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OCD and Disordered Eating

The relationship between OCD and Disordered Eating

If you are familiar with the presentation(s) of OCD and of Disordered Eating, then you may have noticed how similar the two separate disorders can be. So similar, in fact, that one might wonder if they are in fact the same thing. In this post I will share the relationship between OCD and Disordered eating, and what these similarities can mean for treatment options.

Do people with Eating Disorders have OCD?

An individual can experience both Disordered Eating and OCD simultaneously. However, because an individual has one of these diagnoses does not mean they also have the other. Although both disorders involve similar symptomology such as obsessions and compulsions, there are some clear and unclear indications whether an individual is struggling with one disorder over another.

Continue reading to learn more about the indicators of OCD vs Disordered Eating.

Does diet impact OCD?

Let's imagine an individual is asking the question, “Does diet impact OCD?” they might be wondering this for one of two reasons. 1) They are interested in the connection between mental health and the gut, or, 2) They are an individual with an OCD diagnosis who may have obsessions/compulsions around eating specific foods (for example, believing certain foods make their symptoms worse).

We are going to focus on person number 2 and how we know this person may be struggling with OCD rather than Disordered Eating. Please note that person number 2 could be experiencing both OCD and Disordered Eating but we are going to focus on how we may tell these two disorders apart in this example.

Person 2 is seeking reassurance regarding their food consumption and your answer might impact how they feel about what they ate. If person 2’s motivation for eating specific foods and avoiding others is based on the fear of making their symptoms worse, then we have a good indicator that they are struggling with OCD not Disordered Eating which focuses more on fears regarding weight and body image.

Let's introduce person 3. Person 3 wants to know whether certain foods will give them belly bloat. Person 3 could also be seeking reassurance, obsessing, and engaging in compulsive rituals, however, person 3 is motivated by body image and how they or others perceive them for what they eat. This is a good indicator that person 3 could be struggling with Disordered Eating rather than OCD which focuses more on fears outside of weight and body image.

In summary, these two disorders can both focus on food but the underlying motivation is often different for each one. Disordered Eating tends to focus on fears around weight/ body image whereas OCD tends to focus on making the “right” decision, choosing the least contaminated option etc.

Treatment for OCD and Disordered Eating

OCD and Disordered Eating Treatment both utilize Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). OCD is most effectively treated using Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP). Despite the underlying motivations for OCD and Disordered Eating being different, they are indeed quite similar in that they both involve obsessive and compulsive behaviors.

We know that ERP is the go-to treatment for OCD, so why not use ERP for Disordered Eating? In summary, there is plenty of overlap between Disordered Eating and OCD, however, they are separate disorders and have different treatment approaches with some overlap. There is reason to believe that ERP could be the best treatment approach not just for OCD but for Disordered Eating as well, given the nature of the Obsessive - Anxious - Compulsive cycle present in them both.


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