Obsessive Compulsive Eating Disorder

There are more forms of eating disorders than the public realizes. Bulimia and anorexia are the most famous. Binge eating is starting to get media time so as to help the public understand that overeating is not just about greed.

There is also a disorder called obsessive compulsive eating disorder. Eating disorder and mental health experts explain that this is not the same as compulsive overeating, although the two conditions are related.

Understanding Obsessive Compulsions

Experts describe the many ways in which OCD manifests itself. Some of the common ones are the need to line up items (books, cutlery, or jars and bottles in the refrigerator) in a particular order and spending too much time doing just this. The obsession might hone in on many different things or be specific.

A person with OCD is not just concerned with order; he cannot proceed to the next activity, cannot sleep, and cannot eat until everything is just right. He feels anxious and distressed when things are out of order. Achieving it brings him a short spell of peace. Whereas a mother would ordinarily be a bit frustrated by the slovenliness of her children, a mother with OCD blows things out of perspective.

Eating Disorders and OCD

Specialists who treat people with obsessive compulsive eating disorder say this is directly connected to OCD. It is a type of obsessive compulsive disorder which is not always characterized by overeating.

More likely:

  • A person will either be concerned with presentation or types of food.
  • Different types of food cannot be touching on the plate.
  • Sauce cannot be poured over anything.
  • There has to be an exact portion size for each item on the plate and it has to be arranged symmetrically, according to color, or in order of nutritional importance.
  • A rigid application of the food pyramid leads a person to weigh or measure each serving so that it is exactly right.
  • The border around a plate free of food has to be exactly one inch.

These are only a few examples.

The individual might expect food to be in certain shapes, or he could refuse to eat whole categories of food. He might exclude all animal products, fats, or dairy, not for dietary reasons but because of an obsessive concern with something about them; something irrational. It might be the color, for instance. Caloric content is also important and the time at which a person eats. If dinner runs past a certain hour, he refuses to eat at all.

Three Levels of Damage and Recovery

An eating disorder touches the mind, body, and spirit of an individual. When he cannot live a normal life:

  • He is unable to connect properly with people anymore.
  • He feels cut off.
  • He might lose or gain weight, experience headaches and irritability, or suffer from panic attacks.
  • He becomes angry and unpredictable and other people suffer along with him, especially children or a spouse.

To control his symptoms, he places constraints on the behavior of others or eats on his own, away from the family table.

Being disconnected from people is emotionally and spiritually hard on a person. Community — from close family to friends and neighbors — give a person a context; an anchorage. Without it, they feel adrift and meaningless, like they do not belong anywhere.

Understandably, depression and anxiety are often the result. When someone is isolated, she only hears her own thoughts; sees her own view of the world, but through a distorted lens.

Nutritional restrictions lead to health problems. Lack of nutrients places a strain on whichever part of the body would be nourished by a lacking vitamin or mineral. The stress of obsessive compulsion is hard on a person’s heart. Other stress-related problems include headaches, digestive problems, and nausea.

Treating Obsessive Compulsive Eating

Wherever there is a pre-existing mental illness, clinicians take pains to treat this first. It is the cause of obsessive compulsive eating. By treating this one, they release a person from the other eventually. It takes time for a change of circumstances to sink in. Obsession is partly habit when it has been a part of life for long enough.

There is a routine in which organization of foods must be achieved to prevent stress which a client thinks is inevitable. It takes a while to realize this is not true. The stress was caused by something treatable, like bipolar, panic, or depression.

How do clinicians treat depression and other disorders?

They sometimes resort to medications. This is the last resort, actually, because OCD is much like an addiction, and some medications for mental health problems are highly addictive.

If possible, psychotherapists integrate new thinking and behavioral patterns into a person’s life. With practice, it can become second nature to question a so-called necessary reaction to events which once produced anxiety or contributed to low self-esteem. That reaction was typically internalized.

In its place, therapists encourage patients to respond to situations using the steps they teach. Take a minute. Assess what is going on. Ask yourself if you need to feel the way you do. Initial emotions are primary ones. Whatever continues is a secondary emotion; a chosen feeling.

In other words, clients learn that they have power over whether they are brittle, feel like victims, are miserable, or continue to feel angry and become embittered.

Substance Abuse

A number of counselors find themselves treating substance abusers who also have OCD which manifests as compulsive eating. Most substance abusers arrive at rehab with some other problem. Alcohol and drugs provide short-term relaxation from feelings of distress. A client’s mood is elevated or she mellows out.

If you suffer from addiction and obsessive compulsive eating disorder, visit a dual diagnosis specialist.