How My OCD Evolved into an Eating Disorder

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Jessica Henning

At 10 years old, I lost my mom to cancer. My dad moved us from where we’d lived for almost five years back home to be closer to relatives who could help, since he was now a single dad. I didn’t know how to process my mom’s death or the move. I don’t think anyone expects a kid or an adult to know how to process losing a parent, and my dad did the absolute best he could. Unfortunately, as the youngest child, I got preferential treatment during the grieving process. My dad would often tell my older brother and sister to go easy on me. And if I cried, people would immediately look for ways to make me stop. I’d be offered extra tv time, shopping trips, or just extra attention, but.  I had no idea how to handle all my grief.  

I created coping methods to avoid dealing with the emotions associated with my mom’s death, which unbeknownst to me would be later characterized by a therapist as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  I won’t go into the details of my OCD but suffice it to say it created even more anxiety and stress in my life. Somewhere deep in my subconscious, that anxiety and obsessiveness took precedence over having to deal with the pain of my mom’s death. 

For years, I went on letting my OCD rule my life. Once I got into college, I became an RA, specifically so I wouldn’t have to share a room with anyone else. Residents who barely knew me would tease me about my room because it was a well-known fact that I would get incredibly uncomfortable and tense if someone walked into it, let alone sat down on my couch. Friends would find it fun to move something in my room, thinking I wouldn’t notice, assuming my tendencies were those of a neat-freak. What they didn’t know was the onset of panic I felt as soon as I realized something was out of place. 

By my senior year of college, after I gained the, some would call, inevitable freshman 15, I decided to start eating healthier and exercise more. Unfortunately, this lifestyle change coincided with additional stresses in my life. The obsessive qualities that defined my OCD shifted to an obsessiveness with eating and exercising, and I developed a full-fledged eating disorder.  

This time, people noticed. My unhealthy behaviors were playing out in my body. The obsessing and anxiety were no longer things people teased me about or challenged. But what I don’t think people understood—what I didn’t even understand until a few months of treatment— was my progression from OCD to and eating disorder. My eating disorder didn’t come out of the blue. It was waiting there, lurking under the surface. I transitioned from using the OCD to numb out to using the eating disorder to numb out instead. But served similar purposes. I obsessed over things in both rather than feeling my emotions. Anxiety and control were constant with both.  

It wasn’t until I broke through of the numbness, got help, and began dealing with my mom’s death that I felt hopeful. Six years later, while the journey has not always been an easy one, I’m still on the road of recovery. And I know I’m not alone. 


Jessica Henning currently resides in central Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, and three dogs. When she’s not spending time with her family, she enjoys reading, writing, and yoga.