Difference Between Anorexia and Bulimia

Eating disorders are serious conditions that primarily affect young women, but they can also inflict individuals of all genders and age. Forms of the disorder include anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The first occurs when a person starves him/her self while the other involves binge eating, vomiting or starvation. While a person’s motivation behind the two are often similar, there is a difference between them.

Difference Between Anorexia and Bulimia


Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa

What Is It?

Fear of weight gain is the major cause of this eating disorder. In order to prevent gaining weight, the person will avoid eating altogether.

Fear of weight gain causes a person to overeat and then vomit in order to purge him/her self of the food.

Typical Age of Onset

Younger teenager.

Older teenager.

Physical Symptoms

Unnatural body shape and drastically underweight; deterioration; physical weakness; no menstruation; organ dysfunction; lightheadedness; memory loss and so forth.

May maintain normal growth but may also be underweight; deterioration; physical weakness; no menstruation; organ dysfunction; lightheadedness; memory loss; extreme dental deterioration and so forth.

Relationship to Food

Follows a strict diet, fasts or avoids eating altogether. Very secretive about eating rituals and practices.

Follows a cycle of binge eating and then purging by vomiting the food up after eating or taking laxatives to rid body of food.

Who Is Affected?

Anorexia nervosa affects about 1% of all young women and teenage girls. Although females are primarily affected by the disorder, up to 10% of sufferers are male. This illness has historically been predominated in the affluent of the Western culture with no discrimination in terms of socioeconomic status.

Bulimia nervosa has very similar symptoms as anorexia nervosa but the difference between anorexia and bulimia is body weight. Sufferers of this disorder are often at normal body weight. This illness affects about 5% of women from 15 to 35 years old from Western countries. As much as 19% female students claim symptoms of the disorder.

More About Anorexia Nervosa

Diagnostic Criteria

  • Although underweight, still fears getting fat or gaining any weight at all.
  • Rejects any efforts to maintain normal body weight based on height and age.
  • In menstruating females, absence of period for 3 straight cycles.
  • Distorted body shape, weight and perception of own body.

How Does It Affect Your Body?

If you suffer from anorexia nervosa, you may experience chapped lips, excessive growth of fine body hair, easy bruising, loss of muscle, weak fingernails, lightheadedness and fainting, reduced bone density, kidney stones, poor circulation resulting in feeling cold or pins and needles, purplish extremities, headaches, kidney failure, dehydration, iron deficiency, hypotension, lack of libido, hypothermia, stunted growth, retention of fluid, puffiness, zinc deficiency, vitamin deficiencies, lowered immunity and white blood cells and disrupted thyroid metabolism.


Although a sufferer of this disorder often denies there is a problem, the patient knows inside that she has serious illness. She will deny treatment, which will cause frustration for friends and family. Treatment consists of several different strategies, either inpatient or outpatient.

  • Weight Gain: It is vital a patient gains weight as the effects of starvation can be devastating to the body if not remedied. It is very important for not only medical staff but also for family and friends to encourage the sufferer. If starvation is severe, eating monitoring may be needed along with hospitalization. Nutritional guidance should be given, so the patient understands how to eat and prepare regular and balanced meals.
  • Psychotherapy: Counseling in cognitive behavior gives patients the ability to deal with negative thoughts about their body image. Dissatisfaction on how they look, low self-esteem or weak family and friend relationships add to the psychosocial concerns linked to anorexia nervosa. Improving a patient’s perception and outlook will greatly assist in their treatment and healing.
  • Medication: Because a sufferer of this disorder is preoccupied with and overly concerned about body weight, some antidepressants have been found helpful in this area.

More About Bulimia Nervosa

Diagnostic Criteria

  • Consistent occurrences of binge eating
  • Binge eating for at least two months on an average of twice a week
  • Regular practices of behaviors that deter weight gain through vomiting, a strict diet, vigorous exercise regime or excessive use of laxatives
  • Judges oneself harshly on body weight and shape

How Does It Affect Your Body?

There is some significant difference between anorexia and bulimia in this respect. When you suffer from bulimia, you may experience damage to your digestive system, intestinal and stomach ulcers, injury to your throat, stomach and esophagus, ruptured stomach or esophagus, dental erosion, low potassium levels, constipation, dehydration, excessive dental decay, back pain, bloating, swollen cheeks and salivary glands, constant sore throat, hoarseness, puffy extremities, broken eye blood vessels, scars or calluses on hands, stomach pains and sometimes extreme fluctuation in weight although bulimia sufferers often keep it around the normal range.


Treatment of bulimia is usually a combination of several treatment options. However, you can use them separately once you feel comfortable. Your doctor can explore options with you, as well as prescrib any warranted medications.

  • Psychotherapy. Group therapy, as well as individual, has been shown to be highly successful in the treatment of bulimia. The goal of the treatment is to change the way a patient thinks about their body and food. Therapy lasts between 3 to 4 months with a therapist.
  • Medication. The only antidepressant approved for the treatment of bulimia is a drug called Prozac. Other medications are occasionally prescribed, at the discretion of the doctor.
  • Nutritional counseling. Nutritional counseling is an important part of the treatment of bulimia. A counselor can provide diet and meal recommendations for maintaining a healthy diet.

The treatment of bulimia on average takes about six months, but can take longer if there are other issues like substance abuse or family relationship problems.

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