At least 30 million people suffer from eating disorders in the US, and anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are perhaps the most well known. Understand the difference between anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, and although the conditions share many similarities there are some clear differences between the two.
People with anorexia strive to deliberately lose lots of weight.
Individuals with anorexia often have very low self-confidence or self-esteem and place a great deal of self-worth in their weight. They might believe that being thinner will make them happy, and they may experience body dysmorphia where they see themselves as bigger than what they are.
It's also common for individuals to frequently weigh themselves, check their body measures and examine their body in the mirror. Fear of gaining weight is very common in individuals with anorexia.
Anorexia can cause a wide range of problematic effects on the body, and sufferers may experience many physical symptoms.
With bulimia nervosa, the main symptom is routinely binge eating and subsequently purging - by vomiting or taking laxatives - to rid food from the body. Like anorexia, bulimia tends to cause sufferers to develop obsessive behaviors around foods, and they often feel low self-esteem in regards to their body weight.
However, while people with anorexia tend to try to eat very small amounts, those with bulimia often eat large quantities of food even if they do not feel hungry. Often it is very calorie-dense foods that they choose, and it's not uncommon to feel out of control over the quantity of what is eaten. Sometimes binges are planned and others are spontaneous.
After episodes of overeating, individuals with bulimia purge the food from their body in an attempt to redeem feelings of guilt or regret and to avoid gaining weight. Like those with anorexia, people with bulimia tend to suffer from an intense fear of putting on weight.
Purging may occur in the form of vomiting or using laxatives to try to force food to move through the body quickly. These are the most common methods, but some may use diet pills, excessively exercise, adopt strict diet regimes or fast.
Although some of these techniques are also used by those with anorexia, the key difference with bulimia is that binges and purges or restrictions tend to be cyclical rather than ongoing. Individuals tend to worry that they are overweight and may set strict rules about their diet or exercise regime which they struggle to maintain. This leads to a compulsion to binge eat foods which have been restricted. Then, feelings of guilt, shame or self-hatred instigate the urge to purge and return to restricting to avoid weight gain.
Long-term anorexia can cause significant and sometimes permanent physical effects on the body.
Bulimia shares some long term complications with anorexia, namely absent or irregular periods, hair loss and poor skin health, and an increased risk of heart problems.
Routine purging, particularly vomiting, can also lead to complications.