Does Throwing Up Make You Lose Weight?

Girl leaning over a toilet.
  • Self-induced vomiting — or purging — is a harmful, ineffective way to lose weight.
  • Self-induced vomiting poses various risks, including severe esophageal tears, nutritional deficiencies, potassium and chloride imbalances, and dangerous fluid loss, all of which can have serious health consequences.
  • The signs and symptoms of bulimia can be difficult to identify due to the secretive behaviors people with this eating disorder often exhibit.
  • There are more sustainable ways to lose weight, and speaking to a healthcare professional can assist you if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Does throwing up truly lead to weight loss, or is it a dangerous myth masked as a false promise of control? This article answers this question and more. Weight loss often dominates New Year's resolutions in the U.S., reflecting a widespread desire for change.

But in the pursuit of being slim, particularly in industries that stigmatize weight gain, some may dangerously overstep the bounds of healthy dieting and calorie control.

Statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reveal that approximately 28.8 million Americans — that’s 9% of the U.S. population — will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime.

Before resorting to an extreme weight loss strategy like binging and purging, consider the risks – and if these dubious techniques even work. We’ll provide all the essential information on bulimia in this article.

Remember, there are healthier, more sustainable ways to achieve your weight loss goals — and LifeMD can help you get there.

Can Throwing Up Make You Lose Weight?

Vomiting is an ineffective method for weight loss as it does not truly negate the calories you’ve consumed.

Digestion and absorption begin as soon as you start eating, meaning a significant part of a meal is absorbed quickly. This is especially the case for fast-acting sugars like glucose and fructose, which raise blood sugar levels within minutes of consumption.

A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry also revealed that about 50% of calories from a meal can still be retained even after vomiting.

This implies that half of the potential weight gain from a meal is averted, but the other half may still contribute to overall calorie intake.

While vomiting can reduce total calorie retention, it’s an ineffective and harmful method for long-term weight management.

The practice causes numerous health complications, which we will explore later in this article.

Key Point: Do You Lose Calories When You Throw Up?

Vomiting only reduces calorie intake from your most recent meal — it doesn’t affect calories already absorbed from earlier meals. When you vomit, you primarily get rid of water weight rather than food that contains calories.

This distinction highlights why vomiting is not an effective or healthy method for weight management. There are healthier ways to burn calories and lose weight.

What are the Risks of Induced Vomiting?

Self-induced vomiting carries a variety of risks, ranging from minor to potentially life-threatening. The consequences of induced vomiting can include:

  • Mallory-Weiss tear: This is a severe tear in the esophagus resulting from forceful vomiting. It’s a serious condition that can lead to significant bleeding. Research shows that men are 2 to 4 times more prone to developing Mallory-Weis tears than women.

  • Nutritional deficiencies: Frequent vomiting can lead to a lack of essential nutrients in the body. One study showed that deficiencies in manganese, iron, and vitamin D were most common among people with eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.

  • Hypokalemia: This condition is also known as potassium deficiency. Vomiting leads to the loss of stomach acid, which contains a high concentration of potassium. Adequate potassium levels are crucial for heart, brain, and other vital body functions.

  • Hypochloremic alkalosis: This is an electrolyte disturbance caused by an excessive loss of chloride from the body, often resulting from vomiting.

  • Hypovolemia: Throwing up often can lead to a dangerous level of fluid loss — called hypovolemia — that can hinder normal organ function. It can occur due to dehydration from continuous fluid loss during vomiting.

These conditions highlight the serious health implications of self-induced vomiting and why it should be avoided as a weight control method.

Stomach Acid and Throwing Up: What Should I Know?

Stomach acid breaks down food in the stomach, but its corrosive nature becomes harmful when it repeatedly comes into contact with other parts of the body.

When you throw up in an attempt to lose weight, repeated exposure to stomach acid can lead to several serious conditions, such as:

  • Dental damage: Frequent vomiting exposes your teeth to stomach acid, which results in the erosion of dental enamel, increased sensitivity, and tooth decay.

  • Gum disease: The gums are also vulnerable to this acid which can potentially cause irritation and long-term gum disease.

  • Esophageal damage: The esophagus is particularly at risk. Chronic exposure to stomach acid can cause scarring and narrowing (stricture), and may lead to Barrett's esophagus, a precancerous condition.

  • Mouth and lip injuries: Burns and ulcers can develop in the mouth and lips due to the acid's harshness.

What are the Symptoms Associated with Self-Induced Vomiting?

Self-induced vomiting — or bulimia — is not always easy to recognize due to the denial associated with eating disorders.

Individuals who throw up to lose weight are unlikely to readily disclose their disordered eating. The shame and guilt associated with the condition, as well as fear of intervention, can make most people secretive about their daily struggles.

There are, however, certain signs and symptoms you can look out for, including:

  • Sore throat: This is induced by repeated vomiting.

