Bulimia and OCD

Bulimia and OCD

Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder in which sufferers engage in a harmful cycle of binge eating followed by purging, a behavior geared to compensate for the previous binge eating session. During a binge eating session, an individual will eat a large amount of food over a short period of time, feeling a loss of control. And during the purge session that follows, someone will misuse laxatives, enemas, and/or diuretics or induce vomiting in an attempt to “cancel out” the effects of the binge.

While experts have been unable to single out any sole reason behind why some people develop bulimia nervosa while others don’t, research over the years has uncovered many risk factors that may increase someone’s likelihood of developing it. One of these risk factors is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa

The International OCD Foundation published a fascinating article in which two experts discuss the relationship between OCD and eating disorders such as bulimia. While there is data showing that there is a relationship between the two disorders, their relationship has gone “relatively unstudied.” A 2004 study showed that about 64% of individuals with eating disorders also had one (or more) anxiety disorder; and out of that number, 41% of individuals had OCD. Several other studies have shown that people who suffer from eating disorders experience statistically higher rates of OCD. In the article, the experts speculate that because there is such an overlap between symptoms of eating disorders and OCD, it could be difficult to determine if patients have OCD or an eating disorder, or both OCD and an eating disorder. Additionally, the overlap in symptoms would also make it hard to discern which disorder is responsible for the manifestation of the other one in patients who have both. 

In bulimia nervosa, patients’ cycles of binge eating and purging tends to stem from intrusive and obsessive thoughts. In these same patients, their obsessive behaviors cause anxieties that can only be assuaged by acting on ritualistic compulsions they have; in the case of people suffering from bulimia, they experience obsessive guilt after an eating binge that leads them to compulsively purge the food they just ate. Furthermore, people with bulimia become preoccupied by recurring, incessant thoughts regarding their food intake, body image, and potential weight gain; these thoughts can lead to rituals revolving around exercising, eating, and dieting. According to the article, the thread that links bulimia nervosa to OCD is that people suffering from both deal with compulsions and obsessions that are overwhelming, and can eventually have an effect on people’s ability to carry out daily functions normally; these obsessions and compulsions may even cause incapacitation.

Where to Find Help

There are many ways you can find help if you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder like bulimia nervosa. If you are in a crisis, however, you can text “NEDA” to 741-741 and you will be put in touch with a trained volunteer. You could reach out to an eating disorder hotline, or find a treatment center near you to contact. Additionally, we can help you here at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You can reach us via phone (866-525-2766), email, or by filling out our contact form.

Scroll to Top