way of thinking is flawed. Ultimately, when you make yourself vomit, you will not lose weight, and over time, you may actually gain weight.
When your body realizes that food is being restricted through self-induced vomiting, your metabolism lowers and you convert calories into fat stores. Also, when you make yourself vomit, you increase your urge to binge, which means you’ll likely to consume more food than normal.
When you induce vomiting just twice, this can lead to the eating disorder known as bulimia nervosa. Although mental illnesses like eating disorders are more common in younger women in their teens and early 20s, bulimia also occurs in elderly adults. Retirement, physical decline, and the death of a spouse can all trigger an eating disorder in the senior population.
Bulimics may consume thousands of calories at one time, and then induce vomiting to expel the food from the body to prevent weight gain. The person may also use laxatives to prevent the body from digesting food. Self-induced vomiting will lead to sores on the knuckles or fingers, nutritional deficiencies, swollen salivary glands, and digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation. The esophagus or the stomach may rupture, or a potassium deficiency may also lead to heart attack or kidney failure.
On the other hand, there may be situations where the elderly may need to induce vomiting. This is where it is necessary to purge harmful substances from the body, including accidental poisonings as a result of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia medications.
Reasons Not to Make Yourself Throw Up
More often than not, it is best not to make yourself throw up, especially when you eat too much food. Constantly throwing up after overeating can lead to serious health problems over time, and there are several making yourself throw up side effects you need to know about.
If you believe you have ingested a poisonous substance or excess medication, you should contact emergency services or the poison control center, as vomiting may cause more harm than benefit.
1. Your Body Becomes Prone to Vomiting
The human body is very good at adapting to changes. In fact, you can gradually increase your maximum stomach capacity so that you can consume more food in a sitting. However, when you always throw up after overeating, the body will adapt and become prone to involuntary vomiting or throwing up on its own.
As a result, you may find yourself throwing up more without trying. Vomiting may even occur during burping. This is because the muscle that normally prevents vomiting called the gastroesophageal sphincter becomes loose from repeated induced vomiting.
2. Dehydration and Body Fluid Imbalance
When throwing up, you eliminate a significant amount of water, stomach acid, and other important body fluids. This will temporarily create imbalances in most of your fluids until the body adapts and balances your fluids back to normal.
If you do throw up after eating, it is crucial that you consume lots of water afterwards. Dehydration can be a potential side effect as a result.
Water consumption will also help flush away stomach acid remaining in the mouth and esophagus from the vomiting. Dehydration can also negatively affect mental capabilities, digestion, heart functioning, muscle movements, and kidney function.
3. Electrolyte and Nutrient Imbalances
Dehydration can also lead to electrolyte imbalances like low sodium and hypokalemia—also known as low potassium. Symptoms of low potassium include constipation, fatigue, muscle damage, feelings of palpitations or skipped heart beats, abnormal heart rhythms, tingling or numbness, and muscle weakness or spasms.
Electrolyte imbalance can also lead to a higher likelihood of heart failure, heart attacks, and death. Furthermore, self-induced vomiting can lead to nutrient deficiencies in general, which can produce a variety of symptoms like hair loss, lightheadedness, dull skin, and trouble breathing.
4. Tooth Decay
To minimize tooth and gum damage, it is best not to brush after vomiting. Instead, rinse the mouth and wait an hour before brushing.
5. Acid Reflux or Ulcers
GERD symptoms include difficulty swallowing, dry cough, chest pain, a sore throat, a dry cough, a sensation of a lump in the throat, and heartburn that spreads to the throat.
Ulcers will also produce symptoms like appetite loss, increased appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Chronic vomiting will not only worsen acid reflux, but it will also damage the esophagus and lead to life-threatening bleeding.
6. Salivary Gland Problems
Vomiting can increase the size of the salivary glands, and this can lead to swelling of the face and neck area. This swelling is due to the need to retain water and the body having to compensate for fluid loss.
The parotid gland is a particular salivary gland found on both sides of the angle of the jaw that can become enlarged and painful when stimulated by acid in vomit.
7. Throat Problems
Acid exposure to the throat and voice box from self-induced vomiting can result in a swollen and sore throat and hoarse voice. There may also be swollen lymph nodes in the neck and throat pain when talking, swallowing, or breathing.
8. Irregular Menstrual Periods
Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2008 found that teenage girls who vomit one to three times monthly to control weight increase the risk of irregular menstrual periods by 60%. For the study, the researchers analyzed self-reported data from 2,791 girls aged 14 to 19 years old. About 9 percent reported vomiting for weight control once to three times per month.(1)
9. Digestive Problems
Self-induced vomiting can also lead to digestive problems, such as a bloated stomach, diarrhea, and constipation, caused by taking laxatives and altering electrolyte and enzyme levels. When the vomiting has been stopped, the digestive problems usually go away, but this often takes time.
