Autism, Anorexia, and Pacing

autism recovery
Autism, Anorexia, and Pacing

Do you or someone you love have a constant urge to move?

Pacing is a recognized form of movement in both the autism community as well as the eating disorder community – but less is known about the role of pacing when autism and eating disorders intersect.

This post explores the role of pacing from a neurodiversity-affirming perspective, providing insight to an alternate view of this “compulsive movement” in ED recovery.

Compulsive movement or self regulation?

For many autistic people, pacing, as well as other forms of movement such as jumping, swinging, rocking, or hand flapping is a way to self-regulate.

As I’ve explained in previous posts and podcast episodes, autistic people tend to live in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Stimming (self stimulatory behavior) allows us to release some of this mobilized energy and stay grounded.

In the eating disorder space (specifically when discussing anorexia nervosa), pacing is referred to as “compulsive movement” or an “OCD-ED” behavior. For this reason, the movement is often redirected and/or sought to be eliminated as an ultimatum of reaching “full recovery.”

Safety violation + demand avoidance activation

While, for many people who are not neurodivergent, elimination of hyperactive behaviors may be a cornerstone of recovery, redirection can cause harm for autistic and/or ADHD individuals.

From my own ED lived experience, I know the effects of coercion all too well. I was banned from playing soccer ⚽️ (the only thing that gave me joy at the time) and was constantly told to "sit down" when I kept walkin' around the countless treatment facilities I was in.

Whereas my hyperactivity was seen as "the eating disorder's sneaky attempt to burn calories," movement, for me, has always been a way in which I regulate myself.

So, when I was told I wasn't allowed to move, my demand avoidance kicked in:

"You think you can tell me what to do? Well, clearly you don't know who you're messing with!"

To maintain my sense of autonomy – which goes hand in hand with feeling safe – I did the complete opposite of what the professionals recommended.

I did pushups in the bathroom, planks on my bed, and snuck out of the clinic to go on runs in the nearby woods (you can read about all of the secretive stories in my memoir Rainbow Girl).

To me, this behavior was proof that no one could tell me what to do.

For someone with an eating disorder to recover, they must trust that it is safe enough to do so, that is to say, safe enough to make terrifying changes.

Demands, ultimatums, and other forms of manipulation only lead to a perceived loss of autonomy, which ultimately results in clinging more tightly to the eating disorder.

But of course, it goes much deeper than that...much deeper than I can go via a blog post.

And that's where the live version of me comes in! 💃 Through personalized coaching, I provide the lived experience support and guidance to navigate the complex interconnection between autism and eating disorders.

My approach is tailored to each unique individual, helping you build trust, regain autonomy, and make lasting changes.

If you're ready to finally find freedom so you can live the life you so deserve (or help someone you care for), schedule a consultation call here!

Want to learn how to navigate ED recovery as an autistic person?

Listen to my FREE TRAINING teaching you how to use your autistic traits to your advantage in ED recovery 💪