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Managing OCD With Healthy Eating & Exercise

By Ann Jones

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a mental illness characterized by recurrent obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors meant to allay the anxiety caused by those thoughts. While the National Institute of Mental Health lists psychiatric medication and behavioral therapy as the first-line treatments for OCD, nutrition experts believe the disorder may be partially alleviated through diet and exercise.

Characteristics of OCD

OCD is an anxiety disorder in which behaviors such as counting, cleaning and handwashing serve as a defense against troubling obsessive thoughts. A person with OCD may have trouble living a normal life, perhaps even becoming unable to leave the house without checking hundreds of times to make sure the door is locked or appliances are turned off. OCD may coexist with other mental illnesses such as depression or eating disorders. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, approximately 2 percent of the population experience OCD to some degree.

Conventional Treatments

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which a person suffering from OCD systematically challenges the mistaken beliefs that drive the disorder, has proven particularly effective in treating the disorder. One form of cognitive-behavioral therapy tailored to OCD is exposure therapy, in which the patient confronts the source of his fear with the therapist present. For example, someone who is afraid of germs might walk into a public restroom and touch the sink or toilet, then resist the urge to immediately wash his hands. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can also be beneficial in treating OCD.

Managing OCD With Diet

According to nutrition expert Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of "MindBoosters," foods that may be beneficial to OCD sufferers include those rich in folic acid and vitamin B12. Examples of foods high in folic acid include broccoli, bananas, potatoes and soy products, while those rich in B12 include liver and dairy products. Strict vegetarians and vegans suffering from OCD may benefit from B12 supplements, such as nutritional yeast. Dr. Sahelian suggests that supplements such as 5HTP and passion flower may also be helpful for anxiety disorders.

Managing OCD With Exercise

Exercise, which has potent antidepressant effects, can also be helpful in treating the anxiety that plagues OCD sufferers. According to the Mayo Clinic, ways in which exercise can help alleviate OCD symptoms include the release of "feel-good" neurotransmitters and endorphins in the brain and an increase in body temperature, which may help promote a feeling of calm. Exercise also helps you interact with others socially, builds self-esteem and distracts you from worrisome thoughts.


For some people, OCD symptoms can be crippling in spite of the best diet and exercise regimen. If you are suffering from symptoms of an anxiety disorder, contact your physician for referral to a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist who can provide an accurate diagnosis. Diet and exercise are not substitutes for treatment by a medical professional. If you want to make nutrition and physical activity a primary component of your OCD treatment, your psychiatrist can recommend a dietitian who can help you develop a treatment plan. You may wish to look for a treatment team in a hospital with both a psychiatric and a nutrition department.

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