Anxiety, OCD, and Eating Disorders

Did you know that researchers consider OCD, anxiety, and eating disorders to be related?

According to research by the International OCD Foundation, there is a strong connection between these three disorders.

Ever since 1939 researchers have speculated on the parallels between OCD and eating disorders. Numerous studies have now shown that those with eating disorders have statistically higher rates of OCD (11% – 69%), and vice versa (10% – 17%). As recently as 2004, Kaye, et al., reported that 64% of individuals with eating disorders also possess at least one anxiety disorder, and 41% of these individuals have OCD in particular. In 1983, Yaryura-Tobias and Neziroglu proposed that eating disorders may be considered part of the OCD spectrumm but since then the boundaries among anorexia, nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and OCD remain blurred.

Fugen Neziroglu, PhD, ABBP, ABPP and Jonathan Sandler, BA

The emotions around eating disorder behaviors are very similar to those around the characteristic obsessions and compulsions of OCD. Pervasive thoughts interfere with daily life in both disorders. Rituals around food and eating could be part of either disorder, or even both.

Diagnostic criteria look at the fundamental reason for the behavior. If the food rituals are designed to limit intake or monitor consumption, the primary diagnosis is given to the eating disorder. Restrictive eating that leads to extreme weight loss due to excessive compulsions that get in the way of sufficient intake is a sign that OCD might be the primary diagnosis.

What does it matter? If both are relevant factors, why bother having separate diagnoses? The key is that the purpose of diagnosis is to inform treatment. Good therapy will address the root cause of the behaviors, so it matters whether the behavior stems from body image weight concerns or obsessive thoughts resulting in the compulsion.

Beyond that, it may not really matter. Treatments for anxiety, eating disorders, and OCD focus on mindfulness, emotion management, and thought management.

If you are struggling with OCD, anxiety, or eating disorder please know you are not alone. You may be realizing that you have the wrong diagnosis, or possibly multiple diagnoses creating the same behaviors. OCD or anxiety contributing to your eating disorder might be a factor in why residential eating disorder treatment didn’t work out as well for you as it did for others in your cohort.

What do you think? The intersection of anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders has not been studied as much as other co-occurring disorders. It can be difficult to find a professional who has training in how these interact. If you’re interested in getting therapy for any of these behaviors, contact me at or 831-531-2259 to schedule an appointment.

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