When people have such dangerous eating disorders as bulimia, anorexia and binge-eating disorder, they’re often accompanied with mental health issues, including:
• Post-traumatic stress;
• General anxiety;
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.
According to many studies, most patients who have eating disorders also suffer from anxiety and other mental problems, and OCD is the most common one. For example, women with anorexia nervosa have very high rates of OCD, just like female patients with bulimia nervosa.
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder struggle with different compulsions or obsessions. The latter ones include their frequent and recurrent ideas or impulses, which intrude a normal daily life, because most of them are inappropriate, like sexual obsessions. These often cause a lot of anxiety and distress.
Such obsessive ideas aren’t just simple worries about regular problems in life, though they may include exaggerated versions. People with this condition often try to suppress, ignore or stop these thoughts by doing something else (compulsions). Basically, compulsions are mental acts and repetitive behaviors in response to obsessions. The most common ones include:
• Repeated checking;
• Hand washing;
• Counting and praying;
• Repeating words.
Although their main goal is reducing worries and anxiety, these acts are excessive. Patients with compulsions or obsessions may understand that these thoughts and actions are unreasonable, but they keep causing them a lot of distress and take a lot of their time. This is what disrupts people’s normal routine and may cause many problems at school, work and in relationships.
As an example, hand washing is a standard activity that all people are encouraged to do to stay healthy and clean. However, when it becomes time-consuming and hands start bleeding, this habit becomes a real problem.
Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and eating disorders have compulsive actions and intrusive thoughts. If they have only eating disorders, their compulsions and obsessions are limited to actions and ideas related to weight and food. When people with eating disorders have compulsions and obsessions about other things, they have OCD.
Based on studies, women who have had OCD in their childhood are more likely to have eating disorders in their adult life.
When people start experiencing the symptoms of other conditions, it complicates their treatment. Luckily, there are many efficient treatments for OCD and eating disorders. OCD is often treated by psychotherapy and special medications. CBT, or cognitive-behavioral therapy, is also an effective option to treat these conditions. It involves teaching patients how to recognize their intrusive and negative thoughts and change their reactions to them.
ERP, or exposure-and-response prevention, is another beneficial psychotherapy type to treat OCD. Therapists who use this treatment expose patients to specific obsession or anxiety inducing settings and work with them to prevent any engagement in compulsive behaviors.
These treatment options are quite similar to the ones chosen by people to recover from their eating disorders. As an example, patients with bulimia or anorexia experience a lot of anxiety when eating any meals. Although they have urges to restrict after meals, purge or exercise, their doctors work with them to prevent these behaviors from repeating. Sometimes, people with eating disorders are physically prevented from these urges in higher levels of medical care, including residential treatments and in-patient hospitalization.
The good news is that many experienced therapists who deal with eating disorders are familiar with other conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder. If your doctor can’t treat OCD effectively, you need to visit other therapists who can focus on the main symptoms of each condition and treat their causes successfully. Personal approaches must be implemented because every case is different.