Bulimia and anorexia nervosa are both serious eating disorders that drastically affect the daily lives of individuals suffering from the disorders. Despite many similarities in cause and effect, these disorders are quite different in practice.
Though some patients with bulimia develop anorexia or a combination eating disorder, anorexia and bulimia have some very basic differences.
Bulimia is the diagnosis given to patients who run through cycles of binging and purging, either in the form of self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, excessive exercise or fasting. Anorexia, on the other hand, is characterized by intense calorie restriction for extended periods of time, often with individuals eating less than 1000 calories a day.
Individuals with bulimia tend to be average or slightly higher than average weight, but the diagnosis doesn’t rely on weight standards. An anorexia diagnosis is given when the individual weights 15 percent less than is healthy for her body. This means that patients with bulimia may appear healthy, while anorexic patients are visibly unhealthy.
Patients with bulimia feel as though they’ve lost control of their body and appetite and as though they must consume large quantities of food. To assuage the guilt and shame, they then purge. Anorexic patients find comfort in the control they can exercise in restricting their eating habits and live with perpetual fear of gaining weight.
Individuals with bulimia and anorexia both often have low self-esteem and poor body image. Patients of both disorders demonstrate an unhealthy obsession with food and appearance, and may go to great lengths to avoid being in situations where they must eat in front of others.
Body dysmorphic disorder is more commonly discussed in conjunction with anorexia, but can also be an underlying cause of bulimia. Generally, anorexics demonstrate an excessive fear of becoming fat or gaining weight, even if they are underweight. Bulimics, on the other hand, often have a more emotional relationship with food, overeating in response to stress or anxiety and then purging out of shame or guilt.
Both patients with bulimia and anorexia may develop compulsive over-exercising disorders. Some bulimics will go through phases of extreme calorie deprivation, temporarily mirroring the behavior of anorexics.
Both disorders have similar treatment options, including:
- Defining healthy weight and eating goals
- Repairing physical damage done by the eating disorder
- Treating psychological issues with therapy or medication once a healthy weight has been attained.
Recognizing the signs of bulimia in loved ones can be difficult, but may be necessary to get them the help they need.