butternut squash soup
Autism / Mental health

The intersectionality of eating disorders and neurodivergence

Many neurodivergent individuals also have an eating disorder. Being neurodivergent may impact someone experience of an eating disorder profoundly. This Eating Disorders Awareness Week I’m hoping to raise awareness of the complex needs of those with these crossover. It’s important to note that each person is unique, and the intersection of neurodivergence and eating disorders is often difficult to understand. I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand each individual and assume everyone is the same. Here are some general considerations:

Sensory sensitivities

Neurodivergent individuals, such as those with autism, may have sensory sensitivities that influence their relationship with food. Textures, smells, and flavours can be overwhelming or aversive, leading to a limited range of acceptable foods. This can contribute to restrictive eating patterns. Many neurodivergent individuals also have a different understanding of their internal world (interception). They may have a different understand of their hunger and satiety signals.


Rigid thinking and need for routine

Neurodivergent individuals often thrive on routine and may exhibit rigid thinking patterns. This can extend to their eating habits. Having specific rituals and routines around mealtimes is an extension of other aspects of their life.

Social challenges

Mealtimes are often social events. Neurodivergent individuals may have experienced specific events that have caused them to anxiety or they may have general feelings of unease. The pressure to conform to social norms, navigate complex social cues, and handle sensory stimuli during social events can contribute to stress and potentially affect eating behaviours.

Executive functioning differences

Conditions like ADHD can impact executive functioning, making planning and organization challenging. This can influence meal planning, grocery shopping, and preparing food, potentially contributing to irregular eating habits or reliance on convenient but less nutritious options. These difficulties can lead to feelings of shame and avoidance of situations involving these tasks.

Specific coping mechanisms

Neurodivergent individuals may use certain behaviours, including those related to eating, as coping mechanisms for managing stress, anxiety, or sensory overload. This can manifest in both overeating and undereating, depending on the individual. If you’re using food and eating as a coping mechanism, this blog may be useful.

Communication barriers

Challenges in communication, common in some neurodivergent conditions, can hinder expressing emotions or seeking help. This may delay or complicate the identification and treatment of eating disorders.

Co-occurring conditions

Neurodivergent individuals may be more prone to co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, which can further complicate the experience of an eating disorder.

Why traditional eating disorder recovery models don’t work…


“Supporting” an individual to behave more neurotypical with a reward based system means the neurodivergent individual will mask. Although they may be able to do this for a short period and will look “recovered”, eventually this will breakdown and they will relapse. The system sets the individual up to fail because, they’ve only been shown the neurotypical standard. They feel as though they’re letting the system down and this leads to shame and stigma.

It is possible for neurodivergent individuals to have healthy relationships with food and eating, however, it’s crucial to approach each person holistically, considering their individual strengths, challenges, and preferences. This may include accepting their restricted diet and strict routine. Tailored support that acknowledges neurodivergence and addresses the unique aspects of an individual’s experience is essential for effective intervention and recovery. Collaboration between professionals with expertise in both neurodivergence and eating disorders can be particularly beneficial in providing comprehensive care.

If you’re interested in working with a counsellor who could help you to look at your eating challenges from a fresh perspective, accepting your neurodivergent differences, please contact Reflexity Counselling.