What Are the Differences Between Anorexia and Bulimia?

Girl picking something to eat out of the fridge dealing with anorexia or bulimia

Many people who struggle with an eating disorder may be unsure of the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia and what process they are struggling with. However, it is important to encourage individuals to see a doctor and seek treatment for their disorder if they experience any symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at some of the symptoms and key differences between anorexia and bulimia to better understand and help individuals that may be dealing with these disorders.

Anorexia and Bulimia

Anorexia and bulimia are two types of anxiety disorders that affect an individual’s eating habits and behaviors. The consequences of both conditions are similar, but they have a few differing symptoms. Both disorders are often a result of an individual’s distorted body image which may stem from emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, or some combination thereof. People may also develop eating disorders as a method to lose weight rapidly. Both anorexia and bulimia are highly debilitating disorders and can be fatal in some cases.

What Are Some Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia?

As an example, an individual that has anorexia may experience significant weight loss as a result of eating little, to no, food. Many different emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms can signal anorexia.

Some physical symptoms include:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Thinning and breaking hair
  • Bluish tinge to the fingers
  • Dry, yellowish skin
  • High sensitivity to cold
  • Amenorrhea, or absence of menstruation
  • Arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat

Behavioral changes that may take place before the physical changes include:

  • Skipping meals
  • Dishonesty regarding how much food they’ve eaten
  • Eating only certain “safe,” usually low-calorie, foods
  • Adopting unusual eating habits, such as sorting food
  • Saying negative things about their body
  • Trying to hide their body with baggy clothes
  • Avoiding social eating
  • Social isolation
  • Avoiding situations where others may see their body
  • Extreme exercising, exercising too long, or too intensely

Emotional symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • Poor self-esteem and body image
  • Irritability, agitation, or other mood changes
  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

What Are Some Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia?

Bulimia is similar to anorexia in that both affect one’s eating habits. However, anorexia is typically the strict avoidance of food and an aversion to eating. Individuals with bulimia will typically eat food, but they find other ways to limit their caloric intake. Someone with bulimia may appear as though they eat healthily, but then cause themselves to vomit to eliminate the food they ate, before it has had a chance to digest.

There are two recognized types of bulimia. One is “purging bulimia,” in which an individual will regularly induce vomiting after binge eating. They may also misuse medications, such as laxatives, to aid in ridding their bodies of the food they have consumed. The second type of bulimia is “non-purging bulimia,” in which an individual might engage in vigorous regular exercise to prevent weight gain after bingeing, or they may be very particular about the foods they eat and their caloric intake.

As with anorexia, many different emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms can signal bulimia. Some physical symptoms may prove to be fatal. Further, anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental health disorder.

Symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Significant fluctuations in weight, from five to 20 pounds
  • Dry skin, as a result of dehydration
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Callouses, sores, or scars on the knuckles from inducing vomiting
  • Mouth sensitivity, likely due to eroding tooth enamel and receding gums
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Behavioral changes that may take place before the physical changes include:

  • Constantly worrying about weight or appearance
  • Eating excessively
  • Going to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Exercising too much, particularly after bingeing
  • Restricting caloric intake or avoiding certain foods
  • Not wanting to eat in front of others

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Poor self-esteem and body image
  • Irritability, agitation, or other mood changes
  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

How to Find Help

There are several ways to find help for an eating disorder. Often, finding a medical professional that one feels comfortable with is the easiest way to find help. The selected medical professional might be a family doctor, a therapist, or a psychiatrist.

A medical doctor will likely want to conduct a physical exam and run some lab tests. A therapist or psychiatrist may make a diagnosis after speaking briefly about the afflicted individual’s experience. In any case, a medical professional will likely recommend an inpatient treatment to assist in the acute treatment of the eating disorder. Medical professionals will also be aware of the available programs in the area and what may best suit their clients.

Eating disorders can be difficult to identify, even for the individual that has the disorder. It is important to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of anorexia and bulimia to be able to recognize if you or a loved one may be struggling with either of these eating disorders. Your first step should always be to consult with a medical professional. It may also be helpful to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of substance use, as drug or alcohol addiction is frequently used as a coping tool for individuals with eating disorders. At Casa Recovery, we provide various treatment options and resources for individuals affected by eating disorders, addiction, trauma, depression, and other mental health disorders. With multiple treatment options, there is often a treatment that fits each individual’s needs. To begin your journey to recovery, reach out to us today by calling (888) 928-2272.

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