Does throwing up make you lose weight?

To most people, the answer to this question seems obvious. If you throw up the food you eat then you’re going to lose weight, right?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s wrong.

The fact is that ultimately, throwing up does not help you to lose weight, and that actually, over time, it could cause you to gain weight.

Shocking, I know. But in reality, the theory that throwing up after eating helps you lose weight is just another common misconception that we desperately need to raise awareness of.

While it is true that sometimes when you first start to throw up you can experience initial weight loss, it’s so important to realize that this is usually due to dehydration and is almost always impossible to sustain.

The first time I learned the surprising facts about self-induced vomiting I found them difficult to accept. After all, I’d been bulimic for over a decade, convinced that purging was allowing me to maintain my weight, certain that my weight would balloon out of control if I stopped. But I was wrong.

Now, as a recovered bulimic I may seem a little biased, so I don’t just want you to just take my word for it, instead, let’s take a look at some solid scientific facts.   

What researchers have to say…

In a study conducted at the Pittsburgh Human Feeding Laboratory, 18 bulimic women were asked to binge and vomit as they normally would, while the calories they consumed were carefully monitored. 

After vomiting, researchers calculated the number of calories purged and compared it to the number of calories eaten. They discovered that while the average binge consisted of 2131 calories, the women only managed to purge an average of 979 calories by vomiting.

So even if you believe you’re throwing up all the food you eat, the chances are that your body will retail at least 50% of the calories consumed.

This study is not a one-off either, countless scientific research studies have proven that all methods of purging are highly ineffective at removing calories from the body.

Two more reasons why throwing up won’t help you lose weight…

  1. Firstly, when your body realizes that your food is being restricted (vomiting has a similar effect to restricting) your metabolism lowers and you quickly convert the calories you do absorb into fat stores.
  2. Secondly, throwing up causes binge urges to skyrocket, meaning you’re likely to consume more food than ever.

Throwing up just a couple of times can and does lead to full-blown bulimia.

It’s important to understand that the process of vomiting after eating quickly becomes an incredibly addictive process. Although you may convince yourself that you are in control at first, it is not something that you will simply be able to stop at will. Brain imaging scans show that we actually react in the same way to bingeing and purging as we would if we were to take heroin!

So right now, whether you are already bulimic, experience urges to vomit after sessions of uncontrollable eating or are perhaps considering throwing up in an attempt to lose weight, you owe it to yourself to embrace the true facts about throwing up and weight loss.

Over time bulimia leads to weight gain…

A new study conducted by researchers at Drexel University and published in the International journal of Eating Disorders in May 2012 found that the majority of people with bulimia reach their HIGHEST EVER BODY WEIGHT after developing their eating disorder and regardless of the presence of purging behaviors. 

In fact weight gain caused by bulimia can be “so dramatic” that lead researcher Dr. Shaw suggests people with bulimia have a much better chance of maintaining a healthy weight by learning how to normalize their eating behaviors and by developing healthy weight control skills. 

“What happens to your weight during bulimia recovery?”

It is likely that you’ll experience some weight fluctuations during recovery and it’s important to be prepared for this. 

  • During the first 2-6 weeks of recovery you can expect to experience bloating as your body rehydrates and gets used to digesting food properly again.  This bloating can cause the number on the scale to increase but it is important to know this is not a sign you’re gaining fat. 
  • After this, weight fluctuations can continue for around 6 months (sometimes a little longer if you’re still experiencing relapses at that stage). So your weight can be changeable for a while until your body finds its natural healthy set point weight. 
  • If you’re underweight at the start of recovery you need to be prepared to gain some “needed” weight.
  • If you’re overweight at the start of recovery you’ll likely lose some weight during recovery, although weight loss tends to be very gradual and you may still experience those fluctuations to begin with. 
  • If you’re within the “normal” weight range for your height and build then the chances are that you will end up at a very similar weight once you are recovered, but again you’ll likely experience some weight fluctuations at first. 
  • Research shows that bulimics who are in the healthy weight range before recovery and who then go on to adopt regular eating patterns end up within 1kg of where they started, with some even losing weight.
  • Recovery will NOT cause very rapid and un-needed weight gain.
  • Recovery will enable you to maintain your healthy weight for life, without even trying!
 

Now I know what you’re thinking. 

If this really was true for most people then why is it so common to see questions like, “Why have I gained so much weight in bulimia recovery?” To answer this, let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why people gain weight when recovering from bulimia:

5 common reasons for weight gain in bulimia recovery:

1. Mistaking water retention and initial bloating for weight gain

Most people experience “the recovery bloat” at the start of recovery. It can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks while your body rehydrates and adapts to digesting food properly.

2. Being underweight at the start of recovery

Most bulimics are not underweight, but those who are will have to accept some “needed” weight gain.

3. Still being in the earlier stages of recovery

It can take around 6 months for weight fluctuations to stop, so for a time it may look like you’re gaining weight, but this will even out. Weight fluctuations can happen whether you are underweight, at a healthy weight, or overweight, so it is important to be prepared for this. 

4. Struggling with residual binges

People find it harder to stop bingeing may experience greater weight fluctuations at first, but again this is only temporary. Unneeded weight gained in this way will be lost gradually once binges begin to subside. 

And one of the biggest reasons…

5. Continuing to restrict food in recovery

Continued restriction means that your metabolism cannot start working properly, that you’ll be more prone to binge eating and that your body will continue to store anything you do eat as fat, rather than burning it as energy. 

As long as you’re committed to recovery there is nothing to fear!

Take a look at some of the answers our members gave when asked the question, “what happened to your weight when you recovered from bulimia?”

After 2 weeks without b/p after 11 years of struggling with this, I am surprised to find out that I am actually losing weight.”

Whenever I stop throwing up (and at the beginning I always eat huge portions), I start losing weight.”

Because I binged so frequently I developed a lot of belly fat from bulimia but when I started to recover and the binges lessened my body and proportions changed, recovery put me in the best physical shape of my life.”

 I have not gained weight over the last 8 months of recovery

When I realized eating normally was not making me gain weight my mind was blown!”

 

So quitting bulimia without gaining weight may seem like a fairytale, but in truth it is the reality for most people. It’s such a challenge to get through those initial fluctuations but once you do, recovery will enable you to maintain your healthy weight for life!