Anorexia vs Bulimia – What’s the Difference?


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Even though anorexia and bulimia are increasingly common eating disorders, a lot of people think they are the same, but there are actually some important differences between anorexia and bulimia.


Anorexia is an eating disorder that stems from a distorted body image, emotional trauma, or mental illness like depression and anxiety. People suffering from anorexia will avoid or restrict food intake, have a strong and dangerous fear of gaining weight, and develop a negative or distorted body image. They will also often lie about their food intake, skip meals, talk badly about their bodies or hide them in baggy clothing, avoid situations where they would have to eat or reveal their bodies, and exercise excessively.

A woman sitting in front of a plate with a small portion of vegetables, looking miserable and hungry. Woman with anorexia

The symptoms of anorexia can be divided into emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms. The physical symptoms can be extremely severe and, in some cases, life-threatening. Some of them are:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Insomnia, weakness, and fatigue
  • Constipation and dehydration
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Hair breakage and thinning
  • Dry and yellowing skin and bluish tinge fingers
  • Arrhythmia
  • Brittle nails and fragile bones
  • Muscle weakness

Anorexia also causes emotional challenges like social isolation, low self-esteem and body image, irritability, anxiety, and in the worst cases, severe depression.


Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binge eating and purging. Binge eating is where you eat more food than most people would. While binge eating, most people feel like they cannot stop eating and control how much they eat. At the same time, they may experience feelings of shame and unhappiness.

On the other hand, purging is where you take action to balance out the binge. The action may be vomiting, fasting, using laxatives, and excessively exercising. Bulimia is a severe condition with significant physical symptoms. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Scars on fingers from inducing vomiting
  • Dental problems and sore throat
  • Stomach and gut problems
  • Constant weight fluctuation
  • Mouth sensitivity
  • Bloodshot eyes

Causes of Anorexia and Bulimia

Several factors can cause anorexia and bulimia, among other eating-related disorders. The following are some of the primary causes of anorexia and bulimia.

Genetics and Biology

Specific genes and biological elements increase the risk of developing disorders like anorexia and bulimia. For instance, having a family member with either of these disorders increases your risk of getting it. On the other hand, biological elements like changes in brain chemicals may also play a role in developing these disorders.

Mental Health Problems

Most of these disorders are also directly related to mental health problems. Mental health conditions like drugs and alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety, stress, and mood disorders can increase the risk of these disorders. For instance, depression can cause low self-esteem and negative self-view. This is one of the primary causes of anorexia. It is also worth understanding that eating-related conditions can cause mental health problems. For instance, anorexia can foster anxiety and depression. In simpler terms, mental health problems can either cause or result from eating-related disorders.

Societal Pressure

Societal pressure, especially the pressure to look a certain way or weigh a certain amount, can also cause anorexia, bulimia, and similar disorders. Most of the people who suffer from these conditions have at some point gone through bullying, been teased, or have been exposed to particular cultural messages that cause them to feel insufficient.


Fortunately, both anorexia and bulimia can be treated. The most common treatments for these conditions are:

  • Psychotherapy for the mental or emotional symptoms
  • Nutrition education
  • Medication for the specific disorder
  • General medical care for both physical and mental symptoms of the disorders

The doctor is talking to the girl who has bulimia. Consultation to treat bulimia and anorexia

More often than not, people with bulimia and anorexia can be successfully treated as outpatients. However, in some cases, depending on the severity of the condition, they may have to get in-hospital care.

Anorexia and bulimia are significantly different. However, they are both severe conditions that could result in dangerous outcomes if not treated in time. The best way to get treatment for these conditions is by visiting a qualified medical practitioner as soon as possible.