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Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa: What’s The Difference?


Two of the eating disorders that are the most renowned are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. They’re both serious mental illnesses with potentially life-threatening consequences. So, what’s the difference between them? Anorexia nervosa is characterised by an intense fear of gaining weight, leading to restrictive eating and severe weight loss.

Bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, is characterised by episodes of binge eating followed by purging (self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives). Both of these disorders can cause serious physical and psychological consequences. Read on to know more in detail about anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa, often referred to simply as anorexia, is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterised by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. People with anorexia typically see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. These people tend to diet and exercise excessively, almost to the point that they might end up harming their health.

Anorexia is more than just a teenage phase or a diet gone too far. It’s a serious, long-term illness that can have devastating consequences on a person’s physical and mental health. With treatment and support, however, many people with anorexia go on to lead happy and healthy lives.

Causes, symptoms and consequences of anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that can have a devastating impact on both physical and mental health. It is characterised by a severe restriction of food intake, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image. People with anorexia are so over-conscious about how they look that they often see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight.

The causes of anorexia are not fully understood, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Anorexia often begins in adolescence or young adulthood and is more common in females than males. It is also more common in people who have a family history of eating disorders or mental illness. 

The symptoms of anorexia include severe weight loss, preoccupation with food and weight, extreme exercise regime, and unhealthy behaviours such as self-induced vomiting and the use of laxatives.

The consequences of anorexia can be very serious and include malnourishment, organ damage, electrolyte imbalances, heart problems, and even death.

Treatment of anorexia

There are a variety of treatments for anorexia, depending on the severity of the condition. In milder cases, outpatient therapy may be sufficient. This typically involves meeting with a therapist weekly to discuss your eating habits and any related issues.

In more severe cases, inpatient treatment may be necessary. This involves staying at a residential facility where you will receive 24-hour care. You will work with a team of professionals to help you develop healthy eating habits and address the underlying causes of your eating disorder.

Treatment for anorexia is often long-term, and relapses are common. However, with treatment, most people can eventually recover from this condition.

What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which episodes of binge eating are followed by purging. This might be done through self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, laxatives or diuretics. Bulimia nervosa is a serious mental illness that can have life-threatening consequences.

Causes, symptoms and consequences of bulimia nervosa

The person with bulimia nervosa may feel out of control during a binge episode and may try to use purging as a way to try to control their weight. Purging can include self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or diuretics, and excessive exercise.

There is no single cause of bulimia nervosa. Rather, it is the result of a combination of all three- biological, psychological, and social factors. Individuals with bulimia nervosa may have a genetic predisposition to the disorder, which can be triggered by dieting or other environmental factors. Psychological factors that may contribute to bulimia nervosa include low self-esteem, perfectionism, and difficulty coping with stress. Social factors that may play a role include pressure to be thin (from the media or peer groups), trauma or abuse, and difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships.

The most common symptom of bulimia nervosa is engaging in binge eating and purging behaviours regularly. Other symptoms may include:

  • Continuous preoccupation with food and weight
  • Finding oneself feeling like they cannot control themselves during a binge episode
  • Using purging behaviours as a way to cope with binge episodes
  • Experiencing shame or guilt after bingeing and purging
  • Suffering from physical consequences of purging, such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, or gastrointestinal problems

The consequences of bulimia nervosa can be serious and even life-threatening. Bulimia nervosa can lead to electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and problems with the digestive system. Bulimia nervosa can also lead to anxiety and depression. 

Treatment of bulimia nervosa

There are a variety of treatments available for bulimia nervosa, and the most effective approach depends on the individual. Common treatments include psychotherapy, medication, and nutrition counselling.

Psychotherapy is often used to help people with bulimia nervosa understand and change the thoughts and behaviours that contribute to their disorder. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is one type of psychotherapy that is particularly helpful in treating bulimia nervosa. CBT helps people identify and correct distorted thinking patterns and develop healthy coping skills.

Medication can also prove to help treat bulimia nervosa eating disorder. Antidepressants are often prescribed to help reduce bingeing and purging behaviours as well as improve mood and appetite. Nutrition counselling can help people with bulimia nervosa develop healthy eating habits and achieve a balanced diet.

Anorexia and bulimia nervosa: what’s the difference?

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are both eating disorders that can have devastating consequences. Although they share some similarities, there are also important differences between the two conditions.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by starving oneself and undergoing excessive weight loss because one may feel that they are overweight and obese. People with anorexia often have a distorted view of their body weight and shape, thinking they are overweight even when they are dangerously thin. They are obsessed with counting their calories and exercising excessively. Anorexia may prove to be fatal if not treated properly and on time.

Bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, is an eating disorder in which a person binge eats followed by purging. People with bulimia consume large amounts of food in a short period (bingeing), then get rid of the calories through vomiting, laxative use, or over-exercising (purging). Like anorexia, bulimia can also have serious health consequences if left untreated.

If you find yourself or someone that you know struggling with any of the above-mentioned eating disorders, seek professional help as soon as possible. There are a variety of treatment options available, and with treatment, most people with an eating disorder can eventually recover.


Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are eating disorders that are very well-known and common. However, even though they may seem the same, there are some key ways in which they differ. It’s important to be aware of both conditions so that you can better understand how to treat them. If you find that you or someone you know is struggling with these eating disorders, seek professional help immediately, because this condition is complex yet curable.

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