How to Recognize Hunger if You're Autistic

Three Parts:Physical SensationsOther Signs of HungerMaking it Easier through Lifestyle

Hyposensitivity can make it difficult to know if you're hungry when you're autistic. You may walk around without realizing that you need to eat, or have trouble discerning hunger from feelings like anxiety or dehydration. This article will help you figure out if you need to eat.

Part 1
Physical Sensations

Stopping to observe how your body feels can sometimes help you figure out if you're hungry.

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    Check your stomach. Do you feel anything there? Keep in mind that stomach sensations can be deceiving, because they aren't always caused by hunger. Ask yourself the following:
    • Is the feeling stress or anxiety?
    • Is it cramps from your period?
    • Did you eat something unusual, like beans or spicy food?
    • Could you be sick? (Is a stomach bug going around?)
    • Are you interested in food because it might taste good, because you're sad or upset, or because you want to chew something?[1][2]
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    Do you feel dizziness or a headache? These can be signs of chemical hunger, or chemical imbalances in your body as a result of not eating.[1] This may be especially common if you have low blood pressure, low blood sugar, or diabetes.
    • If this happens, eat right away. Carbohydrates, juices, and candies can get you sugar quickly.[3]
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    Think about how tired you are. If you don't have a lot of energy, it could be because you haven't eaten enough. Here are some signs of tiredness:
    • Stimming less, or using smaller stims
    • Wanting to sit around
    • Preferring things that use less mental energy (like TV and movies; not like talking, special interests, etc.)
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    Watch for small cues. Sometimes you can detect hunger by noticing the subtleties. Here are a few:
    • Grumbling stomach
    • Weakness
    • Reduced concentration
    • Watering mouth
    • Mood trouble (crankiness, tearfulness)
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    Take a minute to try to rate your hunger. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of conscious effort to figure out whether you are hungry. (This may not be possible if your body is completely uncommunicative, but it's worth a try.) WebMD has a sample rating scale.[4]

Part 2
Other Signs of Hunger

Relying on bodily sensations may not always be practical for autistic people. Here are some mental and situational clues you can use to help decipher what is going on.

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    Take a moment to imagine food, whatever type that comes to mind. Does it seem attractive? Do you want some?
    • If one food group doesn't do it for you, try another. Maybe you can't imagine eating bread, but you want cheese. In that case, eat cheese.
    • Cravings are your body's way of telling you that it needs something. If you're craving salt or fat, eat salt or fat.
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    If imagining food leaves you confused, go find food. Smell it, look at it, and think about it. Sometimes the act of physically observing food will make you realize you're hungry.
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    Try a small bite of food. Is it interesting? Do you want more? Eat as much as your body compels you, and don't worry if it's more than you thought. Your body is trying to tell you what it needs.
    • If you think you might be sick, try a mild food, like crackers.
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    Consider your schedule. Do you usually eat around this time of day? Do you eat a snack or a meal?
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    Think about how big your last meal was, and how active you've been. If it was smaller than usual, or if you skipped a snack that you normally eat, you might be hungrier than usual. Being more active than normal will also result in an increased appetite.

Part 3
Making it Easier through Lifestyle

Making lifestyle changes will help make it easier for you to recognize what your body is telling you.

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    Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can cause dizziness, dry mouth, or other feelings that you may confuse with hunger. Never being dehydrated will remove one possibility from your list.
    • Keep a water bottle on your desk at all times.
    • Drink a favorite drink, like flavored water or chocolate milk.
    • Long curly straws can make drinking more attractive, because you don't have to lift and tilt the water bottle so much.
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    Eat on a schedule. If lunch always happens at 12:00, you will soon find that you always get hungry at 12:00. Putting your stomach on a schedule will help keep it from getting confused.
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    Pack snacks. Sometimes, you may get hungry in between meals, and it's best to address it right away.[5] Keep some snacks ready to eat, so it takes little effort to go get some. You may find yourself instinctively reaching for them when you are hungry. (This is good!) Here are examples of snacks to eat at home and on the go:
    • Nuts or trail mix
    • Yogurt
    • Tupperware of cereal
    • Granola bars
    • Bananas
    • Bowl of fruit (raspberries, blueberries, pre-cut strawberries)
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    Be careful about eating in front of screens or books. This can cause you to lose track of how much you ate. If you do want to eat at your laptop or TV, prepare a limited amount of food (e.g. one apple with caramel or one bowl of popcorn) so it's clear how much you ate.
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    Never skip meals. Skipping meals can cause discomfort, dizziness, and falling completely out of touch with your stomach. Set reminders to eat or ask a loved one to remind you if you need to do so.
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    Stop viewing some foods as bad. Fruits and vegetables are very important, but so are fats and salts. It is okay to eat dessert. It is okay to enjoy the occasional french fries or fast food. A balanced diet includes every food group.
    • Avoid fad diets, which usually result in gaining the weight back. A fluctuating weight can hurt your metabolism.
    • Overweight and obese people also need salt and fat. It is possible to have a deficiency in them while still being heavyset. Don't stick to only salads - get a little dessert too.[4]
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    Give yourself permission to eat and love your body. Eat when you're hungry, and quit worrying about the number on the scale or the size of your clothes. Start thinking about eating food you like, balancing your diet, and taking walks or exercising in a way you enjoy. Practice saying "I'm awesome" when you look in the mirror. Your body and mind will thank you.


  • If you can't stomach the thought of certain fatty foods (for non-sensory reasons), see a doctor about it. You may have an eating disorder.

Article Info

Categories: Autism Spectrum | Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating