The Complex Relationship Between Eating Disorders, Trauma and Neurodivergence

July 12, 2023


Recently, there has been growing recognition of the intricate connections between eating disorders, trauma, and neurodivergence. While these are distinct areas of study, understanding the relationship between them can provide valuable insights into the complexities of mental health.

TICS associate Jessica Parker says, “it is so refreshing to see more research activity delving into the complex relationship between eating disorders and trauma so that we can have much more effective evidence based strategies to support those that need it.”

This blog post aims to shed light on this intersection and explore how these three factors intertwine, contributing to the challenges faced by individuals who navigate these experiences.

Eating Disorders and Trauma

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are often multifactorial in nature. Traumatic experiences can play a significant role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders. Trauma, whether it be physical or emotional, can disrupt an individual's relationship with their body and sense of self-worth. It can lead to feelings of powerlessness, a distorted body image, and a desire to regain control through restrictive eating or purging behaviours.

Eating Disorders and Neurodivergence

Neurodivergence refers to the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in very different ways. Conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) fall under the neurodivergent umbrella. Research suggests that individuals with neurodivergent traits may be at a higher risk of developing eating disorders. The reasons for this connection are still being explored, but it is believed that difficulties with sensory processing, social interactions, and rigid thinking patterns may contribute to disordered eating behaviours.

The Complex Relationship

The intersection between eating disorders, trauma, and neurodivergence can create a complex web of challenges for individuals. Traumatic experiences can heighten vulnerabilities associated with neurodivergence, further increasing the risk of developing disordered eating patterns. For instance, individuals with ASD may experience sensory sensitivities that can influence their food choices, while those with ADHD may find it challenging to maintain regular eating patterns due to impulsivity and distractibility.

Furthermore, the stigma surrounding both eating disorders and neurodivergent conditions can exacerbate feelings of shame, isolation, and misunderstanding. These factors can hinder individuals from seeking help and can perpetuate the cycle of disordered eating behaviours.

Recognising the Overlap and Promoting Support

Understanding the complex relationship between eating disorders, trauma and neurodivergence is crucial for providing effective support and treatment. It is essential for healthcare and education professionals, therapists and support networks to adopt a holistic approach that considers the interconnectedness of these factors. This approach should focus on addressing trauma, supporting individuals' unique neurodivergent traits, and providing specialised treatment for eating disorders.

Creating safe spaces that promote inclusivity and understanding is equally important. By reducing stigma and fostering acceptance, we can create an environment where individuals feel comfortable seeking help and sharing their experiences. Peer support groups, online communities and therapy tailored to the specific needs of neurodivergent individuals can provide invaluable resources for recovery. There are many practical ways that those affected can be supported here.


The relationship between eating disorders, trauma and neurodivergence highlights the intricate and multifaceted nature of mental health. By recognising and addressing the interplay between these factors, we can foster a more compassionate and comprehensive approach to supporting individuals who navigate these challenges. With continued research and collaboration, we can strive towards a future where everyone, regardless of their experiences or neurodivergent traits, can access the understanding and care they need to heal and thrive.

We hope this article has been helpful and if you’re looking for any training or consultancy in your setting on anything mentioned in this article or on related areas on trauma informed practice, please do contact Lyndsay, our Working Together Lead, on and she will help to support you on your journey.

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