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Explaining the Differences between Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa

written by: Rene Wolf • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/15/2011

As difficult as it may be for some to understand, an eating disorder is a form of mental illness. The two primary eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia, also referred to as bulimia nervosa. This article explains the differences between anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

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    It is often a misconception that since both anorexia and bulimia are forms of eating disorders that they have the same symptoms, signs and health risks. There are some similarities between the two, however, they each have their own distinct differences with regards to symptoms and their own distinct health dangers. In order to explain the differences between anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa we shall look at the signs, symptoms and health risks that each disorder presents.

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    Explanation of Anorexia Nervosa

    Someone with anorexia nervosa will often refuse to eat, may have unusual eating behaviors such as not eating in front of other people and suffer from compulsive exercise habits. People with anorexia nervosa are extremely thin due to the excessive amounts of weight loss, however, they have a distorted body image and see themselves as extremely overweight.

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    Explanation of Bulimia Nervosa

    Someone with bulimia nervosa typically eats large quantities of food followed by purging to rid their bodies of the calories and fare they have eaten. A person with bulimia may also use diuretics, laxatives and/or enemas as a way to purge the calories and/or food. Bulimics are secretive about their eating habits and often feel shame and disgust while they are binging on food. A bulimic may also feel a sense of relief and emotions will become more positive after purging.

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    Explanation Of The Differences Between Anorexia And Bulimia

    While the primary feature of both anorexia and bulimia is an obsession with being thin, an anorexic is often noticeable thinner than a bulimic who may be maintaining a healthy weight. There are several differences in the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

    Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

    • Avoids eating or may have only one bite per meal
    • Counts calories and weighs food to make sure they do not overeat
    • Extreme exercise routines and they may exercise several times throughout the day.
    • Has frequent dizziness
    • Wears baggy clothes to hide their body
    • Anorexics may take diet pills
    • They may have a depressed mood and/or mood swings
    • Their skin feels cold to the touch

    Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
    • Bulimics are often binge eaters
    • Lack of control over their eating and will often eat until they are in pain and uncomfortable
    • Will often eat in secrecy
    • Will eat large amounts of food but, will not have weight gain
    • Typically a bulimic will not eat normal meals
    • They either fast or consume large amounts of food
    • Frequent visits to the bathroom following a meal to vomit
    • Frequently uses laxatives, enemas and/or diuretics

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    Differences in Physical Signs of Anorexia and Bulimia

    Anorexics are extremely thin, have thinning hair, dry skin and fine, limbic hair on their body. Bulimics typically have a healthy weight, puffy cheeks, and scars or calluses on hands or knuckles from inducing vomiting and discolored teeth.

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    Differences In Health Issues Among Anorexics and Bulimics

    The body of an anorexic will begin to slow down in an effort to preserve energy, which can result in life threatening consequences. The body of a bulimic may have severely damaged organs as the result of a damaged digestive system and an imbalance in electrolytes. Over time, both eating disorders may lead to death. Health issues for anorexia and bulimia include:

    Anorexia Nervosa

    • Fatigue
    • Depression
    • Constipation
    • Irregular heart rate
    • Risk of the esophagus rupturing
    • Stomach pains
    • Tooth decay

    Bulimia Nervosa

    • Depression
    • Fatigue
    • Mild to severe anemia
    • Muscle loss
    • Possible kidney failure
    • Irregular heart rate
    • Low blood pressure
    • Reduced bone density
    • Ceased menstrual periods
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    While the symptoms explain the differences between anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, it is important to note that both eating disorders present a high risk of long term, non repairable physical damage.

    Both anorexia and bulimia have a high risk of depression and can be fatal due to heart failure as a result of irregular heart rate. Anorexics may suffer kidney failure and dehydration and a bulimic may rupture the esophagus as a result of excessive vomiting.

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    References

    National Institute of Mental Health: Eating Disordershttp://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml

    St. Louis Psychologists and Counseling Information and Referral: Eating Disorders: Bulimia Nervosa vs. Anorexia Nervosa http://www.psychtreatment.com/eating_disorders_anorexia_vs_bulimia.htm