Lifestyle risk factors for obsessive-compulsive symptoms and related phenomena: what should lifestyle interventions target?

Mary Ellen E. Brierley, Lucy Albertella, Erynn Christensen, Kristian Rotaru, Felice N. Jacka, Rebecca A. Segrave, Karyn E. Richardson, Rico S.C. Lee, Edouard Kayayan, Sam Hughes, Murat Yücel, Leonardo F. Fontenelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Objective: Understanding the impact of lifestyle on mental illness symptoms is important for informing psycho-education and developing interventions which target mental and physical comorbidities. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders can have a significant impact on health-related quality of life and physical health. However, our understanding of the impact of lifestyle on obsessive-compulsive symptoms and broader compulsive and impulsive problematic repetitive behaviours is limited. Aims: We investigated whether lifestyle factors predicted change in obsessive-compulsive symptoms and problematic repetitive behaviours in a general population sample over a 3-month period. Methods: Eight hundred thirty-five participants completed an online questionnaire battery assessing lifestyle and mental health. Of these, 538 participants completed the same battery 3 months later. We conducted negative binomial regressions to analyse the association of lifestyle factors at baseline with future (1) obsessive-compulsive symptoms, (2) compulsive problematic repetitive behaviours and (3) impulsive problematic repetitive behaviours, adjusting for baseline obsessive-compulsive symptoms and problematic repetitive behaviours. Results: Lower vegetable (p = 0.020) and oily fish (p = 0.040) intake and lower moderate intensity physical activity (p = 0.008) predicted higher obsessive-compulsive symptoms at follow-up. Higher intake of high-fat foods (p < 0.001) predicted higher compulsive problematic repetitive behaviours at follow-up. No lifestyle factors significantly predicted impulsive problematic repetitive behaviours at follow-up. Conclusion: Our results speak to the potential importance of lifestyle quality screening, education and lifestyle interventions (e.g. an anti-inflammatory diet) for individuals experiencing compulsivity-related behaviours and/or symptoms. Further research into potential mechanisms of action will allow for more targeted approaches to lifestyle interventions for transdiagnostic compulsive behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • compulsive
  • diet
  • impulsive
  • lifestyle
  • Obsessive-compulsive

Cite this