How Autism Affects My Eating Habits

Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

As many people on the autism spectrum will know (and possibly relate to) diet and eating can create many issues and challenges. These can revolve around complex aversions to taste and textures, as well as temperature and even colors of food.

I struggle with a few of these — I’m not exactly a fussy eater per se, but do have very strong likes and dislikes with no real middle ground. There are foods which I can’t tolerate at all for other health reasons, but this partly prompts me to write this post, firstly to get it out there and secondly to see if there are any other people out there with autism (or any other health challenge) that have similar symptoms to me.

I have a real issue with the sensation of food generally. Not eating, or chewing — though when I am anxious everything tastes dry, flavorless and like cotton wool.

This relates more to the sensation of food as it digests, from the moment you swallow the food onwards. I hate any sensations of fullness or bloating. I hate even feeling remotely full after a meal or snack. I don’t like the feeling of having food in my system. It overloads me; it makes me feel panicky and out of control. I hate the gurgling noises stomachs make. I watch other people eat and drink and see how they chew, swallow and gulp down what’s put in front of them with abandon and wish I could do the same, but the very act of watching it make me feel bloated, full and nauseous too.

Naturally, this causes me problems. It means I can only eat very small portions of food and when I’m anxious, it’s even worse as the feeling of needing to be empty, running on empty or as un-full as possible gets more intense. I’ll eat normal food, normal meals, but very rarely finish a plate of food and always need to leave the table feeling as though I could have eaten that bit more. In times of stress I go round in a vicious cycle, as the more anxious I get, the worse the sensations in my stomach get, the less I eat and the worse the stress becomes. You can see how this works, right?

Then there’s the physical symptoms from this — constantly low blood sugar or hypo attacks, and an upset stomach sets me back weeks and knocks my confidence further, meaning I eat even less. Headaches, fatigue, sleeplessness and being on the edge of tears. All of the aforementioned then run in tandem with the eating even less to cope… I’m not proud of it, but I will sometimes self-medicate just to take the edge off how I feel.

I’ve tried over the years to explain this to various psychologists and counselors, all of whom haven’t really known how to explain it and diagnosed me as having an eating disorder “like” anorexia but not. I know and accept I am underweight and really need to gain — I am dreadfully unhappy with my appearance and hate how I look. When the diagnosis of autism came, it started to make more sense and the psychologist I spoke to did say it could possibly be something that is part and parcel of my autism but more than likely I would just have to live with it.

So I’m curious Mighty Readers — do any of you (autistic or not) struggle with this?

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