Autism and Food Obsessions

Studies have shown that people with autism are more likely to have food obsessions than the general population.

Ruben Kesherim
June 22, 2023

Autism and Food Obsessions

Studies have shown that individuals with autism are more likely to have food obsessions than the general population. They tend to fixate on specific foods or food groups, and may refuse to eat anything else. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and health problems.

What Causes Food Obsession In People With Autism?

One theory is that it is related to sensory processing issues. Individuals with autism may have differences in the way they process sensory information, including taste, texture, and smell.

This can lead to a preference for certain foods and an aversion to others. For example, an individual with autism may prefer foods with a strong taste or texture, such as spicy or crunchy foods.

Another theory is that food obsession is related to anxiety. Individuals with autism often struggle with anxiety, and food may be a source of comfort for them. Eating certain foods may provide a sense of control and predictability in an otherwise unpredictable world.

It is also possible that food obsession is related to gastrointestinal issues. Research has shown that individuals with autism are more likely to have gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain.

These issues may make certain foods more appealing or less appealing to individuals with autism.

Regardless of the cause, food obsession can have serious consequences for individuals with autism. It can lead to nutritional deficiencies, poor health, and social isolation. It can also be a source of stress for caregivers, who may struggle to find and prepare the specific foods that their loved one with autism will eat.

What Can Be Done To Solve Food Obsessions?

First, it is important to work with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to ensure that the individual with autism is getting adequate nutrition. They may recommend supplements or specialized diets to address any nutritional deficiencies.

It may also be helpful to work with a behavioral therapist to address food obsession. They can help individuals with autism learn to try new foods and expand their food preferences. They can also help caregivers set appropriate limits and boundaries around food.

Managing Food Obsession Behavior In Autistic Children

It can be challenging for caregivers to manage food obsession behavior in autistic children, but there are strategies that can help. One approach is to create a structured mealtime routine with clear expectations around what will be served and how the child should behave during meals. This can provide a sense of predictability and control for the child, which may reduce anxiety and food fixation.

Another approach is to gradually introduce new foods in a positive and supportive environment. Caregivers can start by offering small amounts of a new food alongside familiar foods, and gradually increase the amount over time. They can also involve the child in meal planning and preparation, which may increase their willingness to try new foods.

It is important for caregivers to avoid using food as a reward or punishment, as this can reinforce negative behaviors around food. Instead, they can offer non-food rewards for positive mealtime behavior, such as praise or extra playtime.

Finally, it may be helpful to seek support from other parents of autistic children or from a professional therapist who specializes in autism spectrum disorders. They can provide guidance and advice on managing food obsession behavior and other challenges associated with autism.

Why So Many People with Autism Have Eating Disorders

Recent studies have shown that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are significantly more likely to develop eating disorders compared to the general population. The prevalence of eating disorders in the ASD community is estimated to be around three times higher than in neurotypical individuals.

Researchers have suggested that there may be several factors contributing to this increased risk. One possibility is that individuals with ASD may struggle with emotional regulation and use food as a way to cope with stress or anxiety. Additionally, they may have difficulty understanding social cues and norms around eating, leading to disordered eating behaviors.

Another factor could be related to executive functioning deficits commonly found in those with ASD. This can manifest as difficulties with planning, organizing, and decision-making, which can impact meal planning and preparation.

Furthermore, sensory processing differences in individuals with ASD could also contribute to disordered eating habits. For example, some individuals may avoid certain foods due to texture or taste preferences, while others may seek out specific textures or flavors.

It is important for healthcare providers and caregivers to be aware of the increased risk of eating disorders in individuals with ASD and monitor for any signs of disordered eating behaviors. Early intervention and treatment can help prevent serious health consequences associated with these conditions.

In addition to traditional treatments such as therapy and medication, there are also alternative approaches that may be helpful for managing disordered eating behaviors in individuals with ASD. These include mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga, as well as occupational therapy interventions focused on improving sensory processing skills.

Overall, it is crucial for society to recognize the unique challenges faced by those on the autism spectrum when it comes to food and nutrition. By increasing awareness of these issues, we can work towards developing better supports and interventions for those affected by autism-related eating disorders.


Are autism and overeating linked?

While food obsession is a common issue for individuals with autism, it is important to note that not all individuals with autism struggle with overeating. In fact, some individuals with autism may have a limited interest in food and may struggle to eat enough to meet their nutritional needs.

However, there are some individuals with autism who do struggle with overeating. This may be related to a lack of impulse control or difficulty recognizing when they are full. Overeating can lead to weight gain and other health problems, so it is important for caregivers to work with healthcare providers and behavioral therapists to address this issue if it arises.

It is also worth noting that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing food obsession or overeating in individuals with autism. Caregivers may need to try different strategies and approaches until they find what works best for their loved one. With patience and persistence, it is possible to help individuals with autism develop a healthy relationship with food.

Is overeating common in individuals with autism?

Overeating is not necessarily more common in individuals with autism than the general population. However, individuals with autism may be more likely to have food obsessions, which can lead to overconsumption of certain foods.

What are some signs that an individual with autism may be overeating?

Some signs that an individual with autism may be overeating include rapid weight gain, a fixation on food or eating, and digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhea.

How can caregivers help prevent overeating in individuals with autism?

Caregivers can help prevent overeating by providing a structured meal and snack schedule, limiting access to unhealthy foods, and encouraging physical activity. It is also important to address any underlying issues related to anxiety or sensory processing that may be contributing to food obsession or overeating.

Should individuals with autism be put on a restrictive diet to prevent overeating?

Restrictive diets should only be implemented under the guidance of a healthcare provider or registered dietitian. It is important to ensure that the individual with autism is getting adequate nutrition and that any dietary restrictions are based on medical necessity rather than personal preference.


In conclusion, food obsession is a common issue in individuals with autism. While the exact cause is unknown, it is likely related to sensory processing issues, anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems.

It is important to address food obsession to ensure that individuals with autism are getting adequate nutrition and are not socially isolated. Working with healthcare providers and behavioral therapists can be helpful in addressing this issue.

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