Eating disorders are more common than many people think, and it’s even more likely for people who are neurodivergent to suffer from them. According to recent studies, 1 in 5 people are neurodivergent and it is important to understand the risks, causes, and treatments associated with eating disorders within the neurodivergent community. In this blog post, we’ll discuss what you need to know about eating disorders and the neurodivergent connection.
1)What exactly is Neurodivergence?
Under the Neurodivergent umbrella there is a wide range of neurological and cognitive differences, and that these differences should be celebrated and embraced as part of the diversity of humanity. Neurodivergence includes a wide range of neurocognitive differences, including autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyscalculia, and Tourette’s syndrome.
People with neurodivergent brains are often highly intelligent, creative, and innovative, yet they may experience social and communication difficulties due to their different ways of perceiving and responding to the world. While neurodiversity is generally considered a natural variation within the population, it is also increasingly seen as a disability in some contexts.
At its core, neurodiversity is about accepting and celebrating the differences in how people think and learn, rather than attempting to fit everyone into the same narrow view of normal behaviour. Neurodiversity is about recognizing that everyone has something unique to offer and that we should strive for inclusion, respect, and understanding for all.
2) What to we mean by eating disorders?
When it comes to eating disorders, it’s important to understand that they can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or those who are Neurodivergent.
Eating disorders are defined by abnormal eating behaviours that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health. These behaviours can include food restriction, binging, purging, and extreme exercising. Eating disorders often have underlying causes that may be related to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and perfectionism.
For neurodivergent individuals, it is especially important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders as they may present differently than in people who are neurotypical (a term used to describe individuals with typical neurological development or functioning). For example, some autistic individuals may demonstrate restricted food interests and limited meal patterns rather than the typical binge-purge cycle seen in other eating disorders. It is also important to note that neurodivergent individuals may not show the traditional signs of an eating disorder such as changes in weight or body shape, so the condition can go undiagnosed for long periods of time.
It is essential that professionals working with neurodivergent people are aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders so that they can seek help and support early on. If you believe someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, support them to reach out for help from a medical professional or mental health provider, as soon as possible. By getting the right support early on, neurodivergent individuals can manage their eating disorder and work towards living a healthy life.
3) How common are eating disorders in the neurodiverse community?
Eating disorders are alarmingly common in the neurodivergent community. Countless people with autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or Tourette syndrome may suffer with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.
The precise cause of this prevalence is not yet known, but researchers suggest a range of potential explanations. For example, the rigid structure and routines that some autistic individuals or other neurodivergent people find comforting may lead to restrictive eating habits. People with ADHD may also have difficulty controlling their impulses, leading to binge eating. Finally, those people who live with Tourette’s syndrome may experience tics that make it difficult to eat at all, resulting in disordered eating.
Eating disorders can be a serious concern for individuals and their loved ones & for many reasons recovery can be complicated further if they are neurodivergent and treatment must be more person centred focused. It's important to recognize the signs of an eating disorder, which can include sudden weight loss or gain, avoiding certain foods or food groups, body dysmorphia, and changes in self-esteem and mood. If you are concerned that you or someone you care about may be struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out for professional help. There is hope for recovery and with proper treatment, many individuals achieve freedom from disordered eating.
4) What are some warning signs of an eating disorder?
If you know neurodivergent individual, you may want to be aware of the warning signs of an eating disorder. While every person is different, there are some common signs that can be indicative of a potential problem. If you notice someone avoiding meals or avoiding social situations where food is present, they could be trying to avoid food-related triggers. Other signs include over-exercising, excessive grooming and body checking, self-deprecating remarks about food or their own appearance, and extreme dietary restrictions.
It’s important to remember that having an eating disorder isn’t always obvious; people may be able to conceal their behaviours, so it’s important to watch for any changes in behaviour or attitude. If you think that someone might have an eating disorder, talk to them about it and offer support if needed.
5) How can I get help if I think I have an eating disorder?
If you think you or someone you know might have an eating disorder, it's important to seek help. Eating disorders can be difficult to identify and often go unrecognized and untreated, so it's important to recognize the signs and take steps to seek professional support.
First, talk to your primary care physician. They can help assess your symptoms and determine if an eating disorder is present. They can also provide referrals to professionals who specialize in treating eating disorders, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, or therapists.
There are also a variety of resources available for neurodivergent individuals with who are struggling with eating disorders. These include support groups, online forums, and websites dedicated to providing information about eating disorders in the neurodivergent community.
It's also important to reach out to family and friends for support. Talking to someone you trust can help you to feel less alone, which can be an important part of managing an eating disorder.
Finally, remember that recovery is possible. With the right help, treatment, and support, it is possible to make positive changes and improve your relationship with food, weight and indeed shape.