Claim: Sorority house plumbing was destroyed by the stomach acids of bulimic students.
[Collected on the Internet, June 1992]
A sorority house had to have all of its plumming and pipes replaced because they were leaking all over the place. Thing is, the house wasn't that old. The reason: the sorority girls barfed so much in an effort to control their weight that the acids had eroded the plumming.
[Collected via e-mail, July 2007]
A friend of mine mentioned today that pipes at some ballet academies in New York must be changed frequently because of such high frequencies of bullimia and other eating disorders.
Origins: This bit of lore about sorority house plumbing destroyed by the binging and purging of bulimic students has been kicking about for several decades: the oldest print references to it we've so far encountered date ito 1987, and it is likely even older than that. According to this well-traveled tale, the plumbing in various women's housing is under constant assault from the stomach acids of gals looking to lose weight by means of throwing up whatever food they've eaten. Though usually told of sorority houses (which are assumed, for the purposes of this cautionary tale, to be filled with young women obsessed with staying as thin as
possible), the legend has also been applied to other buildings where one could reasonably expect to encounter a large number of women, such as dance academies (as in the second example given above).
Bulimia nervosa, better known as bulimia, is a serious eating disorder. Generally, those who engage in it overeat ("binge"), then seek to rid themselves of the ingested calories by "purging." (Purging, by the way, does not necessarily mean vomiting. It can include any type of attempt to rid the body of that which was dined upon before those foodstuffs are digested, such as overuse of laxatives, enemas, diuretics, severely restrictive dieting, excessive exercising, etc.)
The tale of the destroyed plumbing has been passed along by many over the years. A 1987 news article about a play called "Foodfright" (presented by the Summer Dance Workshop at the University of South Florida in Tampa) said, "So many young dance students at a prestigious school in New York City suffered from bulimia — a disease in which a person forces him or herself to vomit so as to get rid of unwanted calories — that the bathroom plumbing wore out."
Said Caroline Adams Miller, author My Name Is Caroline (1988) and Feeding the Soul (2002), said in a 1993 interview: "Some college sororities are notorious for bulimia and anorexia. I've heard that some houses have plumbing problems because of all the vomiting going on."
A 2000 news article stated: "One local therapist was recently called in to do a seminar for a dorm at a private DC university because the plumbing in one of its toilets had rotted. The same acid from vomit that gives bulimics tooth decay had eaten through the pipes."
In 2004 then-Miss California Veena Goel regaled a middle school audience with her account of how the plumbing in her college sorority house had to be replaced because stomach acid from all the girls with eating disorders had eaten through the metal pipes.
As to whether any actual plumbing systems have been destroyed by the digestive juices of bulimic girls, we can't say. The legend is perhaps better viewed as warning to those who might be tempted to try this very damaging method of weight loss, something intended to get them to think about what regurgitated stomach acids might do to their throats and teeth.