What Differentiates Bulimics from Anorexics?

When it comes to eating disorders, two types often stand out. Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.

At first glance, some people may think these are caused by stomach or intestinal issues. However, these disorders are psychiatric illnesses that heavily involve food consumption.

A common thread for both bulimia and anorexia is an unhealthy fixation on body weight and appearance as it relates to eating. People can have a perfectly normal body, but if they’re suffering from either of these disorders, their perspective becomes distorted. To them, their bodies are never perfect, and they may think they need to slim down through extreme measures.

But how can you tell if someone is either bulimic or anorexic?

The subtle differences

While both bulimics and anorexics maintain an unhealthy view of their body and weight, they have different means of correcting their perceived imperfections.

With bulimia, a person will engage in a cycle of binge-eating and purging.

Bulimics forcibly expel food from their bodies to maintain a certain weight. In other words, bulimics force themselves to vomit by reaching down into their throats or excessively using laxatives and diet pills.

With anorexia, on the other hand, a person usually adheres to an extreme form of dieting – significantly low levels of caloric intake that can lead to malnourishment. In the worst-case scenarios, people may even die as a result.

In some cases, accurately differentiating between the two disorders gets tricky. For instance, both bulimics and anorexics often exercise excessively to augment their weight loss regimes.

Additionally, people diagnosed with anorexia may also follow a cycle of binge eating and induced vomiting.

However, the key difference to remember is that bulimics are in the normal body weight range, while anorexics are severely underweight. The latter classification features a weight loss of 15 percent and above the normal body weight.

What causes bulimia and anorexia?

For an anorexia or bulimia recovery plan to be successful, several environmental and social causes need to be considered. Doctors and medical professionals use three factors to identify potential causes.

First, predisposing factors like genetics and family history are factored into the diagnosis. There’s some evidence that suggests that specific genes can cause eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia. Research results are still inconclusive, however.

Second, precipitating factors in the form of stressful situations (e.g. heavy exercise, family loss, physical and emotional trauma) can also cause eating disorders. Experts would have to go deep into an individual’s personal history to uncover important clues.

Third, once the disorder is normalized in a person’s routines, precipitating factors kick in. Feelings of anxiety over certain foods and the familiarity of unhealthy habits (e.g. induced vomiting, starvation) help perpetuate bulimia or anorexia.


Bulimia is often treated through cognitive-behavioral therapy. Therapists help patients become more self-aware about their thoughts and feelings about food consumption – guiding them towards healthier routines.

With anorexia, the priority is to stabilize a person’s nutrition and weight through proper dieting. Doctors will then recommend psychotherapy to ease patients out of their irrational fixation on their body shape

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