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Anorexia Nervosa vs. Bulimia: What Are the Differences?

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Disclaimer: This website contains general information relating to various medical conditions. Such information is provided for informational purposes only, and it not meant to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or health care professional. Readers should not use the information provided herein for diagnosing a problem or disease. Readers should always consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional for medical advice or information about diagnosis and treatment.

An estimated 30 million Americans have struggled with an eating disorder. Eating disorders can have very different root causes. Two eating disorders that are commonly confused are anorexia nervosa vs. bulimia.

Both anorexia and bulimia can lead to rapid weight loss. The following article is both an anorexia nervosa guide and a bulimia guide. We'll cover what makes the disorders share in common and don't share in common.

Anorexia Nervosa vs. Bulimia: What's the Difference?

Both bulimia and anorexia are eating disorders. The people who suffer from these disorders often have distorted body images.

Both conditions are characterized by often dangerous food-related behaviors. Those behaviors can lead to rapid weight loss and poor nutrition. While they share some symptoms, the disorders have unique underlying causes.

Anorexia Nervosa

Here is anorexia nervosa explained.

It is a disorder is often caused by a distorted body image, and one that leads to extreme restriction of food ("restriction" refers to not eating, or eating very little). A body distortion can result from anxiety, depression, or some type of emotional trauma. Anorexia allows individuals to regain control over their lives.

Common symptoms of anorexia include weight loss, weakness, and dizziness. Early behaviors that lead to physical symptoms include skipped meals. People with early stages of the eating disorder may start cutting their food into tiny pieces.

Others may begin this disorder by sorting food. Extreme order and small amounts characterize this disorder. Beyond changes in how they eat, individuals with anorexia may begin concealing their bodies with clothes that are overly large.

Behavioral changes of this disorder often include poor self-esteem, increased social isolation, depression, and anxiety. Now that you know what is anorexia nervosa, let's look at another common eating disorder.


Have you wondered, "What is bulimia?" Understanding bulimia begins with a simple definition. Someone with bulimia alternates between extremes of binge eating and an attempt to prevent weight gain.

With purging bulimia, the person with the disorder induces vomiting after binge eating. They may also use medications like laxatives to achieve this effect. With non-purging bulimia, the person engages in extreme exercise (physical activity) to prevent weight gain following a period of binging.

The out-of-control behavior often induces feelings of anxiety. Bulimia can share many of the same symptoms as anorexia.

Common symptoms include drastic weight loss and gain. Acid reflux from vomiting can lead to eroded teeth and swollen gums.

Behavioral symptoms include constant worrying about appearance. They also may include not wanting to eat in front of others and excessive exercise. Emotionally, individuals with this condition may express poor self-esteem.

Whether you have anorexia or bulimia, you should take certain steps when telling your family that you have an eating disorder.

Schedule Your Recovery Coaching Session Today

Now you know the difference between anorexia nervosa vs. bulimia. You can begin taking the next step by seeking help from a recovery coach.

If you believe a loved one has an eating disorder, I can help you prepare to broach the topic with the person you care about. I have personal experience dealing with these disorders.

Schedule your wellness coaching session today.

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