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Eating disorders are generally considered and diagnosed in neurotypical people, but did you know they can affect persons with IDD as well? Although serious and sometimes fatal, they are treatable.

The person typically has an uncommon relationship with food. It can be portrayed in their actions, their justification for it or it can be their lover, comforter and friend. Eating disorders can also stem from distorted perceptions of weight and body image. Females are more often affected than males.

Many people do recover from eating disorders but may relapse during stressful periods in their life.

Anxiety, depression, substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive tendencies often occur in combination with eating disorders. Anxiety is the most frequently seen in connection with an eating disorder.

Here are some eating disorders that you may see:

  • Anorexia NervosaThis is identified by a significant weight loss and a skewed view of body image. There is often denial that there is a problem and the person doesn’t recognize the seriousness of the disease.
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake DisorderThis describes a very, very “picky” eater which often results in a significant lack of nutrients and calories for cellular health and overall body health.
  • Binge EatingBinging is eating a large amount of food within 2 hours or less, significantly more than others would eat. The person has the feeling of loss of control during a binge and strong feelings of guilt and shame after the binge. Binge Eating is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.
  • Body Dysmorphic DisorderThe person focuses on one area on, or part of, the body and sees a serious “flaw(s). The area or “flaw” is generally not noticed by others. They feel ugly and deformed and “fat” when they are within their normal weight. They are constantly comparing their body to others and are obsessed with checking mirrors, excessive clothing changes and application of makeup.
  • Bulimia NervosaBulimia is binge eating with compensatory behaviors to eliminate the calories they consumed. These compensatory measures may be vomiting immediately after binging or taking excessive diuretics and laxatives. Bulimia is not necessarily about the food or its comfort, but more about body image.
  • NeophobiaNeophobia is the fear of trying any new foods and rejecting food when it is served before it is even tasted. This can sometimes be related to the presentation, form and smell of foods.
  • PicaA person eats nonnutritive substances for at least 1 month. The more severe the disability, the more likely it is for the person to have pica. Some pica can be related to nutrient and mineral deprivation, especially iron and zinc. Pica is strongly associated with disorders of the GI tract.
  • Purging DisordersPurging disorders occur in the absence of binging. Purging can take the form of self-induced vomiting, over-use of laxatives, diuretics or enemas.
  • RuminationIt is generally defined as chewing and re-swallowing prior ingested food. It can also be the voluntary and repetitive expulsion of regurgitated stomach contents. It can occur across the lifespan and is more common in persons with IDD. It is often misdiagnosed, in some cases 2 years. Generalized anxiety disorder often accompanies rumination.
  • Super TasterThis person has a sense of taste that is a higher intensity than others. A super taster typically has a more intense taste to bitter, fatty or very sweet items. They may eat more salt to counteract the bitterness. The person also may be very sensitive to hot, spicy food because pain receptors surround the taste buds.

The primary goal when treating a person with an eating disorder is to first treat the malnutrition and the underlying damage caused to organs when possible. Many people do recover from eating disorders but may relapse during stressful periods in their life. 

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