Eating Disorders and Neurodivergence

Read the full document here.

While eating disorders have been estimated to affect at least 4% of the Australian population, research demonstrates that feeding difficulties and eating disorders are overrepresented in neurodivergent people, including in autism, ADHD, intellectual disability, giftedness, and Tourette’s disorder. However, despite there being a substantial body of literature spanning decades evidencing links between neurodivergence and eating disorders, awareness among clinicians and researchers of this existing knowledge base is only emerging in Australia.

NEDC commissioned Eating Disorders Neurodiversity Australia (EDNA) to write a report, Eating Disorders and Neurodivergence: A Stepped Care Approach, that synthesizes research and lived experience evidence regarding the prevention, early identification and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating for neurodivergent people. 

This report aims to encourage collaboration among stakeholders to co-produce and co-design appropriate, effective, culturally valid, and safe neurodiversity-affirming support systems and care pathways. It is designed for the use of a wide range of stakeholders, especially health care professionals (e.g., psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians, general practitioners, paediatricians, occupational therapists), researchers, academics, educators (e.g., teachers), service managers, and lived experience experts.

This report draws on fundamental constructs relating to human rights, bioethics, humanistic psychology, phenomenology, and social justice. It challenges traditional understandings of neurodivergence as pathological. It seeks to destigamtise neurodivergent body awareness and image, feeding, and eating experiences and behaviours. It is a call to action for all eating disorder stakeholders to engage in a radical rethink of how neuronormative feeding and eating practices, which influence research and clinical practice across all levels of eating disorder care, may prove harmful for neurodivergent people. 

Content warning

This report contains information that may be distressing for some readers. Topics discussed in this report include, but are not limited to, emotional and psychological distress (including trauma and suicidality), mental ill-health, discrimination, minority stress, systemic oppression (e.g., sexism, ableism, fatphobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism), institutional abuse (e.g., medical gaslighting and iatrogenic harm), tone policing, use of restraint in inpatient settings, and sexual violence.

 

Support services 

Free support services are available:

Beyond Blue 

Telephone (1300 224 636) 24 hours/7 days or chat online 3 pm to 12 am AEST/7 days. For more information click here

Lifeline 

Lifeline offers crisis support by telephone 24 hours/7 days (13 11 14) or chat online 7 pm to 12 am AEST/7 days. For more information click here

Butterfly Foundation

Call (1800 33 4673), email the Helpline, or use the webchat between 8 am and 12 am AEST/7 days. For more information click here

1800RESPECT

1800RESPECT provides free support for victims of sexual and/or domestic violence. Telephone (1800 737 732) and online chat available 24 hours/7 days. For more information click here

Kids Helpline

Kids Helpline is a free and confidential 24/7 online and phone counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25 (1800 55 1800). For more information click here

Autism Connect

Autism Connect is a free, national autism helpline, providing independent and expert information over phone (1300 308 699), email, and webchat. For more information click here.

In case of an emergency, call 000. 

For a full list of references see the full document here.

See also

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

Any person, at any stage of their life, can experience an eating disorder.

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Anorexia nervosa

Any person, at any stage of their life, can experience an eating disorder.

more

Binge eating disorder (BED)

Any person, at any stage of their life, can experience an eating disorder.

more

Bulimia nervosa

Any person, at any stage of their life, can experience an eating disorder.

more

Other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED)

Any person, at any stage of their life, can experience an eating disorder.

more

Other presentations

Feeding and eating disorders are characterised by a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behaviour that results in the altered…

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Co-occurring conditions

Comorbidity is generally defined as the co-occurrence of two or more physical or mental health problems.

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Body Dysmorphic Disorder

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder? Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a complex mental health condition, classified within the obsessive-compulsive and related…

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Eating Disorders and Substance Use

Substance use and substance use disorders (SUD) can often co-occur with eating disorders.

more