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What is the Difference Between Bulimia and Binge Eating?

By G. Wiesen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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While bulimia and binge eating are both eating disorders and can be treated in fairly similar ways, there are important differences between each one. Bulimia is a disorder in which a person will typically obsess about food and eating to the point that he or she will binge and eat a great deal at once, and then follow that binge with a purge. Binge eating, on the other hand, involves obsession over food and binging, but does not involve purging afterward. Both conditions can be very destructive disorders with serious medical consequences if left untreated.

The two eating disorders are fairly similar at a certain level, but the way in which each is fully expressed is quite different. Also known as “binging and purging,” bulimia typically consists of two phases that are connected and ultimately self-reciprocating. A person will often obsess about food and the act of eating, usually connected to feelings of embarrassment and self-denial, until he or she finally loses control and binges on a lot of food at one time. After this binge, the person will typically feel shame over the eating and then purge his or her system of the eaten food, either through making himself or herself throw up or by taking laxatives.

Though bulimia and binge eating both involve excessive eating, binge eating does not include a purge afterward. Binge eating, or binge overeating, also does not need to happen in a single moment and can consist of extensive, extreme grazing throughout a day. Like with bulimia, there are usually similar feelings of shame and embarrassment after eating.

Both conditions can have detrimental and serious physical and emotional consequences. The shame and guilt a person with these disorders usually feels and associates with food can be quite damaging psychologically and lead to depression and other problems. Bulimia can also have additional physical consequences due to the toll a person places on his or her body through purging. Excessive vomiting can, for example, cause damage to a person’s esophagus and teeth due to stomach acids. Binge eating lacks the purge element of bulimia, which means it can often result in obesity and related health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By anon989733 — On Mar 19, 2015

I couldn't believe it when I saw a commercial for this. So basically, Binge Eating Disorder (B.E.D.) is just the new name for what most overweight people (I am overweight, by the way) have done for years. So instead of saying that I overeat (which includes binge eating) I can now say I have a "disorder"? Whatever.

By gravois — On Aug 09, 2011

When I was in high school I experienced a strange combination of these two disorders. I would eat huge quantities of food; whole tubs of ice cream, entire boxes of chicken fingers, big boxes of cereal, whatever was around. Sometimes I would then go an throw all the food up but sometimes I wouldn't.

It was kind of a cycle. When I wouldn't throw up I would feel ashamed and ugly and sick. I would obsess on that Idea for a few days and then have another attack of binge eating after which I would purge because I felt even more ashamed that I had pigged out again. Then I would begin to feel guilty about the purging and that would set off another round of eating. It went around in circles like that for about 2 years.

I had a lot of weight and health problems during this part of my life. My family knew that something was up but it took a long time before I could be honest with them and seek out some help. I begin seeing a wonderful therapist that helped me work through a lot of issues. Some of these had to do with food and looks and some of them didn't. It was really an important conversation for me to have. I have been healthy for over a decade now and I can't imagine ever living that way again.

By nextcorrea — On Aug 08, 2011

Unfortunately I had to see the effects of both of these disorders in my very own family. I had a sister who suffered from bulimia and a brother that suffered from binge eating. I know that it seems strange to have these 2 contradictory disorders in one family but this just speaks to the complicated psychology that is at the heart of these problems.

For my brother it started in high school. He had never been a big guy but he starter eating huge amounts and put on a lot of weight really quickly. At first my parent thought it was just a big teenage appetite but I quickly became a problem. He got some help but it was something that continued to flare up in his life for almost a decade. I think he has it pretty well under control now.

For my sister it started much younger. She was only 8 years old when she started showing signs of bulimia. For most of her childhood the was skeletaly thin. My parents got her a lot of help and she even went to a special camp but the problem never went all the way away. She would do great for a couple of months and then go back to her old destructive behavior. Se had a real breakthrough once she got married though and she has been at a healthy weight for a number of years now. It was a huge fight but she seems to have beaten it.

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