Why Do Autistic People Fear Weight Gain?

autism recovery
Why Do Autistic People Fear Weight Gain?

Likely the most common belief about restrictive eating disorders is that they are about a desire to lose weight and be thin. For many autistics, this is not at all the case. I personally never resonated with the “fear of weight gain” in the typical sense, nor did I have a “desire to be thin.”

Though autistic people may have a fear of weight gain, the root of the fear is often different than when the fear is present in neurotypicals. Furthermore, the fear has multiple layers to it, making it much deeper than the “fear of fatness” so many professionals attach to eating disorders. So now I’m going to peel back 5 of those layers starting with

In an autistic person who presents with one or more eating disorders, the fear of weight gain may be rooted in the following 5 factors. 

1. Difficulty with change

Autistic people find change difficult, especially sudden changes. By nature, gaining weight means change. Not only does the number on the scale change, but so does the way one’s body feels, what clothes one can wear, not to mention how people may treat or react to the person differently when they look “healthy.” 

2. Desire for predictability

One of the scariest parts of recovery for me was that I didn’t know exactly how my body would change. How much weight would I gain? What would a bigger body feel like? What if that body was too uncomfortable? Where would I buy new clothes? All of these uncertainties can become so overwhelming that retreating to the eating disorder can stay the “safer” option for many years.

3. Sensory perception

Weight gain is a sensory-rich process. Different parts of your body expand, your shape changes, clothes fit differently, and parts of your body may touch or rub against each other. All of these factors can cause sensory overload, which is an autistic person’s worst nightmare.

4. Gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria occurs when there is a conflict between the sex assigned at birth and the gender with which one identifies. This often results in a strong desire to change the shape of one’s body, of which weight loss is often a default approach.

5. Fear of responsibility

I did a separate post about the fear of growing up and being healthy, but in short: losing weight and therefore staying small “protected” me from the fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle the responsibilities of being healthy. This fear may be amplified in autistic individuals with EDs as the world is not built to accommodate neurodivergent needs.

If you want to learn how you can support yourself or an autistic loved one through the weight gain process in ED recovery, be sure to read my book Rainbow Girl! I pull back the curtain on my entire life and share what it was like growing up undiagnosed autistic, how this led to the development of an eating disorder, and all the steps I took to fully recover and become label free. Grab your very own copy of the book here!

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

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