This might be a sensitive subject for some, but I read an article the other day that was saying autistic people have a tendency to gain weight, and that most of us are overweight. It got me thinking why might this be? And is it an issue or not? I believe that if is this true then a lot of it will be down to routine and eating habits. Nothing ground-breaking there – that’s what most weight gain is down to – but how might being autistic impact on this? Below are a few of the reasons I think autistic people might gain weight, or find it hard to lose the weight they have gained.
(1) Not caring about appearance: The first thing that needs to be said is that none of these points will apply to all autistic people. There are some autistic people who care greatly about the way they look. But there are also a large number of people who could not care less about how they look, or what people will think about them. There are two main reasons people like to be slim, and in shape. One is for their health, and the other is for their looks. Being motivated by looking good is not a bad thing; it can push people to eat right and work-out. But if you are happy to go through life without caring about how you look, or what others think of you, then gaining weight is easy to do.
(2) Only eating certain foods: There are some autistic people who feel unable to eat lots of different foods. They have a few things that they are able and happy to eat, and they have these same foods day-in, day-out for years. If these things consist of pizza, ice cream and chips then it makes sense that they would gain weight. The thing is, it’s not a case of someone being a fussy eater – there is a lot more to it than that – so even if someone wishes to lose weight, changing what they eat might be extra hard for them to do.
(3) Fitting in the time to work-out: If you are autistic and have a carefully constructed routine that helps you get through your days, then it’s hard to change that, and work something else in to it. You have to decide how much you want to work-out, and when you want to do it. And you then have to change your routine, and fit it in.
(4) Where to work out: Talking of working-out, what about gyms? They are noisy, busy and packed full of people who wish to talk to you about their workouts. It might not even be that the autistic person does not enjoy the gym; they might just not feel able to go all that often due to sensory overload. It could be that they plan to go, but have a stressful day and cannot. So what about running? Well again you have to go out and about, and if someone suffers from anxiety, or they are worried about bumping in to people they may be expected to talk to then this might be hard for them too. A lot of autistic people, including myself, do the bulk of their work-outs at home.
(5) Stress eating: It is well known that many people eat when they are stressed out – not just autistic people, but most people. I am sure there are all kinds of psychological explanations for this, but I don’t know them. If you have had a bad day then sitting down to a nice meal, and something sweet afterwards is a great way to end your day. But eating to help with stress or anxiety is not a good thing, and if you’re autistic and likely spend a large part of your time stressed or anxious, it is a recipe for disaster. If you feel anxious and stressed on an off all day, and every time you do you eat something, no matter what it is you’re going to gain weight. But if that something is crisps or chocolate then you’re going to gain a lot of weight.
(6) Finding it hard to break from routine: I talked about how it might be hard to find the time to fit something new in to your routine, but what about cutting out old stuff? Well if someone is in the habit of getting a takeaway once a week it might be hard to get out of that habit. But if that person is autistic then changing an established routine is going to be even harder. Making changes to diet and where and when you eat is not easy, and everyone finds it hard, but if that routine is a key part of how you get through each day then it’s going to be even harder. It might be best if you are autistic and looking to lose weight, to change things bit by bit. Think about, and plan the changes out well before hand, and don’t just rush in to them.
As I said at the start, not all of these points will apply for all autistic people. Everyone is different, and not every autistic person will struggle with their weight. Also it is important to say that being overweight does not have to be a bad thing. If you are happy with the way you are then I would say don’t worry, just relax. That being said even if you are happy with the way you look you might want to think about losing weight for the sake of your health. If you do want to change your weight then think about some of the points above, and work out if any of these issues are what is stopping you from losing weight, or making you gain weight to begin with.
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