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Autistic relationships to food: From picky to disordered

Trigger Warning: Eating disorders, food

A koala hangs from a branch, eating fresh eucalyptus leaves

Photo by: Arnaud Gaillard. Retrieved from the Wikimedia Commons

Autistic people are much more likely to have an eating disorder than our allistic peers.

While many of us do have natural struggles with food and eating, I think we learn disordered eating when people try to change our relationships to food. Let me explain.

Autistic folks have a different relationship to food than neurotypicals. We may:

◦ struggle trying new foods,

◦ have food aversions,

◦ like foods separated,

◦ have fewer safe and enjoyable foods,

◦ eat the same foods all the time,

◦ have strict eating routines, etc.

As kids, we often get labelled 'picky eaters.'

Parents, teachers, and other supports can then spend a lot of time and energy trying to change our food behaviours. They force us to try new foods, dismiss our food aversions, and more.

People around us treat our relationship with food as purely a choice, and try to convince us to change by appealing to our health or our future. The thing is, often it isn't a choice. Our relationship to food is different because our relationship to our senses is different.

Being autistic often means hugely increased or extremely decreased sensitivity to our senses, and this includes foods. Food textures, new flavours, or complex tastes, can be overwhelming or completely unbearable. At the same time, foods we like, we can REALLY like.

Because we're so very sensitive to tastes and textures of food, trying new foods is a terrifying prospect. This is especially true if we have to spend time making the new food or if it's going to be the only food available to us.

When the people around us don't recognize that this isn't a choice; and when they try to force us to change the way that we relate to food, they're also teaching us to worry about food or the way we eat.

When our future health, or appealing to others, is used as the reason for that change, we learn to worry about our health, our body, or what other people think of our eating.

Learning to constantly worry about food, what we eat, and how we eat it; and learning to constantly worry about how what we eat it will impact our health or our relationships with others is learning disordered eating.

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