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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Eating Disorders
It is estimated that 1% of the adult US population suffers from Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).1.= It is characterized by intrusive and obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive and repetitive behaviors.
These ritualistic behaviors are repeated in an attempt to quell the anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts. We all deal with anxiety, this is just one way that people attempt to cope with anxious thought.
The Ongoing Behavior that Feels Uncontrollable
About 20 million women and 10 million men struggle with eating disorders.2 Similar to those with OCD, eating disorder sufferers habitually obsess about weight and eating, then engage in routine behaviors to offset this anxiety.
These behaviors may include:
- restrictive eating
- excessive exercise
- binge eating
- purging, etc.
This is not an occasional, “Oops, I overate at dinner last night so I should make some lighter and healthier choices today” behavior. This is a repetitive and ongoing behavior that leads to food and weight becoming an obsessive topic of thought and motivation for action.
Examining the Correlation Between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Eating Disorder
These two simplistic explanations of these disorders clearly reveal the general similarities of these conditions. With more in-depth examination of the correlation between OCD and bulimia, anorexia or binge eating disorder, we find:
Women who demonstrated obsessive compulsive traits in childhood have a much higher propensity toward developing an eating disorder. In fact, the more OCD traits demonstrated as a child, the greater the likelihood of an eating disorder developing.
Childhood traits are early signs of lifelong personality traits. In the case of eating disorders, rigidity and perfectionism are potential indicators of vulnerability to developing an eating disorder.3
Feeling “Not Quite Right”
Individuals struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder often report a feeling of things not being quite as they should be or “not just right experiences”. This seems to be a state of anxiety and discontent with the way things are or one’s performance.4
I have observed this state of unease and feeling that things are not just right in many of my former clients. They would often struggle with feeling that they need to continually refine and improve their bodies, even when goals are reached and they thought they would then feel content.
For example, one 16 year old female was chronically dissatisfied with her weight. She was not underweight or overweight, just a very average healthy build for her age. Once she took up long distance running, her weight dropped and she attained the “ideal” weight she had always envisioned herself at, but then found she still felt that she needed to lose more weight.
She felt like her weight “was still not quite right” and was not satisfied, even when she attained a long-held ideal weight. Continuing to obsess about losing weight eased her anxiety.
Another former client, a 28-year-old female, was absolutely fixated on eating only a small variety of foods: shrimp, lettuce, oranges, and carrots. She felt that maintaining a strict and limited diet left her in control of her body weight and protected her from the temptation to overeat.
When she was enticed by others to eat other foods and diversify her diet she would become angry, defensive and adamantly refuse to eat anything but her safely predictable ritualized diet.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Eating Disorders – Two of Many Co-Occurring Disorders
As you can see, OCD sufferers find habits and repetition ease the internal distress and often, so do those suffering from eating disorders. Obsessive compulsive disorder is just one of many possible co-occurring disorders that eating disorder sufferers may face.
It is not uncommon to see other forms of anxiety and depression in those dealing with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
It is crucial to address the underlying and co-occurring issues in eating disorder treatment. Doing so, will empower the sufferer to develop tools and a treatment plan that will best ensure their long term recovery from an eating disorder.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-among-adults.shtml
- Get The Facts On Eating Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders
- Anderluh, M. (2003). Childhood Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Traits in Adult Women With Eating Disorders: Defining a Broader Eating Disorder Phenotype. American Journal of Psychiatry, 242-247.
- “Not just right experiences”: Perfectionism, obsessive– compulsive features and general psychopathology. (2002). Behavior Research and Therapy, 41, 681-700. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.cla.temple.edu/phobia/int/Publications/2003/210- Coles Not just right experiences BRAT 2003.pdf
About the author:
Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website. In addition, she is a fully licensed therapist with a closed private counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.
Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation, and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp).
Jacquelyn enjoys art, working out, walking her dogs, reading, painting and time with family.
Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without support from our generous sponsors.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Updated & Approved on November 5, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published on March 13, 2015, on EatingDisorderHope.com