Anorexia nervosa “restricters” who purge: Implications for subtyping anorexia nervosa



It has not been clear from earlier studies whether it is binge eating per se or the compensatory behaviors frequently associated with binge eating (i.e., self-induced vomiting and/or laxative abuse) that provide the most relevant marker for subclassifying anorexia nervosa. The current study addressed this question by comparing the clinical and psychological features of three groups of anorexia nervosa patients: “pure restricting” patients who do not binge (by definition) and who also do not purge (AN-R, N = 116); “restricting-purging” patients who engage in purging behavior (AN-RP, N = 74); and anorexia nervosa “bulimics” who binge eat as defined in earlier studies (AN-B, N = 190). While all three groups displayed similar levels of psychological disturbance on many variables, the overall pattern of findings indicates that the AN-RP group displays significantly more psychopathology than the AN-R group and their profile of disturbance is very similar to that observed with the AN-B group. Thus, anorexia nervosa patients who purge, regardless of whether or not they report objective binge episodes, may be meaningfully distinguished from nonpurging patients. These results, combined with the medical risks associated with purging behaviors and the formidable problems associated with the definition of binge eating, support a sub-typing system for anorexia nervosa based on the presence or absence of purging rather than binge eating. © 1993 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.