Eating and neurodiversity

In this project we are exploring how eating behaviours and disorders are associated with neurodivergence.

We are currently running several studies in our exploration of the relationship between eating and neurodiversity.

Our Studies:

Socio-emotional processing, interoception and communication in autism and anorexia

The aim of this study is to explore how Autistic and non-Autistic young adults with anorexia process emotions and social, and how this may link with people’s experience of body sensations (like hunger). We will also explore how Autistic people communicate with other Autistic people and compare this with how they communicate with non-autistic (‘neurotypical’) people. We hope that this study will help us identify some promising targets for future treatments for anorexia nervosa, including treatments for autistic individuals with anorexia nervosa. 

Social identity and camouflaging in autism and eating disorders

This objective of this study was to explore the role that social identity, sensory processing and camouflaging behaviours have on eating disorder symptomology in autism. Previous research has focused on cognitive and sensory factors to explain the association between autism and eating disorders, but the roles of social identity and camouflaging are yet to be explored. Autistic participants were recruited from NHS settings and community groups. The participants completed online questionnaires measuring autistic identity, eating disorder identity, camouflaging behaviours, sensory processing, autistic traits and eating disorder symptoms.

Multiple regression revealed that camouflaging and eating disorder identity significantly predicted eating disorder symptoms. Although sensory processing was related, it did not significantly predict eating disorder symptom severity. Additionally, there was no significant relationship between autistic identity and eating disorder symptom severity. This study highlights the impact that camouflaging behaviours and sensory processing can have on eating disorder symptomatology in autism and may indicate important considerations for the treatment of eating disorders in Autistic people.

Funded by UKRI, MRF and NIHR

Eating Disorders and Autism Collaborative (EDAC):

We also host EDAC, a new interdisciplinary research network bringing together the eating disorders and autism research fields.  

We need to better understand what it’s like to be an Autistic person with an eating disorder including: 

  • what makes some Autistic people more vulnerable to eating disorders than others 

  • the mechanisms that underpin this 

  • potential targets for intervention 

EDAC aims to facilitate collaborations with people with lived experience, academia (including peer researchers), the third sector, policymakers and clinicians. 

The priorities for this network will be set and steered by autistic individuals with experience of disordered eating. The researchers aim to increase research capacity and career development by supporting early career and peer researchers, elevating the next generation of eating disorder researchers.