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What Is the Difference Between Bulimia and Anorexia?

Home » Blog » What Is the Difference Between Bulimia and Anorexia?

Anorexia and bulimia are complex conditions that, if left untreated, can have a catastrophic effect on a person’s life. Being able identify the symptoms of these disorders and understanding what is the difference between bulimia and anorexia can help you get the right type of treatment for yourself or for someone that you care about.

At Peachtree Recovery Solutions, we offer treatment for eating disorders in Atlanta. Call us now at 678-325-7250 or verify your insurance now.

What Is Bulimia and Anorexia?

Before focusing on the difference of these two eating disorders, it’s crucial to understand what each disorder entails.

Facts About Bulimia

Bulimia, which is also referred to as bulimia nervosa, is an eating disorder that involves three maladaptive behaviors: eating binges, compensatory behaviors, and unhealthy self-evaluation. 

  • Eating binges are periods of unrestrained overeating. When a person is in the midst of an eating binge, they will consume much more food than most people would consider to be appropriate. While doing so, they will often feel that they are incapable of controlling themselves.

  • Compensatory behaviors are dangerous attempts to prevent weight gain in the aftermath of an eating binge. Among people who have bulimia, common compensatory behaviors include forcing themselves to vomit, misusing laxatives or diuretics, exercising excessively, and fasting.

  • The unhealthy self-evaluation aspect of bulimia involves placing disproportionate emphasis on weight and body shape. For a person who has bulimia, how much they weigh and how their body looks will be central to their self-esteem – and their shame, guilt, and dissatisfaction with these aspects of themselves will be sources of potentially overwhelming distress.

According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), about 1% of adults in the United States will develop bulimia at some point in their lifetime. The past-year prevalence of this disorder is about five times higher among women than it is among men. 

Facts About Anorexia

Anorexia, or anorexia nervosa, has one of the highest mortality rates of all mental health disorders. The three main characteristics of this condition are extremely limited food intake, an intense fear of weight gain, and skewed self-perception.

  • People who have anorexia will rigidly adhere to highly restrictive diets, to the point that they are basically starving themselves. This will lead to dangerously low weight, which can cause life-threatening complications.

  • The all-consuming fear of gaining weight or being “fat” will compel people with anorexia to continue to engage in highly destructive eating habits, even after it has become abundantly clear that this behavior is jeopardizing their health.

  • No matter how much weight they lose or how thin they become, when someone with anorexia looks at themselves in the mirror, they will see weight-related flaws. For some, this may manifest as continuing to view themselves as generally overweight; for others, their attention may focus on specific body parts that they believe are fat and unflattering.

Underscoring the intense psychological strain that anorexia can put on a person, the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reports that the suicide risk among people with anorexia is 18 times higher than among individuals who do not have an eating disorder.

You are not alone. You deserve to get help.

Peachtree Recovery Solutions is an industry leader in outpatient substance abuse treatment. Our team of top medical experts specialize in dual diagnosis treatment and are committed to ensuring that each patient is treated as an individual. Call us today, we’re available 24/7.

What Is the Difference Between Bulimia and Anorexia?

Now that we’ve established some basic facts about these two eating disorders, let’s turn our attention toward the question that we posed in the headline of this post: What is the difference between bulimia and anorexia?

There’s more than one answer to this question, of course. Here are a few significant differences:

  • Sense of control: During an eating binge, a person who has bulimia will often feel that they have lost control of their eating behaviors. Someone who has anorexia will never experience this phenomenon. Retaining strict control over one’s eating habits is a critical aspect of anorexia.

  • Compensatory behaviors: A person who has anorexia may use vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise as a means of losing even more weight. However, these behaviors are not part of the diagnostic criteria for this condition, as they are with bulimia. 

  • Outward appearance: As a person’s struggles with anorexia persist and intensify, the effects of their eating behaviors will eventually cause obvious changes in their weight and appearance. Someone with bulimia could also experience significant weight loss due to some compensatory behaviors, but this is often offset by the impact of their eating binges.

  • Suicide risk: Both anorexia and bulimia have been associated with significantly elevated suicide rates, but the 18% suicide risk among individuals with anorexia that we noted earlier in this post is more than twice as high as the estimated 7% among those who have bulimia.

How Are Bulimia and Anorexia Treated?

Anyone who exhibits the signs and symptoms of bulimia, anorexia, or any other eating disorder is at risk for myriad negative effects and should be brought to the immediate attention of a qualified healthcare provider.

Optimal treatment for bulimia or anorexia can vary from one person to the next due to an array of individual factors. In general, though, treatment for these conditions typically includes therapy and nutritional education, with many patients also requiring medical support.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can both be beneficial interventions for someone who has bulimia or anorexia. If a person’s struggles with an eating disorder are related to a history of untreated trauma, services such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy may also be essential elements of care. 

In addition to individual and group sessions, family therapy can also be valuable. During family sessions, people who are close to the individual who is receiving care can process how they have been impacted by their loved one’s struggles, and learn how to best support them after their time in treatment has concluded.

Begin Eating Disorder Treatment in Atlanta

Peachtree Recovery Solutions is a trusted provider of compassionate outpatient care for adults whose lives have been impacted by anorexia, bulimia, and other forms of disordered eating. 

At our eating disorder treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, our patients receive customized services and close personal support from a team of skilled and experienced professionals. With our help, you or your loved one can regain control of your thoughts and actions, and begin to live a much healthier and more hopeful life.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.