Back to Blog

Breaking the Cycle: Understanding Bulimia vs Binge Eating

Jul 03, 2023


Bulimia vs Binge Eating: Understanding the Differences and Similarities

        Discover the key differences between bulimia and binge eating. Understand their unique challenges and find support for a healthier relationship with food. Get informed today.



            Have you ever experienced those moments when you just can't resist devouring an entire bag of chips or a tub of ice cream in one sitting? And then, moments later, you're overwhelmed with guilt and the urge to purge it all out? What if I told you that these behaviours could be signs of something deeper, like bulimia and binge eating?


            Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that affect millions of people worldwide. Two commonly misunderstood disorders within this category are bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. While they share some similarities, such as recurrent episodes of overeating, there are distinct differences between the two. Bulimia and binge eating are two distinct but related eating disorders that affect millions of people worldwide. Both conditions involve problematic patterns of eating and can have serious physical and psychological consequences. This blog aims to shed light on the key features, symptoms, and treatment options for bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.



            Bulimia, also known as bulimia nervosa, is an eating disorder characterised by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours. Here are some facts/characteristics about bulimia:


  1. Frequent episodes of binge eating.
  2. Compensatory behaviours to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the misuse of laxatives or diuretics.
  3. A distorted body image and intense fear of gaining weight.
  4. Binge-eating episodes are typically secretive and accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and lack of control.
  5. People with bulimia often maintain a relatively normal weight or may fluctuate within a normal weight range.
  6. Bulimia can have severe physical consequences, including electrolyte imbalances, dental problems, gastrointestinal issues, and hormonal disturbances.
  7. It commonly coexists with other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
  8. Sociocultural factors, such as media pressure and societal ideals of beauty, can contribute to the development of bulimia.
  9. Treatment for bulimia usually involves a combination of therapies, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), nutritional counselling, and medication if necessary.
  10. Recovery from bulimia is possible with appropriate support, therapy, and a multidisciplinary approach.



            On the other hand, binge eating is a disorder characterised by consuming large amounts of food within a short period of time and feeling a loss of control during episodes. Here are some facts/characteristics of binge eating:


  1. Excessive food intake: Individuals engage in episodes of consuming a significantly larger amount of food than most people would eat in a similar period under similar circumstances.
  2. Rapid consumption: Binge eating episodes involve eating rapidly, often to the point of discomfort.
  3. Loss of control: People with binge eating disorder experience a feeling of being unable to stop or control their eating during episodes.
  4. Emotional triggers: Binge eating is often triggered by emotional distress, such as stress, boredom, or sadness.
  5. Secretive behaviour: Many individuals with binge eating disorder tend to eat in secret and may feel ashamed or guilty about their behaviour.
  6. Lack of purging: Unlike in bulimia nervosa, individuals with binge eating disorder do not engage in compensatory behaviours (such as vomiting or excessive exercise) to counteract the effects of binge eating.
  7. Preoccupation with food: Thoughts and concerns about food, weight, and body image can consume a significant portion of the individual's day.
  8. Weight gain: Frequent binge eating episodes can lead to weight gain and may contribute to the development of obesity.
  9. Emotional distress: Binge eating can result in feelings of guilt, shame, and depression, which can perpetuate the cycle of binge eating.
  10. Co-occurring conditions: Binge eating disorder is often associated with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.


            Both bulimia and binge eating disorder can have detrimental effects on a person's physical health. But… have you ever wondered how bulimia and binge eating differ? Get ready to unravel and break down the distinctions! Besides their definition and individual characteristics explained earlier, here are the other key differences between bulimia and binge eating:


            Compensatory Behaviours:



  • Bulimia: People with bulimia commonly engage in compensatory behaviours to counteract the effects of binge eating. These behaviours may include self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or diuretics, excessive exercise, or fasting.
  • Binge Eating: Individuals with binge eating disorder do not regularly engage in compensatory behaviours. After binge episodes, they may experience guilt, shame, or distress due to their eating patterns, but they do not engage in purging or other weight-control methods.


             Weight Fluctuations:



  • Bulimia: People with bulimia often experience weight fluctuations. Due to the purging behaviours and compensatory actions, they may maintain a weight within the normal or slightly above or below normal range.
  • Binge Eating: Individuals with binge eating disorder frequently experience weight gain or obesity, as they tend to consume excessive amounts of food during binge episodes without engaging in compensatory behaviours. 


            Psychological Factors:



  • Bulimia: Emotional and psychological factors play a significant role in bulimia. People with bulimia often have an intense fear of gaining weight, body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and may be overly concerned with body shape and size.
  • Binge Eating: Psychological factors also influence binge eating disorder. Individuals may experience emotional distress, such as depression, anxiety, or a history of trauma, which may contribute to their disordered eating patterns.


            Frequency and Control:



  • Bulimia: Bulimic episodes tend to occur on average at least once a week for three months. Individuals with bulimia often feel a sense of lack of control during binge eating episodes, followed by efforts to compensate.
  • Binge Eating: Binge eating episodes in BED occur, on average, at least once a week for three months. Individuals with BED also experience a loss of control during binge episodes, but without subsequent compensatory actions.



            In conclusion, both bulimia and binge eating disorder can have detrimental effects on a person's physical health. Frequent binge eating can lead to weight gain and obesity, which increases the risk of various health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Additionally, the constant cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviours in bulimia can damage the digestive system, teeth, and throat, among other complications. Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are serious mental health conditions that can have severe consequences if left untreated. It is crucial to understand the key differences between these disorders and recognize the importance of seeking professional help. If you or someone you know is struggling with these disorders, seeking help from healthcare professionals, therapists, or support groups can be a crucial step toward recovery and improved well-being.



            There are multiple treatments for these issues such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). If these terminologies make you feel scared or anxious and unsure if they’re the perfect solution for you, you can start with your healthy food relationship journey with an easier yet effective program and binge-eating masterclasses or have one-on-one sessions with someone who first-hand experienced an unhealthy binge-eating cycle like myself because I hear, see, and feel you!



            As a certified food and body coach, I believe that it is important not to blame yourself or feel overwhelmed with guilt. Progress starts not on how often you eat or what food you eat, it’s when you fix your emotional well being together with cultivating a positive relationship with food. 


              Take that first step towards recovery and give yourself the gift of a nourished mind and body.


           Remember, you are not alone in this journey. You deserve to live a life free from the grips of these disorders. Many people have successfully recovered from bulimia and binge eating disorder with the right treatment and support. Reach out to someone you can trust and start the journey toward healing.


Sending you love and support,


Start your food and body healing journey with the FREE masterclass

"Why You're Still Binge-Eating & How To Stop"