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"This cage that I'm stuck inside": Autistic adults' perceptions of weight management, body weight, and body image.

Authors
  • Healy, Sean1
  • Pacanowski, Carly1
  • Kennedy, Lauren1
  • Obrusnikova, Iva1
  • 1 University of Delaware, USA.
Type
Published Article
Journal
Autism : the international journal of research and practice
Publication Date
Oct 01, 2021
Volume
25
Issue
7
Pages
1985–1998
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1177/13623613211006989
PMID: 33908300
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

Our beliefs and feelings about our bodies and our body weight influence our weight management behaviors, such as physical activity and eating behaviors. These beliefs and feelings are largely shaped by how we interact with, and compare ourselves to, people in our lives. Due to the social traits associated with autism, autistic adults may have different perceptions of body weight, body image, and weight management than neurotypical adults. To explore this, for the first time, we interviewed 11 autistic adults. The participants' perceptions can be summarized in four findings. First, the participants viewed overweight and obesity as just one part of their overall health. Participants described how their mental health and physical health, including overweight/obesity, were closely connected. Second, some traits related to autism made weight management difficult; for example, eating and physical activity were negatively impacted by social anxiety, sensory sensitivity, obsessiveness, and a strong desire for routine. Third, participants were generally dissatisfied with how they looked. This was primarily due to a disconnect between how they felt their body looked and how it actually looked in real life. Other people, including on social media, also negatively influenced how they perceived themselves. Fourth, and finally, participants described how they got most of their weight management-related information online. Medical professionals were frequently described as being unprepared to provide them assistance related to weight management.

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