OCD And Eating Disorders: Connection, Similarities & Treatment

OCD And Eating Disorders

Did you know that there is a concerning and significant link between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and eating disorders?

Alarmingly, studies have shown that about 69% of people with eating disorders have also been diagnosed with OCD. Furthermore, between 10-17 % of individuals with OCD are found to struggle with an eating disorder.  This overlap can lead to a complex and challenging situation for those affected. It’s crucial to understand the intricate connection between these two conditions to provide effective support and treatment.

In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the relationship between OCD and eating disorders, highlighting the importance of recognizing this link and discussing the various treatment options available for those grappling with both conditions.”

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that causes people to experience frequent, intrusive thoughts and feelings. People with OCD feel compelled to perform certain behaviors or rituals in order to reduce their distress. Here are some of the common obsessions and compulsions that can be seen in people with this condition:

  • Fear of contamination
  • harming others, or making mistakes
  • Having to count, sort, or arrange things in a specific way
  • Having to keep objects symmetrical
  • Needing to touch certain objects in order to feel “safe”
  • Excessive hand washing and cleaning
  • An eating disorder is any condition that leads
  • Compulsive cleaning or handwashing rituals
  • Excessive checking behaviors (e.g., constantly checking to make sure the door is locked)
  • Anxiety over making mistakes or being perfect
  • Feeling responsible for bad things happening

What Is An Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are severe mental illnesses that can cause serious psychological and physical health problems. People with eating disorders may struggle with disordered eating patterns, extreme dieting and exercise habits, distorted body image, and other unhealthy behaviors related to food and weight. Common types of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa: This condition is characterized by extreme calorie restriction and an intense fear of gaining weight.
  • Anxiety or distress about eating in public, with others, or in certain situations.
  • Bulimia nervosa: This disorder is marked by episodes of binge eating followed by purging behaviors such as vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise to avoid weight gain.
  • Binge eating disorder: This condition involves recurrent episodes of overeating without compensatory behavior afterward.

Symptoms Of Eating Disorders

Here are some of the signs and symptoms that may indicate an eating disorder:

    • Preoccupation with food, weight, calories, or dieting
    • Extremely restrictive eating habits
    • Strict rules about what types of foods can be eaten
    • Skipping meals or avoiding certain foods
    • Attempts to hide how much food is being consumed
    • Excessive weight loss
    • overly weighing oneself.
    • tiredness, dry skin, weaker immune system.
  • Irregular sleep routines.

The Connection Between OCD and Eating Disorders

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and eating disorders may seem unrelated at first glance, but they share a common thread of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

For instance, a person with OCD might have intense, recurring thoughts (obsessions) about germs or cleanliness, leading to compulsive hand-washing. Similarly, someone with an eating disorder might be obsessed with thoughts about weight or body shape, leading to compulsive behaviors around food, like extreme dieting or binge eating.

To illustrate, consider the example,

  • Sarah has OCD and is excessively preoccupied with the fear of gaining weight.
  • This fear drives her to compulsively check her body in the mirror and obsessively count calories, behaviors that eventually spiral into an eating disorder.
  • Now, Sarah’s case highlights how the compulsions in OCD can mirror the restrictive eating and ritualized behaviors seen in eating disorders.

Understanding this connection is key in recognizing how these disorders can influence and exacerbate each other, making it crucial for treatment to address both the OCD and the eating disorder.

Similarities Between Eating Disorders And OCD

Both OCD and eating disorders can involve strict rules, rituals, and routines.

Both conditions require rigid adherence to certain behaviors in order to feel relief from symptoms. People with both conditions may have a fear of change or unpredictability, as well as an intense need for control over their lives.

Both conditions can involve feelings of guilt and shame. In an eating disorder, the person would get obsessions and compulsions related to food and weight, just as in OCD.

Differences Between OCD And Eating Disorders

Though there are similarities between OCD and eating disorders, there are also some key differences.

People with OCD have thoughts and rituals that they feel the need to perform in order to reduce their distress, while people with eating disorders often act out behaviors related to food or body image as a way of avoiding uncomfortable emotions.

