What is the Difference Between Anorexia and Bulimia?

Contact Us

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The subject of eating disorders can be confusing for everyone. As a parent, you may realize your teenager has developed an unhealthy relationship with food and body image, but not understand the diagnosis. If you are wondering “What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?”  Trellis Recovery Centers provides a thorough assessment to understand which eating disorder a young person has. As a result, we create a schedule of focused treatment using several types of therapy. Our experienced staff partners with parents to make sure each child gets the support they need in order to heal from an eating disorder. 

What is the Definition of Bulimia?

The key to answering the question “What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?” lies in understanding how each type of eating disorder is defined. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a pattern of binge eating abnormally large amounts of food. Afterward, the person will use compensatory behaviors to try to rid themselves of the calories and avoid weight gain through purging behaviors. The behaviors include self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, and taking laxatives or diuretics. The person obsesses about their body size and tries to control their weight.

What is the Definition of Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes a person to focus heavily on their body size and employ attempts to lose weight and maintain an unhealthily low body weight. The person often is unable to see their bodies realistically, believing they are heavier than they are. The person uses unhealthy ways to control caloric intake and weight, including restricting their food intake, constantly dieting, and compulsively exercising. They often have a list of “safe foods” and do not deviate outside of eating them. Someone with anorexia often lies about having eaten and hides food to make it seem like they have eaten. 

What is the Difference Between Anorexia and Bulimia?

The primary difference between anorexia and bulimia has to do with the behaviors the individual focuses on. Someone with anorexia obsesses over ways to lose weight or maintain a low body weight. Their focus is on eating as little as possible, often only consuming foods from a short list of foods that feel safe to them. A person with bulimia binge eats and then focuses on ways to try to rid their bodies of the food or any calories they may absorb from it. They do this by using purging methods, even when they often do not provide any tangible results. 

What are the Similarities?

While answering the question “What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?” points out differences between the two eating disorders, they also have a lot in common. At the heart of an eating disorder lies an attempt to achieve a sense of control over a person’s life. For example, when teenagers experience situations that make their lives feel out of control, they look for anything that they can exert control over. Their lives may include difficulties like being bullied, feeling overwhelmed by the emotions and hormones of being an adolescent, or their parents divorcing. 

When teens cannot force change in those areas, they focus on controlling what they eat and how they look. Ignoring internal struggles becomes easier when they focus on external things like body size and weight. Society, the media, and the entertainment world create a false message, particularly for females, that being thin equates to being strong and in control. Photoshopped images and filtered social media posts make it seem like physical perfection is just a diet or another workout away. For vulnerable teens, this can become an obsession that allows them to ignore the real issues in their lives.

Are Anorexia and Bulimia Treated Differently?

Although anorexia and bulimia have some differences in terms of the symptoms and behaviors used, treatment for both is quite similar. All eating disorders are complex mental health disorders that surface through a person’s belief system and how they act on it. Because of this, a variety of evidence-based therapies can help people with either anorexia or bulimia. Types of therapies used to treat eating disorders include:


Each person in treatment receives focused care from several clinicians, including physicians, nurses, mental health counselors, and registered dieticians. The individual learns to examine the reality of what contributed to developing their eating disorder. From there, they learn healthy coping skills to avoid triggers and relearn a positive relationship with their bodies and food.

Begin Treatment for Anorexia or Bulimia in Los Angeles, California

If you are a parent wondering “What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?”, you don’t have to answer that question on your own. Trellis Recovery Centers uses a transdiagnostic approach to understand which eating disorder is present in a young person’s life. We provide supportive, family-focused care that helps each individual empower themselves. With our help, your child can learn to accept and embrace their physical selves and reshape their relationship with food.

Would you like more information about our eating disorders program? Please visit our admissions page now and we can answer any questions you have.