The overuse of diuretics, laxatives, or diet pills can make it difficult to have a bowel movement without using them. At the same time, over-strained bowel movements can lead to hemorrhoids.
Esophageal cancer occurs in the esophagus, but it can occur anywhere along the long, hollow tube. This type of cancer is the sixth most common cancer, and men are more often affected with esophagus cancer than women.
Early stages of esophageal cancer typically produce no symptoms; however, later on, symptoms may include hoarseness, coughing, weight loss without trying, difficulty swallowing, worsening heartburn or indigestion, and chest pain, pressure, or burning.
A study published in the South African Medical Journal in 2006 found that self-induced vomiting was significantly associated with esophageal chronic inflammation in patients who underwent early screening for esophageal cancer.(2)
Self-Induced Vomiting: How to Stop?
How do you stop self-induced vomiting? For people who experience self-induced vomiting, it is important to know that you are not alone. The first and most important step is to seek professional help, such as a medical doctor, therapist, dietitian, or a holistic nutritionist.
These professionals help bulimia patients recover and improve their quality of life. The following is a deeper perspective about what you can do to stop self-induced vomiting:
1. Get Professional Help
The compulsive thought pattern that causes bulimia is a habitual cycle that becomes the person’s new normal. However, getting the proper help from a doctor, therapist, holistic nutritionist, or dietitian, can help shift a person’s behavior and thought pattern.
One of the best treatment methods for bulimia and other eating disorders is called cognitive behavioral therapy, which can also change a person’s negative behavior. It is also beneficial to seek help from family and friends who will listen to you without judgment.
2. Stop the Dieting Mentality
It is best to break the dieting mentality, especially since self-induced vomiting does not result in weight loss, and people with bulimia never end up reaching their weight goals. Dieting is also thought to be one of the biggest causes of binge eating in the first place. Vomiting also gets rid of about 50% of calories consumed while binging.
3. Focus on Happiness Rather than Weight
It is a good idea to explore various ways of being happy without the need to achieve a particular body weight. It is best to shift a patient’s focus away from weight loss and toward holistic health and general happiness. Ideally, recovery will put an emphasis on enjoying social situations, feeling better, and being more relaxed around food.
Self-Induced Vomiting Has Serious Consequences
When you make yourself throw up, it is likely the result of an eating disorder like bulimia. Although self-induced vomiting is sometimes needed in cases of poisoning or a drug overdose, there are serious side effects of throwing up on a regular basis.
Why should you not make yourself throw up? Making yourself throw up side effects include your body relying on vomiting, dehydration, and body fluid imbalances, electrolyte and nutrient imbalances, tooth decay, acid reflux or ulcers, salivary gland problems, throat problems, irregular menstrual periods, digestive problems, and esophageal cancer.
How do you stop self-induced vomiting and related conditions like bulimia? Seek professional help from a therapist or nutritionist, focus on happiness rather than weight, stop the dieting mentality, and get support from friends and family.
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 269-271, 634-645.
Liberty, C., “Does throwing up make you lose weight?” Bulimia Help, Oct. 6, 2009; http://www.bulimiahelp.org/articles/does-throwing-make-you-lose-weight.
“Bulimia Nervosa in the Elderly Adult,” Eating Disorder HOPE, January 27, 2016; https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/bulimia-nervosa-in-the-elderly-adult.
Etherton-Beer, C., “Poisoning among older people with dementia: a wake up call,” International Psychoggeriatrics, November 2015: 1755-1756; https://search.proquest.com/openview/2fa19217783573912da65466fbabda26/1.pdf?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=31252.
“The Dangers & Risks of Self Induced Vomiting,” Food Challenges; http://www.foodchallenges.com/after-the-challenge/dangers-risks-self-induced-vomiting/, last accessed Oct. 18, 2017.
“Self-induced Vomiting,” Cornell Health; https://health.cornell.edu/sites/health/files/pdf-library/self-induced-vomiting.pdf, last accessed Oct. 18, 2017.
Pietrangelo, A., et al., “The Effects of Bulimia on Your Body,” Healthline, Aug. 9, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/health/bulimia/effects-on-body.
Key Statistics for Esophageal Cancer,” American Cancer Society; https://www.cancer.org/cancer/esophagus-cancer/about/key-statistics.html, last accessed Oct. 18, 2017.
“Eating Disorder Statistics,” National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders; http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/, last accessed Oct. 20, 2017.