What are the differences between anorexia and bulimia?

Catherine Liberty's picture

I often see articles and blogs floating around the internet that attempt to answer questions like, “What are the differences between anorexia and bulimia?” or more worryingly,  “Which is worse anorexia or bulimia?”

It always makes me wonder, why do people want to know?

It’s not like you choose your eating disorder. It’s not like we wake up and say, “will I have anorexia or bulimia today?” so why on earth should it matter which one is more dangerous or destructive?

Of course sharing facts can help with eating disorder awareness...

From an awareness stance it’s always a great idea to get as many facts out there as possible.

Just like when we discussed the importance of raising awareness about male bulimia, helping people to understand the differences between anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders can be a crucial step in educating them and other “outsiders” on the realities of eating disorders. 

I know from my own point of view, I get really mad when people insinuate that everyone with an eating disorder must be underweight, so if pitting anorexia and bulimia against each other in this way can help to highlight some of the real differences then I’m all for it.  

But how do we deal with questions like this when intentions are misguided?

Far away from the safe nurturing environments that recovery websites create we must acknowledge that there are people who actively ponder the differences between anorexia and bulimia for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps nurturing their dangerous and misguided desires to somehow “switch” eating disorders.

This is not an article that I write lightly, in fact I debated for some time about it’s content, but then I remembered one of the most important lessens my recovery taught me - honesty at all costs.

Which is worse anorexia or bulimia?

When I was younger, caught up and desperate to escape from my bulimia I didn’t sit there and dream about bulimia recovery for life like I should have. Instead I dreamed that somehow “switching” my eating disorder would help to take the pain away.

I used to think how much better my life would be if only I could trade my bulimia for anorexia...

As twisted as I know that will sound to a lot of people, the truth is I was not alone in that method of thinking.

It disturbs me to think of eating disorders in that way now.

Back then I knew I’d never chosen to have an eating disorder so the idea of swapping it for a different one should have seemed absurd, but lets face it, sometimes our eating disorders make us think in pretty messed up ways right?

In honesty many years before I found myself here, wanting recovery more than anything else, I got in pretty deep with the “other kinds” of eating disorder sites...

The dangerous ones. The ones that fuel the distorted theory that an eating disorder is somehow a lifestyle choice. The ones that now turn my stomach.

I’m of course talking about pro-ed sites, the places that can push victims of bulimia and other eating disorders one step too far.

When you’re in an environment like that pitting eating disorders against each other is very common…

A lot of the people I met under those circumstances wanted to do exactly what I did - to somehow magically trade their bulimia for anorexia.

We all had a pretty messed up idea that “the grass is greener on the other side”.

We were so desperately lost and back then the idea of recovery was unfathomable.

We prayed we could stop damaging our bodies by bingeing and purging, we didn’t seem to realize that anorexia could be just as, if not more dangerous.

Which is worse bulimia or anorexia?

Honestly there is just no way to answer this question. I can talk of the differences - we’ll explore those in a moment, but both eating disorders can and have taken lives. Both strip away all sense of identity.

Both make living feel like you’re experiencing hell on earth. 

Someone with anorexia can be just as sick as someone with bulimia, it really comes down to individual experiences.

Anorexia vs. bulimia

Differences between anorexics and bulimics

The main difference between an anorexic and a bulimic comes down to their relationship with food. People with anorexia tend to severly restrict their food intake where as people with bulimia consume very large quantities of food during episodes of bingeing.

The visable signs

If you have bulimia or have read our resource which explores the real signs of bulimia then you will know that there can be very few external signs. Most people with bulimia are not underweight and sometimes bulimia causes weight gain. Because of this people with bulimia find it a lot easier to hide their eating disorder.

Anorexia however, becomes readily visable as soon as the sufferer drops below normal weight.

Health issues

Health issues are yet another area where Anorexia and Bulimia differ. For example we know that bingeing and purging causes people with bulimia to suffer from decaying teeth and sometimes stomach and esophageal problems.

People who suffer from Anorexia deal with a variety of health issues like the lack of a menstruation cycle (amenorrhea) and a lower body temperature. People with bulimia can suffer from amenorrhea but it is no where near as common. 

What about the similarities between anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa?

People with anorexia and bulimia can share similar medical problems like malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances and interruption of body eliminations.

Both anorexics and bulimics can suffer side effects that lead to stroke or heart attack.

One final thought...

If you've ever dreamed of trading in your eating disorder for a less severe or "safer" version maybe it had a lot to do with the fact that you didn't or don't believe a true recovery could happen for you?

Check out our amazing bulimia recovery stories section now and be safe in the knowledge that a true, full and life-long recovery from bulimia is out there waiting for you!


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