Anorexia Nervosa is a severe eating disorder that affects women and men. Autistic women are much more likely to develop anorexia than non-autistic women.
People with anorexia lose weight by restricting calories although the factors that drive anorexia may be different in autistic people.
Anorexia has the worst outcomes of any mental health condition with 1 in 5 people with dying early, mostly due to starvation or suicide.
Bulemia nervosa is a seperate eating disorder but the symptoms are often mixed with anorexia.
Common symptoms of anorexia in autism
Often, the main symptom of anorexia is a very low body weight, especially if it's much lower than what would be expected for the person's age and height.
Other symptoms of anorexia may include
- missing meals or eating very little
- avoiding high-calorie foods
- lying about what they have eaten
- excessive exercising
It is though that weight and body shape may not be as important for autistic women with anorexia and that other autism-related factors cause the disease to persist.
Research shows that anorexia in autism is caused by
- high levels of anxiety
- rigid, rule-driven eating and exercising behaviour
- sensory problems with food
- difficulties sensing hunger
I was restricting food, obsessively counting calories and exercising. But I had no desire to lose weight, or to be thin
Autistic women with anorexia
What you can do about anorexia
See your doctor
People with anorexia can develop a healthier relationship with food with the right support. The first step in getting better is talking to your GP.
Autistic people tell us that going to the doctor can be stressful because they feel that health professionals do not understand their needs. But seeing your doctor when you’re experiencing symptoms of anorexia is an important step towards looking after yourself.
A number of psychological treatments, known as talking therapies, are available to help people with anorexia.
Talking to a therapist can help you find ways to cope with difficult situations, identify techniques to help your relax or support you in your relationships.
Medication alone isn’t normally effective in treating anorexia. Some people take medication to manage their anxiety and your doctor can discuss options with you. Make sure you always tell the doctor or therapist about your autism because it may affect the treatment you are prescribed and how your doctor communicates with you.