OCD and Eating Disorders

Posted by Phil Cardenas on Oct 15, 2013

While eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia share many characteristics with OCD, they are not the same. Diagnosis becomes even more complex when an individual exhibits symptoms of both. Misdiagnosis is often a matter of confusing behavior with motivation. 

Both OCD and eating disorder sufferers can behave in ways are outwardly similar, but the differences lie in why the individual behaves the way they do. A person with an eating disorder is typically focused on how eating affects their self-image. People with eating disorders typically either avoid eating (Anorexia) or regurgitate food eaten shortly after consuming it (Bulimia).Both actions are intended to avoid gaining weight. Food-centered rituals for OCD sufferers may have nothing to do with body image. Instead, OCD individuals practice ritualistic and compulsive eating behaviors that are related to avoiding imagined consequences that have little relationship to weight or body image. Therein lies the principle distinction. OCD sufferers may have compulsions or obsessions about food, but the context of those obsessions is not about calories, weight gain or body image..

OCD eating behaviors generally involve eating foods in a specific order, or at a particular time, or even chewing food a certain number of times. These practices are built on fear of imagined consequences of not doing so. OCD sufferers are known to avoid certain foods for reasons that have nothing to do with physical health.

It is also possible for a person to have both OCD and an eating disorder, so if either condition or both is suspected, it is important to find a professional who is experienced in diagnosing and treating both conditions. The most recent diagnostic manual from the American Psychiatric Association offers little guidance in diagnosing the differences between eating disorders related to OCD and other eating disorders since both are marked by similar “recurrent and persistent thoughts,” thoughts that cause significant distress and anxiety. It’s important to note that until the underlying causes of the symptoms are accurately identified, it is impossible to describe the proper therapy. While both disorders may be treated with similar therapies such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), the content of the therapy must be specific to the condition and reasons for the behavior.

Bulima, purging food in an attempt to avoid caloric intake and resulting weight gain, is reportedly increasing. Sorority houses at colleges nationwide have reported that they have to snake dorm and house plumbing frequently because of it. Television shows like “Friends” have been blamed for young women, in particular, to think size -0- clothing is normal. Junior high school and high school students with distorted body image issues, seeing themselves as fat or overweight even when they’re not are the most vulnerable. The side-effects can be permanently damaging, even deadly, causing women not to be able to reproduce, even requiring jaw replacement when the acidity from vomiting eats away at the facial bones. Anorexia, on the other hand, is a slow form of deprivation verging on starvation when an Anorexic refuses to consume enough nourishment to thrive or even survive. Both Bulima and Anorexia are often well-kept secrets, sometimes for years.

Mental health professionals use diagnostic tools to measure the source and severity of obsessions and compulsions. If either OCD or an eating disorder is diagnosed, patients are referred to a therapist trained in techniques shown to effectively relieve and treat its symptoms. Both CBT and ERP are being used successfully and are recommended by respected organizations such as the National Institutes of Mental Health, the Mayo Clinic, and the Harvard Medical School.

Beyond OCD wants you to know that help is out there regardless of the type or source of discomfort. Beyond OCD is an organization devoted to better understanding of OCD, its diagnosis, and its treatment. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be suffering from OCD or an eating disorder, our web site has lots of information on the disorders, how to recognize them, and resources for additional information and treatment. Identifying the symptoms is the first step. Our web site has an OCD Self-Screening Test that can help give you insights into your thoughts and behaviors, but only a qualified mental health professional can accurately test for and diagnose OCD.

Beyond OCD is committed to offering OCD sufferers and their loved ones the latest information on the disorder as well as carefully chosen sources for treatment. To learn more about OCD and its treatment, visit our web site at BeyondOCD.org. It’s there to help you get the information you need to go beyond OCD.


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