One size doesn’t fit all: new insights into eating disorders and autism

One size doesn’t fit all: new insights into eating disorders and autism.

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate among all psychiatric disorders (Yao et al., 2019) and remains difficult to treat.

Recent research has shed light on the link between anorexia nervosa and autism, and it’s estimated that 20-30% of individuals with anorexia nervosa will also meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (Westwood & Tchanturia, 2017). Elevated levels of autistic traits in anorexia nervosa populations are commonly observed, showing similar rigid thinking patterns, cognitive, social and behavioural difficulties in both groups.

While these behaviours can be induced by starvation and were found to resolve with weight restoration in anorexic individuals (Treasure, 2013), autistic women may continue to show these patterns. Furthermore, autistic women may show autism-specific factors that underpin their anorexia nervosa, which was qualitatively explored (Brede et al., 2020), indicating that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-ED) for anorexia nervosa may not be beneficial for autistic individuals. Factors associated with maintenance of anorexia nervosa behaviours, such as focus on weight and food, are less of a concern in autistic individuals.

In addition, clinicians have been found to lack experience and confidence in treating individuals with anorexia nervosa and autism (Kinnaird, Norton & Tchanturia, 2017), which demonstrates the need for greater awareness of this issue among services and clinicians, to facilitate better treatment outcomes for individuals with anorexia nervosa and autism.

Therefore, Babb et al. (2021) qualitatively explored the eating disorder (ED) service experiences of autistic women with anorexia nervosa, their parents, and healthcare professionals (HCPs).


  • HylianHylian Citizen, Mentor
    I didn't realize that there was somewhat of a link to EDs and autistic behaviour. I do wonder how many autistic people who have an ED also have symptoms of OCD, since I've always thought EDs were related more to OCD.

    I've had issues with restrictive eating patterns and compensatory behaviours when my OCD symptoms are at their worst, but maybe systemizing due to autism also somehow contributes? I'm not really sure. I just can't see why autistic people would have an issue with restriction and compensatory behaviors (like anorexia and bulimia) VS other things like severe texture and other sensory food issues (like ARFID).
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