The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and OCD

The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and OCD

When struggling with an eating disorder, the choice to recover is courageous. It may even seem like your brain is begging you to stay dedicated to this dangerously unhealthy mindset. When undergoing treatment for an eating disorder, especially anorexia, you and your counselor may discover a link to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Learn how untreated OCD can be directly linked to eating disorders and how treating one illness may help you recover from the other.

Understanding Different Eating Disorders

Not all eating disorders are identical, and an individual can show symptoms of different types of eating disorders. Although there are various forms of eating disorders, the most common are anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder (BED), and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED).

Anorexia nervosa is likely the most well-known eating disorder which is characterized by a visually recognizable low weight and difficulty in gaining weight due to excessive eating restrictions and/or frequent exercise. The most common signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa are:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Constant focus on their weight, including dieting, calories, and food
  • Frequent remarks about looking or feeling “fat”
  • Wearing oversized clothing to hide weight loss, body shape, or to remain warm
  • Excessive exercise, even if they’re feeling sick or injured
  • May use purging methods to avoid weight gain, such as vomiting or laxatives

Binge eating disorder, although less discussed, is considered the most common eating disorder in the United States. Just as critical and dangerous as anorexia nervosa, BED is marked by frequent episodes of excessive eating, usually in secret. Rather than just eating “too much,” those with BED may overeat to the point of pain. Some symptoms include:

  • Frequently eats too much despite being full, most often in secret
  • Hiding food or snacks
  • Feeling negative emotions such as depression and/or guilt after a binge-eating episode
  • Plans rituals or schedules for a binge-eating episode

Lastly, less known but perhaps even more widespread than its counterparts, OSFED is defined as the presence of either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa symptoms yet doesn’t fit the full criteria. Formerly known as eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), OSFED can display signs and symptoms such as:

  • Consuming large amounts of food followed by efforts to purge to avoid weight gain
  • Overly concerned with dieting and weight loss
  • Displays a need to “burn” calories eaten
  • Problematic issues with body image

What Is OCD?

The International OCD Foundation defines OCD as when someone finds themselves stuck in a repetitive cycle of obsessions and compulsions. These obsessions are usually intrusive thoughts or feelings that are unwanted. Meanwhile, compulsions are the behaviors that someone may have in order to avoid those intrusive thoughts or triggers.

Those with OCD can have obsessions over various topics, from perfectionism and hygiene to sexuality and religion; this illness has multitudes of appearances. However, the most common signs and symptoms of OCD are:

  • Placing items in very exact order, constant focus on symmetry
  • Repeatedly bathing, cleaning, or hand-washing
  • Continually inspecting particular items
  • Reciting particular phrases while carrying out other chores, or counting frequently
  • Eating only specific foods and in a particular order
  • Refusing to shake hands with people or touch items that a lot of people touch

How OCD and Eating Disorders Coincide

Clearly, the two mental health disorders follow an obsessive mindset and can target restrictive eating. Unfortunately, it’s common that when someone struggling with a variety of both seeks medical attention, they may be diagnosed for one and not the other. Both OCD and eating disorders require individual treatment. However, treating one may be able to alleviate some symptoms of the other.

According to the IOD Foundation, numerous studies have already demonstrated that OCD is statistically more common in people with eating problems (11%–69%) and vice versa (10%–17%). In 2004, it was found that 41% of people with eating disorders also had OCD.

For OCD, an eating disorder can be caused by obsessive thoughts about body image and weight gain. As a result, the following compulsive behaviors can include excessive exercise, calorie-counting, and frequently weighing themselves throughout the day. However, some may be less worried about body image and instead on perfectionism-related obsession.

Treatment for OCD

At Avalon Malibu, we treat OCD with various forms of modern therapeutic modalities. Retraining the brain to detect and manage intrusive thoughts and behaviors is the goal of techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Treatment for OCD often yields promising results when combined with a thorough schedule of psychotherapy, medication where necessary, or therapies for co-occurring conditions, such as eating disorders.

While at the Avalon Malibu, clients will have the opportunity to experience our blended 12-Step techniques with group and individual counseling. A minimum of three individual sessions are provided each week. To help our clients rehabilitate in a secure, intimate, and supportive setting, we also use expressive arts, research-based psychotherapies, and an experiential approach. By treating OCD, you can also target those obsessive thoughts and behaviors related to disordered eating.

Both OCD and any type of eating disorder can heavily impact your daily life and damage your health. Beautiful Malibu, California, is home to our authorized addiction and mental health institution, Avalon Malibu. We offer comprehensive outpatient care, partial hospitalization, medication management, and residential treatment for mental health conditions and addiction. Our devoted and knowledgeable team has a thorough understanding of mental health disorders like OCD and how to recover from related mental health disorders. Our clients learn that they don’t need to react to unwelcome thoughts and impulses due to cognitive behavior therapy and exposure and response prevention. Call our team at (844) 857-5992 to learn more about treatment for OCD and eating disorders at Avalon Malibu.

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