Eating as an autistic adult: an exploratory qualitative study

Emma Kinnaird, Caroline Norton, Caroline Pimblett, Catherine Stewart, Kate Tchanturia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
271 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Although eating difficulties are known to be common in children on the autism spectrum, there is a lack of research on whether these behaviours persist or change into adulthood. Emerging evidence suggests that autistic adults may experience higher levels of disordered eating than the general population, indicating the impact of autism on eating in this adult population warrants further exploration.
Method: This study interviewed 12 autistic adults about their eating habits, with a focus on the continuing or changing presence of behaviours often seen in autistic children such as sensory sensitivity or a preference for routines. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.
Results: Overall, participants suggested that autism did continue to impact their eating into adulthood, particularly in the areas of sensory sensitivity, medical difficulties, executive functioning difficulties, and rigidity, but that they had learned to adapt so that these issues no longer represented a problem. However, a minority of participants did feel that their autism had a negative effect on their eating, particularly those diagnosed with eating disorders. Additionally, eating behaviours associated with autism were identified as potentially contributing to having an unhealthy body weight.
Conclusions: Certain traits associated with autism, such as cognitive rigidity and sensory sensitivity, could potentially continue to influence the eating behaviours of autistic adults. These traits are typically experienced as differences which can be adapted around and managed, rather than specific problems. However, these traits can potentially contribute to difficulties such as disordered eating and weight gain, and the implications of these should be explored by future research.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0221937
JournalPLOS One
Issue number8
Early online date29 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2019


  • Autism
  • Eating
  • eating disorder
  • Qualitative study


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