The Connection Between OCD and Disordered Eating
People living with an eating disorder are prone to experiencing co-occurring behavioral health issues—including obsessive-compulsive disorder. Here's what you should know about this complex relationship.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
According to the International OCD Foundation, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are typically intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that can make the affected person feel intense feelings distress. Compulsions are behaviors the affected person may perform to rid themselves of the obsession as well as the distressing feeling.
Common obsessions include:
- Contaminants like bodily fluids, germs, or dirt.
- Losing control of things causing impulses to harm oneself or others, blurting out insults, or horrific images in one’s mind.
- Unwanted sexual thoughts like forbidden or perverse impulses, thoughts, and images.
- Religious obsessions like concerns with morality or offending God.
- Fear of harming others from not being careful enough or fear of responsibility for bad things happening.
- Concerns with perfectionism like evenness, exactness, or fear of losing things.
Common compulsions include:
- Washing and cleaning things obsessively like handwashing, cleaning, or preventing contamination.
- Checking that bad thing did not/will not happen.
- Repetition of movements, activities, or doing things in multiples.
- Mental compulsions like mentally reviewing events to prevent harm or undoing previous behaviors.
What’s the Link Between OCD and Eating Disorders?
Various studies have shown that people living with eating disorders have higher rates of OCD and vice versa compared to those who do not. It is believed that those suffering from restrictive eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are at an increased risk of also having OCD. Both forms of disordered eating involve obsessive behavior that relates to consuming too much or too little food.
With bulimia, in particular, the condition is characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, followed by extreme feelings of guilt and the need to “undo” the behavior to prevent weight gain. With anorexia, patients display obsessions with misperceptions about their body image and fear of gaining weight. People living with this eating disorder restrict their food intake and use other methods to maintain a severe caloric deficit to prevent weight gain.