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Anorexia vs. Bulimia

June 10th, 2020


Eating Disorders Defined

Eating disorders are common, quite common in fact. According to the Mirasol Recovery Centers, it is estimated that eating disorders affect 10-15% of the American population.

Eating disorders are very serious emotional and behavioral disorders. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders generally use food intake as a source of control. It may be a distraction from reality or a means of self-control when surrounded by chaos. Eating disorders should not be taken lightly. Often times they start off subtle and can go unnoticed by others, or even by the individual themselves. As time progresses the disease can descend and turn into a very serious, sometimes fatal, disease.

The term “eating disorders” is essentially an umbrella term for a variety of emotional food intake-related diseases. The most commonly known types of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa

It is important to understand the meanings, similarities, differences, and relationships to other mental health issues. Most importantly, it is critical to know how to overcome both anorexia and bulimia.

Anorexia Nervosa

A woman with tape that says food crossed out over her mouth

In its most simplistic definition, anorexia is essentially the act of refusing to eat. People who suffer from anorexia:

  • Avoid food
  • Deny food
  • Avoid social settings, especially when eating is a part of the event
  • Become scarcely thin, sometimes to the point of hospitalization
  • Are in denial that they are thin
  • Are most likely also suffering from body dysmorphic disorder
  • Develop ritualistic practices with the food that they do consume
    • Measuring quantities of food with a scale
    • Calorie counting
    • Will only eat specific foods, or from specific food groups
    • Will only eat what they prepare themselves

Bulimia Nervosa

A woman eating a pizza while sitting on the bathroom floor next to the toilet

Bulimia can sometimes be harder to notice or catch, than anorexia; at least to the visible eye. This can be said because people who are bulimic can appear to be at a normal weight. Simply put, bulimia is the act of binging on large quantities of food and then purging. Those who suffer from bulimia:

  • Eat large quantities of food in short periods of time
  • Typically purge the food shortly after eating it by:
    • Use of forced vomiting
    • Use of laxatives
    • Excessive exercise habits
  • Appear to be of a normal weight, can even appear to be a bit overweight
  • The disease is considered to be quite secretive due to the fact that in public and in social settings these individuals appear to eat normal, if not greater than normal, portions
  • Excessive consumption habits
  • Repetitive and unhealthy cycle of binging and purging habits

What is Similar Between Anorexia & Bulimia?

A large plate with a single pea on it

There is a lot of similarities between individuals suffering from anorexia and bulimia. As a generalized look at the similarities, they both:

  • Are emotional disorders centered around using (or not using) food as a means of control and coping
  • Affect people who feel that their lives are out of control
  • Suffer from body image issues

As with all disorders, there are both emotional and physical symptoms that are experienced. When it comes to similarities, more can be found emotionally.

Emotional Toll Similarities

Some of the emotional symptoms that these two diseases share include:

  • Moodiness
  • Irritability
  • Short temper
  • Insecurities
    • Physical image
    • Being judged by others
  • Little to no interest in being in public or social settings
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family, and coworkers
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-worth
  • Feelings that life is too chaotic and out of control

How are They Different?

Although both anorexia and bulimia are both types of eating disorders, and they can even overlap, there are also some differences. As a generalized glance regarding the differences:

  • Anorexia nervosa does NOT involve eating
  • Bulimia nervosa involves eating, and then purging

As mentioned above, with all disorders there are both emotional and physical symptoms that are experienced. When it comes to the differences between anorexia and bulimia, more can be found physically.

Physical Toll Differences

As a comparison, listed below are the physical outcomes and complications associated with each of these two diseases:

  • Anorexia
    • Very thin physique
    • Issues with menstruation
      • Irregularities
      • No period at all
    • Gastrointestinal issues
      • Constipation
      • Stomach aches
    • Low blood pressure
    • Insomnia
    • Low vital signs
    • Dehydration
    • Heart problems
  • Bulimia
    • Normal weight, even overweight
    • Regular vomiting practices can increase acid reflux which can:
      • Damage teeth
      • Decays tooth enamel

The Mental Health Overlap

A woman sadly staring at her plate with a single piece of broccoli

People suffering from either of the discussed eating disorders are most likely also suffering from other mental health issues. Due to whatever chaos, distractions, events, or stressors are present in the person’s life, any of the following mental health risks could be impacting an individual to the point of dealing with an eating disorder:

  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Abuse
    • Physical
    • Emotional
    • Sexual
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Dealing with gender confusion
  • Coping with relationship issues

In some cases, the eating disorder may precede other mental health concerns or vice versa. It’s like the saying “What came first? The chicken or the egg?”. Regardless of what issue came before the other, it is important to find ways to get your mental and physical health under control.

Seek Help Now!

Due to the complications and risks associated with suffering from an eating disorder, it is crucial to find help for yourself, or someone you may know who is suffering, immediately. Reach out to a licensed professional who specializes in eating disorders to help fight this disease before it can get worse!

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