Eating Disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Eating disorders plague about 0.9 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men over a lifetime period in the United States. Those who are diagnosed with an eating disorder are given a designation of one of three diagnoses provided by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition.

The three diagnoses available to healthcare providers for helping their patients understand their disorder are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorder not otherwise specified. Diagnoses for eating disorders often overlap with another type of disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. Approximately 11 to 13 percent of individuals with OCD also struggle with an eating disorder.

An article by Steven D. Tsao, PhD., described the difficulty in diagnosing and treating both OCD and eating disorders. Because the symptoms of eating disorders are obsessive in nature, it is a challenge to determine whether the individual is suffering from an eating disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or both.

It is not unusual, reports Tsao, to find people with eating disorders who report that they also have OCD, because their eating disorders are based on a number of rigid beliefs and behaviors that plague them regularly. People with eating disorders may have a very specific agenda that they feel they must complete before or after eating.

These behaviors might include routines involving a particular eating schedule, habits, and portion sizes or certain ways that food must be ingested. Other sufferers may compulsively count calories all day and have specific numbers that they are obsessed with achieving. This may lead to compulsively researching calorie totals for foods, taking hours out of their day.

People with eating disorders may also show obsessive traits in their need to eat “the right foods” or exercise in a particular way to pursue a perfect body or a perfect number on the scale.

Tsao says that although these types of behaviors seem to be OCD, the focus on food, weight and body make an eating disorder diagnosis more appropriate. Tsao encourages those suffering from compulsive behaviors focused on controlling weight to go through an effective treatment for eating disorders. Those who seek effective treatment can break up their obsessive rituals and restore balance by managing their anxiety in other ways.

Tsao recommends in the report that individuals who are not sure whether they have an OCD problem or an eating disorder to seek the help of a qualified medical professional. After they are in treatment, it is often helpful to create a diagram listing the hierarchy of problems to determine the source of the obsessive behaviors.


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