Differences Between Anorexia and Bulimia

Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, are conditions related to distorted body image and unhealthy ideas about eating. You should know the differences between them to be able to tackle them successfully.
Differences Between Anorexia and Bulimia

Last update: 29 March, 2021

Eating disorders are a problem that keeps any parent or educator alert. Among them, we must especially highlight anorexia and bulimia as two of the most concerning conditions. They both cause great discomfort to those who suffer from them.

It’s not easy to know the difference between them since both disorders are often confused. However, although they may seem to be the same, the truth is that both the symptoms and the treatment will be different depending on each one.

If you think someone close to you has unhealthy behaviors towards food, you should be alert in case they’re developing an eating disorder. These eating disorders aren’t easy to recognize. However, knowing the differences between anorexia and bulimia will help clear things up.

Is it anorexia or is it bulimia?

Both anorexia and bulimia are eating disorders. Essentially, these types of disorders are characterized by excessive worrying about physical perception as well as body distortion.  Also, there’s an irrational fear of gaining weight.

The difference between them is especially noticeable in the behaviors and efforts made to lose weight. Therefore, you should watch out for strange behaviors or sudden changes in physical appearance. Next, we’ll dive into both disorders to understand them better.

What is anorexia?

As experts say, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that’s characterized by restricting the quantity and quality of food that’s eaten. In other words, people diagnosed with anorexia go to great lengths to eat as little food as possible.


As a consequence, people who suffer from anorexia always have an underweight body mass index. This is very helpful in both identifying and diagnosing the disorder.

The consequences it has on physical health are different for each condition. In the case of anorexia, they are:

  • Absence of menstruation.
  • Bradycardia, (slow heart rate).
  • Dryness of the skin.
  • Low tension and body temperature.
  • Significant loss of muscle mass and bone mass.

Finally, an important difference from bulimia is the notion of thinness. People who suffer from anorexia associate thinness with personal fulfillment. That means that every pound they lose is very important to them.

What is bulimia?

For its part, the Argentine Society of Pediatrics explains that bulimia refers to the lack of control over the impulse to eat. People with bulimia binge to relieve feelings of anxiety. However, afterward, they feel guilty so they purge to lose weight. For example, they vomit and they use laxatives and diuretics.

As regards their look, the weight of people who suffer from bulimia changes a lot. Nevertheless, the idea is the same as in that of anorexia: to look as thin as possible.

On the other hand, the long-term consequences of this disorder on physical health are the following:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias.
  • Significant reduction in potassium levels.
  • Dehydration.
  • Loss of tooth enamel caused by the acidity in vomit.
  • Calluses on the hands.

Lastly, another difference is that people who suffer from bulimia relate thinness with happiness. This means that thinness is a means to an end, which is to be happy. It’s not a goal in itself, as it is in anorexia.

Detect anorexia and bulimia

You don’t have to be a health expert to see certain behaviors or attitudes that indicate an eating disorder. You just have to pay attention to how the person eats. Also, it’s very important to listen to their concerns about how they say they look.

If you deal with people who are diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, you should treat them with empathy and understanding. It’s not easy to go through a situation like this. What these people need most are supportive figures they can trust. Trying to blame them is not only unfair but also increases discomfort and negative behaviors in people who suffer from them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Almenara, C. (2003). Anorexia nerviosa: una revisión del trastorno. Revista de neuro-psiquiatria, 66(1), 52-62.
  • Rava, M. F., y Silber, T. J. (2004). Bulimia nerviosa (Parte 1): Historia. Definición, epidemiología, cuadro clínico y complicaciones. Archivos argentinos de pediatría, 102(5), 353-363.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.