Autism and Diet Culture
There are a LOT of articles exploring the impact of diet on autism, but what about how diet culture impacts autistic people? This post briefly explains how diet culture is harmful to autistic people and sheds light on the importance of a neurodiversity-affirming perspective when it comes to educating on the topic of health and nutrition.
What is diet culture?
Diet culture can be summed up as the collective set of social expectations that prioritize and glorify thinness through the promotion of restrictive eating habits. Diet culture involves the societal pressure to conform to idealistic (and often unrealistic) beauty standards, spreading the pervasive belief that appearance and body shape are more important than overall health.
Diet culture and the education system
When I was eleven years old, I started learning about health and nutrition in school. I learned about how “unhealthy” processed food was and that if you didn’t watch out, your BMI would skyrocket into the “overweight” or “obese” weight range. I learned about the importance of physical activity and that to maintain optimal health, you should exercise for at least X minutes per day.
Diet culture and literal thinking
My autistic mind took the health class “recommendations” very literally. I believed that if I did not become this “perfect healthy eater,” I would become the definition of “unhealthy,” which is a clear illustration of how black-and-white thinking can contribute to eating disorders in autistic people.
Autism and existentialism
Furthermore, I have always been an existential thinker. For as long as I can remember, I asked questions about the meaning of life.
- Why am I here?
- What’s my purpose?
- What’s the point of living if we’re all going to die anyways?
When I was educated on health and nutrition through the lens made up of diet-culture and fatphobia, the purpose of becoming that aforementioned “perfect healthy eater” practically fell in my lap. As long as I followed the rules of my strict diet and exercise plan, I was fulfilling my purpose!
Alongside the autistic traits of literal thinking, viewing situations as black-or-white, and attempting to find meaning in an incomprehensible universe, engaging in diet culture is a way to conform. Because autistic people feel out of place in this neurotypical world, we go above and beyond to “fit in” and compensate for what society has deemed as flawed. What easier way to do this than to control what you eat and how you move?
Bringing awareness to the way we speak about food, movement, and our bodies is a critical step in paving the path towards a more neurodiversity-affirming world. If you want to learn how to cook and meal prep in a way that supports autistic people in navigating food challenges from an anti-diet perspective, grab your copy of my cookbook Nourishing Neurodiversity here!