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TW: This article contains descriptions of mental health complications.

Many common eating disorders are familiar to most people in the United States, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Despite this, it’s not always understood that although different, these disorders often share many of the same characteristics.When diagnosing or treating an eating disorder, it is important to outline the similarities and differences between these serious mental health disorders. Proper education about the disorder and early intervention is crucial to a successful eating disorder recovery (especially in adolescents) and is central to any long-term recovery.
Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder share many of the same diagnostic criteria and feature many similar behavioral and causal symptoms. A person may also present each of these disorders in turn, “alternating“ between these behaviors. They are both related to body image distortions and the desire to lose weight and can be triggered by dieting and the subsequent extreme hunger it can cause. The similarities are many, but the differences make treatment necessarily specialized for each. As parents search for the best bulimia nervosa treatment centers for their teens, detailed information regarding these serious mental health conditions can help to provide peace of mind.

Bulimia Nervosa vs. Binge Eating Disorder: Behavioral and Medical Symptoms

Bulimia Nervosa

Before searching for a local eating disorder treatment facility, it is a good idea to research more about the conditions themselves. This can help prepare for the treatment process, how it will affect the prospective client entering treatment and their loved ones, and set expectations for life after recovery. While you should consult with a mental health professional to receive an official diagnosis of an eating disorder, parents can do some research on their own, comparing the evidence of their child’s behavioral symptoms and getting an idea of what to be looking for.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating episodes in which large amounts of food are eaten in a short period of time. Although the person may or may not be underweight, bulimia nervosa triggers a strong desire to lose weightor at least avoid putting on weight. These episodes trigger intense feelings of guilt and/or shame about the food eaten. Because of the impulse to avoid gaining weight and the feelings of guilt, these episodes are typically followed by some form of purging behavior that may include:

        Self-induced vomiting

        Excessive exercise

        Laxative and/or diuretics abuse



Purging can quickly result in severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, irregular heartbeat, tooth decay, esophageal damage, etc. If left untreated, these health complications can also take a significant toll on the heart and in some cases, may result in heart failure. Bulimia nervosa can also trigger additional mental health complications such as an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and self-harm or suicidal ideation.

This makes early intervention and locating specialized treatment extremely important for adolescents with this type ofeating disorder. A comprehensive treatment plan such as these centers provide includes medical, psychiatric, and nutritional segments of care.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa in that people with this condition also regularly and consistently consume a large amount of food within a short period of time. With this type of eating disorder, people feel that their eating is out of control and they are powerless to stop binge eating. One common sign of binge eating disorder as compared to simple overeating is frequent binging without feeling hungry. They may also experience feelings of shame, disgust, and guilt regarding their binge eating behaviors.

However, people with binge eating disorder do not engage in any purging behaviors to rid themselves of the calories they have consumed after a binge eating episode. Binge eating disorder is also triggered by negative body image, and is often encountered as a coping response to trauma/PTSD, depression, or another mental health condition.Although some medical complications associated with bulimia nervosa are not present (i.e. esophageal damage or dramatic weight loss), a wide variety of health complications can result from their condition. Most commonly, people with binge eating disorder have a higher risk of:


        Intestinal complications

        Type 2 diabetes

        High blood pressure

        High cholesterol


        Certain cancers

Binge eating disorder has only recently come to be understood well; it was added to the DSM-V (the official psychiatric diagnostic manual) in 2023 whereas other eating disorders like bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa have been recognized since the 1950s. Thankfully, binge eating disorder treatment has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade, and care has become as comprehensive and successful as is found for other eating disorders.

What to Expect From Binge Eating and Bulimia Nervosa Treatment Centers

Early intervention allows adolescents with an eating disorder diagnosis a greater chance of avoiding additional health complications and making a full recovery. Adolescence is an important time for eating disorder treatment, as most eating disorders first appear in the teenage years. Because of this, specialized adolescent treatment for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder can not only help them develop more positive eating habits but can help them navigate life outside of treatment. The primary aim of any eating disorder treatment program is to re-establish a person’s relationship with food, eating, and their bodies and encourage intuitive eating.

As parents and their kids search out an eating disorder treatment program, they must keep these key factors in mind:

     Start by acknowledging that there is a problem. Look closely at their relationship with food and eating behaviors.

    Be aware of their eating habits, especially dieting. It is very common for individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder to turn to fad dieting to lose weight and band attempt to control their body shape (regaining a sense of control, however misguided, is a key triggering factor in both disorders). However, diets often involve potentially dangerous calorie restrictions and are not recommended by eating disorder specialists or medical doctors for people with potential eating disorders.

    Evaluate one’s personal beliefs with regard to eating. A balance of eating for nourishment and enjoyment is ideal. When a person binge eats, it is possible that neither nourishment nor enjoyment exists. Focusing on the “healthiness” of food or counting calories is always detrimental to eating disorder recovery. Instead, treatment involves teaching “intuitive eating.”

        Seek professional treatment as soon as possible. Whether an adolescent becomes aware of their disordered behaviors on their own or a family member suspects there is an issue, speaking with a mental health professional sooner rather than later is best.

Contact a Treatment Professional to Get More Answers

With the help of a strong support system at home and early intervention, long-term eating disorder recovery is possible for teens. At Clementine’s adolescent-focused binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa treatment centers, we are dedicated to providing the highest level of care for our clients in a safe and comfortable setting. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an eating disorder and are interested in learning more about the benefits or comprehensive treatment for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder call +1 (888) 228-1253 and speak with one of our admissions specialists today.


Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.