Diet and exercise can have an effect on everything in our life, from our physical health to our mental health. Therefore, it is important to consider these areas as you are developing a treatment plan for your OCD.
We know that exercise can have a positive effect on serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters thought to be related to OCD. This effect on serotonin could in turn lead to a positive effect on your OCD as well, given that regulation of serotonin is one of the things that psychiatrists hope to do when prescribing medications to treat OCD.
There are some indications that diet also may affect OCD. In the past, there were some attempts to treat OCD with tryptophan, one of the sources for the building blocks of the neurotransmitters related to OCD. However, tryptophan is currently banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in pure form, so the only way to get it is through foods, such as turkey or kiwi fruit. Other researchers have looked into using B6 vitamin therapy because B6 is required to break tryptophan down into the base chemicals that are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. But as long as tryptophan is banned, it is impossible to continue to study its effects on OCD.
Other chemicals in our foods can have a direct impact on our level of anxiety. For example, caffeine, because it is a stimulant, can lead to a heightened level of anxiety. And vitamins and minerals, such as iron, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium, have been linked to decreasing stress and anxiety.
Eating habits can also be indicative of anxiety. Some people are nervous eaters and use food to try to calm themselves, typically eating carbohydrates (comfort food). The problem with this is that when people eat a large amount of carbohydrates, their serotonin levels rise, and they feel euphoric. This does not last very long, however, and then they crash, and serotonin levels dip even lower than they were before the person ate the carbohydrates. This can lead to a desire to eat even more carbohydrates, and a cycle of nervous eating can begin. With this comes weight gain, more stress, and more difficulties with mood regulation. People with OCD need to be careful about not falling victim to this pattern of self-medicating with food.