Dyspraxia and Anorexia: What’s the Connection?

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Natasha Swift

My journey to diagnosis for anorexia started when I was 20. I’d had enough of feeling the way I did and being controlled by emotion and intrusive thoughts. During this time, we discovered it had started at 10 years old due to issues at school and weight-related family traits. 

I was referred for cognitive behavioural therapy and this was the process that worked for me. I left feeling recovered with the belief I could cope with any potential relapse temptations. However, I was not fully aware of the Dyspraxia at this point, but it had been mentioned in passing due to numerical issues and clumsiness. So, when I started college, I became a bigger concern with the need for data processing. 

My Dyspraxia diagnosis hasn’t yet been finalised but my specialist is convinced that this is the reason for my neurological issues. Now, I have a better idea of how my brain functions. My traits overlap with some Asperger traits as well as some mild OCD traits that with therapy, I’ve learnt to manage. If you haven’t heard of Dyspraxia before, it’s a developmental disorder that can affect coordination. There can be crossover symptoms with Asperger Syndrome, OCD, dyslexia, and ADHD. It can affect sleep patterns, muscle tone, and control, as well as heighten emotions, sensory sensitivity, short term memory issues and perception in the physical world (feelings of floating/disassociation), and so on. 

Coordination issues can affect daily tasks such as showering, cooking, mental maths, and thought process. This all makes sense to me when I look back. It makes sense why I struggled to really understand and connect with my peers or sometimes even feel unwelcome for no reason at all. It may also add to why I turned to restrictive behaviours to try to feel “good enough” to fit in.

I can cook a decent meal when I have no stressors, but when I have lots of university work, the thought of cooking is a chore. Now, the Dyspraxic brain is known for processing an overload of information in the environment, using energy and therefore causing the individual to need to eat small and often. When I skip meals due to stress, it mirrors my old behavioural patterns during the peak of my anorexia. This then causes me to binge in the evenings or live off high sugar fluids during the day. 

This, in turn, triggers further restrictive eating, causing the cycle of guilt and binging to continue. In my current understanding, these two issues coexist. Dyspraxic symptoms can’t be tackled without addressing the anorexic symptoms and vice versa. Thankfully, I’m on a waiting list for cognitive therapy to combat the Dyspraxic symptoms, which should help to gain a good management over the whole issue combined. 

Sometimes, it’s challenging to tell where the anorexic thoughts are separate from the Dyspraxic stress responses. BUT! Every moment we take towards recovery may present itself in a separate way. When you face what feels like a roadblock, it may be another lesson or another sign that you’re going in the right direction. Learning to use mindfulness with my own little self-care plan had made an enormous difference in my ability to manage symptoms, whichever direction they come from. 

I’m no longer focused on why, when, and how my struggles may flair up, but on listening to the signs that my mind and body need time out to relax. It’s a gift to know why relapse may present itself because we have an active way to tackle it. However, if you think you might have some of the issues mentioned, it’s worth speaking about them to your therapist and/or doctor. Your experience may differ to mine; every journey is different. 

Self-care and mindfulness tools to manage my overall mental wellness have really helped in maintaining recovery. I keep a “Happy Box” containing a self-care plan that reminds me of my top five tools for getting back to my happy, content self. The box also contains happy pictures of family, inspirational quotes, accomplishments, and little sentimental items. Remember to be kind to yourself. Set boundaries and learn how to say “no” without feeling guilty. You are allowed to take the time to understand yourself and when you find sensory issues are playing havoc with your ability to cope, take time out. Gift your mind and body a well-deserved break to recuperate.

A happy box and a pre-made freezer meal will always be my trusty allies.

Natasha is 23 and studies Psychology with Psychotherapy and Counselling at Uclan (UK). She is passionate about advocating for awareness and the message that recovery is possible.