How my Autism Manifested as an Eating Disorder
It's finally here! My story on how I believe my Autism manifested as an Eating Disorder. Before we get into this, I recommend you watch my Top 10 Female Autistic Traits video as well as my Top 10 Childhood Autistic Traits video, as these videos will give you a better understanding of the context when I’m referring to how certain autistic traits contributed to my eating disorder. If you’ve done that or you’ve already watched those videos, then you are in the right place because in this post, I am sharing 5 specific autistic traits that I believe played an inevitable role in the development of my eating disorder.
One very important thing to note: Autism did not CAUSE my eating disorder, as autism & eating disorders do not have a cause-effect relationship. If they did, then everyone with autism would get an eating disorder. Similar to the myth that “thin models” cause eating disorders being untrue...because if thin models truly caused Anorexia or other eating disorders, everyone who saw a thin model would get an eating disorder..,and we all know that’s not true! We are ALL exposed to diet culture and we are ALL exposed to the media, but only a fraction of the population goes on to develop a full-blown eating disorder.
A HUGE factor in the development of an eating disorder has to do with genetics, and we all already know (or I hope you know) that autism is a genetic disability…it’s something you’re simply born with. It’s not caused by vaccines, bad parenting, or any of those bullshit myths that people will come up with nowadays. You also cannot “treat” autism because it’s a disability, whereas an eating disorder is a, well, DISORDER, meaning that you CAN treat it. A disability is part of your identity, a disorder is not.
There’s obviously still SO much research that has to be done when it comes to exploring the genetic link between autism and eating disorders, but I believe that awareness of these co-morbid mental health issues is key. I believe people openly talking about this link, like I do on this blog, my YouTube Channel, my Instagram and my Podcast, is also key! There are several statistics attaching numbers to probability and occurrence of someone who is autistic AND has an ED, but I don't believe these statistics are reliable because they don't even come close to the reality of how many people who have an eating disorder, ALSO have autism.
Just to take me as an example, I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 11...and only found out about autism nearly a decade later! And this discovery was not even because someone else suspected it, but because I started doing my own research. Since finding out I have Autism, I have learned so much, and that’s what I’m going be sharing with you today!
1. Highly Sensitive
The first autism-ED trait is that I’m highly sensitive. I was a super picky eater growing up and have always been really sensitive to the way food makes me feel. I also have a very sensitive stomach. So already here, there was a form of restriction, because I would only eat foods that made me feel “safe” and foods that I trusted would not wreck my gut. When it came to my eating disorder, these foods kept getting more and more limited, up to the point where I only had a few foods I felt safe eating.
2. Difficulty with Change
All of these traits are obviously interlinked, but I believe that difficulty with change heavily contributed to the prolonged duration of my Anorexia. Change is incredibly hard for autistic people, and this can obviously be a huge barrier when it comes to recovery from an eating disorder…because to recover, you basically have to change every single thing you are doing! Whether that’s branching out and eating new foods, stopping the excessive exercise, just eating more calories and eating food with higher nutrient density…all of these behaviors and habits come down to changing what you are doing on an everyday basis! Us autistics CLING to routine…so the running routine I had, the strict eating routine I had, the times I had to eat at, all of these routines that were closely linked to disordered eating, had to be broken in order to recover. But how do you break these routines? You have to make choices to do the opposite of what your ED is telling you, which brings me to my third autistic trait linked to an ED:
3. Difficulty Choosing
As an autistic person, I have an incredibly hard time making choices. That’s why I have so many routines in place; to prevent me from having several different options…because when I do, I get so caught up on making the “perfect” decision...but because that decision doesn’t exist, I get overwhelmed and end up not choosing anything at all! This is often the case with eating disorders too, because when we can’t figure out the "perfect" food to eat, we end up not eating at all, a phenomenon known as analysis paralysis. On the other end, sometimes we can't choose what to eat, that we may end up eating everything and then feeling guilty and using dangerous behaviors to purge all the food we’ve eaten! I’ve personally experienced both sides of this spectrum; from simply not eating, to just abusing exercise to burn off the high amount of calories I was eating.
4. Literal thinking
Looking back at my childhood, I believe literal thinking was HUGE factor in the development of my ED at such a young age. When I was in 5th grade, we started learning a lot about health and nutrition, and were given a lot of blanket statements such as that you “should” eat an apple instead of chips, or that you “should” aim to exercise for a certain amount of time each day…we even had posters all over the school with the food pyramid…does anyone remember it before we had the MyPlate? Anyways, I took all these “recommendations” very literally, so when we were told that eating certain foods caused heart problems or cancer or whatever, I developed this intense fear that I would get sick if I didn’t eat the “healthiest” option or workout for the recommended time each day. Quickly, my latching on to these "recommendations" became super obsessive, which leads me to my 5th trait:
5. Obsessive Personality
Because we all know that disordered eating just revolves around obsession! Whether that be obsession with healthy eating (often in the case of orthorexia), obsession with calorie counting, and/or obsession with exercise, an eating disorder could better be called an obsessive disorder! If you are autistic or know anyone who is autistic, you know that when we get interested in a certain topic, we get super passionate, or rather obsessed with it. So, when I got interested in healthy eating and exercise, I quickly became obsessed until it reached a point where it became super disordered.
What do YOU think needs to change?
So there you have it: 5 traits I believe were a way in which my autism manifested as an eating disorder. Clearly, there are SO many more traits, so I’m curious; what autistic traits do YOU believe are closely linked to eating disorders? And what do you think should CHANGE in the healthcare system and overall treatment of eating disorders to support those of us on the spectrum?
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