Eating disorders involve a greater emphasis on physical appearance and body image, while OCD is more focused on the mental aspect. People with eating disorders often have a distorted view of themselves and their bodies, while people with OCD may not have any issues with self-image.

What Causes OCD And Eating Disorders?

What Causes The OCD And Eating Disorders?The exact cause of OCD and eating disorders is not known. However, there are a few potential factors that may contribute to the development of either condition, including:

  • Genetics: Some research suggests that genetics can play a role in the development of both conditions. The Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) is actively studying genetic factors that may be linked to anorexia. These disorders may start from an early age.
  • Biological Factors: Certain changes in the brain, such as increased levels of serotonin, have been linked to both OCD and eating disorders. There is also some evidence that neurobiological abnormalities and faulty brain chemistry in reward processing may contribute to the development of eating disorders and OCD. Serotonin and dopamine are two neurotransmitters that are involved in regulating mood and behavior that encourage the eating disorder.
  • Environment Disorder: Environmental factors are also thought to play a role in the development of eating disorders and OCD. Stressful life events, such as abuse or trauma, may contribute to the onset of either condition, as can environmental triggers like body shaming or dieting culture that are so pervasive in our society today.

Treatment for Eating Disorders and OCD

Treating co-occurring eating disorders and OCD requires a multi-faceted approach, as addressing only one condition can leave the other untreated, potentially leading to a cycle of relapse and recovery. Here’s a comprehensive approach to treating both disorders effectively:


Treatment for Eating Disorders and OCD-PsychotherapyCognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT is one of the most commonly used forms of treatment for both conditions, as it can help individuals to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to the disorder.

Exposure And Response Prevention: ERP is a form of CBT specifically tailored for OCD. This involves gradually exposing the individual to their fear-inducing stimuli in a safe and controlled environment, with the aim of helping them to learn how to manage their responses without resorting to compulsions or other maladaptive behaviors.


Medication for Eating Disorders and OCDCertain medications, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), can help manage symptoms of both OCD and eating disorders.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) have emerged as a cornerstone in the treatment of both Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and certain eating disorders. These medications, including Luvox (fluvoxamine), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline), work by altering the balance of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in the brain associated with mood and behavior.

It’s important to note that while SSRIs are effective for many, they are not suitable for everyone. Their use should be closely monitored by a healthcare professional, especially in the case of eating disorders, where there may be additional health considerations. Side effects can vary between individuals, and it may take some time to find the medication and dosage that works best for a specific person.

Nutritional Counseling

Nutritional counseling can be beneficial for individuals with eating disorders, as it can provide education about healthy eating habits and help them to establish a healthy relationship with food.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle Changes to calm down symptoms OCD and Eating DisordersMaking specific lifestyle changes can significantly aid in managing both OCD and eating disorders. Here are direct, actionable steps that can make a real difference:

  • Prioritize getting enough sleep and sticking to consistent sleep and wake times.
  • Incorporate Regular exercise which can alleviate stress, improve mood, and boost overall well-being. However, it should be balanced and not excessive, especially in the context of eating disorders.
  • Develop a healthy relationship with food. Focus on eating balanced, nutritious meals without any rush, and try to avoid skipping meals or dieting excessively.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake as they can exacerbate anxiety and disrupt sleep patterns, which can trigger OCD symptoms and disordered eating behaviors.
  •  Incorporate stress-management practices such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques into your daily routine.
  • Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who understand your challenges and can provide encouragement and motivation.
  • Identify and try to reduce exposure to situations or stimuli that trigger OCD symptoms or unhealthy eating behaviors.
  • Seek Social Support: Joining support groups or engaging in community activities can provide additional support and a sense of belonging.

OCD and eating disorders are two distinct conditions that can have a serious impact on an individual’s life. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, psychotherapy and medication – along with nutritional counseling for individuals with eating disorders – can help people to manage their symptoms and live healthier, more fulfilling life.

Take care, and don’t forget that you are not alone! OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. If you have any queries regarding OCD treatmentERP therapy experienced therapists at OCDMantra can help: Book a trial OCD therapy session