Anorexia vs Bulimia: Chronic Eating Disorders and Their Consequences

Learn about the disorders affecting millions of people around the world

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Bradley Leonard

In the United States alone, an estimated 11 million people suffer from eating disorders. Because of the shame or secrecy that can accompany eating disorders, the actual number is likely even greater than reported cases. Due to the nature of the disorder, often the first step on someone’s road to recovery involves some form of intervention from a loved one. That is why it’s essential to understand the signs and symptoms if you think someone close to you might be suffering from an eating disorder. This blog post breaks down the key information that everyone should be aware of regarding anorexia and bulimia.

Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder:

Typically, regardless of the eating disorder, a noticeable sign may be an abnormal fixation or preoccupation with food. This often is accompanied by body image problems or dissatisfaction with one’s physical appearance. The specific symptoms of eating disorders will vary, depending on the disorder. They may include a huge range of mental and physical symptoms.


The physical symptoms that go along with anorexia can be severe and even life-threatening. Aside from weight loss, they can include insomnia, dehydration, weakness, yellowish skin, arrhythmia, and fainting. These symptoms may not always be noticeable to friends and family. However, if you believe someone close to you may be suffering from anorexia, they could be exhibiting behavioral changes such as skipping meals, lying about their eating habits, talking badly about their body, and avoiding social situations involving food.


It may be difficult to distinguish between some of the visible symptoms of anorexia and bulimia. However, some telltale symptoms can differentiate the two. People suffering from bulimia may show signs of extreme dehydration such as cracked lips, bloodshot eyes, and mouth sensitivity. They may also constantly worry about weight or their appearance and may avoid eating in front of others. If they do eat in front of others, they may immediately go to the bathroom to purge.

Potential Consequences:

There is a wide range of potential complications that can arise from long-term eating disorders. Among the most severe are heart failure, kidney failure, pancreatitis, ulcers, and in severe cases, death. Therefore, people must receive the treatment they need to help them recover from these disorders and live healthy lives. If you believe someone close to you is suffering from an eating disorder you should take action if possible. It can be difficult to speak up, but it’s far preferable to the potential alternative.

When approaching a loved one about eating disorders, remember a few tips to help things go easier for both of you. First, you should pick a private location and choose a time you know you will both be able to talk without rushing. Take care not to express judgment or criticism, simply explain that you are concerned. If possible, reference situations that raised concern. For more tips on helping a loved one suffering from an eating disorder, click here.

Causes and Risk Factors:

Unfortunately, scientists still are not entirely certain what causes a person to develop an eating disorder. That said, most medical experts believe it comes down to a combination of factors, both environmental and genetic.


Studies have suggested that those with close relatives suffering from eating disorders are more likely to develop one themselves. This is likely due to a genetic trait associated with perfectionism. However, there is still no definitive proof that genetics play a role in developing eating disorders.


Unfortunately, the ideal body-image that society perpetuates is a thin one. The emphasis on this ideal image that comes from the media and peers may be enough to pressure people into unhealthy habits.

Mental Health:

Some studies have suggested that people who have past experiences with mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, are more likely to develop an eating disorder. Low self-esteem and stress may also be contributing factors.

Diagnosis and Treatments:

If a doctor believes a patient may be suffering from an eating disorder, there are several steps to make a diagnosis. The first step, regardless of the suspected disorder, is to assess the physical health of the patient. If it is determined that a patient is not a healthy weight the next step is to rule out other causes. This typically involves lab tests. If the cause is determined to be an eating disorder, the criteria are as follows.


  • Purposefully reducing the amount of food eaten to maintain a below-average weight.
  • An overwhelming fear of becoming overweight or fat.
  • Distortion of your body image and connecting weight to self-worth.


  • Multiple episodes of binge-eating.
  • Overcompensating for eating can be self-induced vomiting, fasting, use of laxatives, or excessive exercise.
  • Distortion of your body image and connecting weight to self-worth.
  • Episodes of binging followed by compensating that occur weekly, or near-weekly.

Unfortunately, there is no quick cure when it comes to treating eating disorders. The treatment will need to be tailored to the individual and may consist of medication, therapy, and in some cases, hospitalization. The types of medications and therapy used will typically center around forming new dietary habits and stimulating appetite. However, oftentimes therapy will also be required to address issues regarding body-image that may be a root cause of eating disorders.

Here are some more posts we think you might be interested in:

How Eating Disorders Are Affected by Mental Health

“I Hate My Life”: Understanding and Treating Clinical Depression

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