  • Constipation: This can be especially pronounced if laxatives are abused as they disrupt normal bowel function.

  • Weakness and fatigue: This is often a result of nutritional deficiencies and electrolyte imbalances.

  • Gastric acid corrosion complications: This includes dental issues, esophageal damage, and other internal injuries.

  • Abdominal pain: This is a common physical discomfort associated with bulimia.

  • Dry skin: Skin dryness may occur due to dehydration and nutritional deficiencies.

  • Tooth decay: Damage to teeth can be caused by frequent exposure to stomach acid during vomiting episodes.

  • Russell's sign: Sometimes called “bulimia knuckles,” this condition is characterized by calluses on the knuckles which result from the teeth hitting the knuckles during self-induced vomiting to stimulate the gag reflex.

What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Self-Induced Vomiting?

Understanding the risk factors of bulimia can help in both prevention and treatment. The potential contributors include:

  • Genetic predisposition and family history: A family history of eating disorders may indicate a genetic predisposition, increasing the likelihood of developing bulimia.

  • Challenging childhood experiences: Difficulties in childhood, such as family instability or parental issues (including alcohol abuse), can play a significant role in the onset of bulimia.

  • Preexisting mental health conditions: Mental health issues can both be risk factors for developing bulimia and the consequences of the disorder. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, or stress-related disorders often overlap with eating disorders.

Who is most at risk of developing bulimia?

Certain demographics and backgrounds have been identified as having a higher risk of developing bulimia.

In addition to the risk factors mentioned above, individuals who fall into one or more of the following categories also have an increased risk of experiencing this eating disorder:

  • Women (about 90% of bulimia cases occur in females)

  • People between the ages of 15–29

  • Individuals who’ve been diagnosed with other eating disorders

How is Bulimia Diagnosed?

Like most mental health issues, bulimia is diagnosed by healthcare professionals based on criteria from the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition).

There isn't a specific blood test or scan to definitively diagnose bulimia, but tests can rule out other causes or symptoms and assess complications. The DSM-5 criteria for bulimia diagnosis include:

  1. Binge eating behavior: Consuming significantly more food than most would in two hours, with a lack of control during these episodes.

  2. Efforts to prevent weight gain: Following eating episodes with compensatory behaviors to counteract weight gain.

  3. Frequency: These episodes occur at least weekly for three months.

  4. Self-evaluation: Excessive influence of body shape and weight on self-assessment.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Determining the right time to seek treatment for an eating disorder can be challenging, as it often requires self-awareness and acknowledgement of the problem.

If you’ve been throwing up to lose weight, it's essential to seek medical help immediately.

Don’t wait for worsening health conditions if you or someone you know experiences any of the following:

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Signs of internal bleeding (black stools or vomiting blood)

  • Any unexpected physical collapse

  • Unresponsiveness (inability to wake or respond)

Self-Induced Vomiting: How Do I Recover?

Treatment for bulimia is often multifaceted and various healthcare professionals may be involved. Bulimia treatment may include one or more of the following strategies:

  • Professional consultation: Immediate consultation with a healthcare or mental health professional is crucial for early and effective treatment.

  • Mental health evaluation: A thorough evaluation by a healthcare provider is necessary to identify any co-occurring mental health issues.

  • Dental assessment: Seek dental care for any issues like tooth decay or enamel erosion resulting from bulimia.

  • Blood tests: Conduct tests to check for electrolyte imbalances, kidney and liver function, and assess overall physical health.

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): An EKG may be required to monitor heart health if blood tests show electrolyte imbalances.

  • Rehydration: This is essential for individuals with a history of laxative or diuretic misuse, or dehydration from vomiting or excessive exercise.

  • Nutritional guidance: Work with a dietitian for a nutritional assessment and to develop a balanced eating plan.

  • Managing constipation: Address constipation safely by increasing fluid intake, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a high-fiber diet. Use medically supervised laxatives if necessary.

Specific treatment for bulimia nervosa as a mental illness

Treatment for bulimia nervosa focuses on ending binge-purge behaviors and typically combines medication with psychotherapy:


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Fluoxetine (Prozac®), Citalopram (Celexa®), and Sertraline (Zoloft®) are commonly used, but only Prozac® is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of bulimia nervosa.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) are key strategies that can address the psychological and behavioral elements of bulimia.

Where Can I Learn More About Eating Disorders Like Bulimia?

If you're grappling with bulimia or another eating disorder, remember: you're not alone. Don't suffer in silence — reach out to LifeMD today for the support and assistance you deserve.

A team of healthcare professionals can provide you with the guidance and treatments you need to reclaim your health. With our help, you’ll discover healthier, more sustainable weight loss solutions.

Book your appointment today to get started.

Holly Lunsford, APRN, FNP

Holly is an APRN with more than 10 years of experience. She earned her MS with a Family Nurse Practitioner concentration from the University of Memphis. Her extensive healthcare expertise spans across Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care, and Obesity Treatment.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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