ADHD & Disordered Eating: A Very Common Comorbidity
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can contribute to the development of negative eating behaviors or eating disorders. What ADHD symptoms are involved? The answers and more are in this article.
Table of Contents
ADHD & Disordered Eating: A Very Common Comorbidity
1. Hyperfocus and Disregarding Hunger
2. Impulsivity: Buy Me That Food!
3. Dopamine, Food, and Our ADHD Brain
4. ADHD, Organizing Meal Plans, and Eating on Schedule
5. ADHD Medication
6. Eating Disorder and Social Anxiety
ADHD & Disordered Eating FAQs
ADHD & Disordered Eating: Why Does ADHD Affect Our Appetite?
ADHD can manifest with different symptoms and affect people in unpredictable ways. While most of these symptoms are external, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inability to pay attention for extended periods, specific internal symptoms can likewise occur and cause problems if they go unmanaged. One of these internal symptoms is ADHD's effect on eating patterns and how the body manages hunger signals.
It’s true that our relationship with food can be complicated at times, particularly when we feel physically sick or are under some emotional stress. 😭 But, when you have ADHD, this complicated relationship may happen partly or entirely due to the condition itself.
Having problems in eating habits, after all, can be attributed to different ADHD traits, which we will further discuss in the next sections. Some people with ADHD might also have a high probability of having negative eating behaviors. When not managed well, these negative behaviors can lead to a more complicated relationship with food, known as Disordered Eating.
But before heading to the extreme effects of having ADHD & Disordered Eating Behavior, it is best to know why we have such intricate taste buds. And more importantly, how can ADHD directly affect our eating habits?
Hyperfocus and Disregarding Hunger
When an ADHD Brain becomes so focused on a task, they can easily ignore their body's signals, like the need for a restroom break, a short walk, and a few stretches. Sometimes, they might even ignore hunger 🤤 or their scheduled mealtime.
The "hyperfocused" ADHD brain can disregard these signals and continue to work for extended periods without taking a break. Internal cues of our body, such as a growling stomach, can be easily missed because we are deeply concentrated on the task. Some individuals with ADHD tend to disregard hunger for productivity to finish any job they are working on because they think they may forget or lose motivation if they break the streak.
According to studies, this practice can be less beneficial to our health, as adults with ADHD tend to crave foods with high fat or sugar content. These types of foods can lead to feelings of sleepiness, 😴 making it difficult to focus and counter-productive.
These instances can result in different stomach-related ailments if done regularly or frequently. Not only that, but it can also affect our overall nutrition. Not eating on time can likewise make our body react negatively and trigger digestive-related illnesses, such as ulcers, hyperacidity, constipation, etc.
Impulsivity: Buy Me That Food!
Have you ever been delighted by some food presentation that made you immediately want to taste the product? 🤤 ADHD brains can experience this often. This may be because of the impulsivity that can make us buy the food because the way it's presented or packaged is attractive or mouthwatering. Even if we're not hungry, we might still buy and eat it! Hence, the impulsivity brought by our ADHD brain can lead to unhealthy food choices, which can affect our health and well-being in the long run.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder sometimes interferes with the way we decide what we want to eat, especially when we see some advertisement on the internet for some deliciously prepared food. The moment we see something that looks delicious, we might purchase them immediately without second thoughts.
Dopamine, Food, and Our ADHD Brain
Dopamine is a "happy pill" that we can find in our brains. This chemical is one of those responsible for making us feel good and motivated. It is likewise the neurotransmitter released by our brains when we do something we love or achieve our goals.
But, hear this: dopamine is also one of the primary neurotransmitters associated with people with ADHD. Reports say adults with ADHD typically have low dopamine levels.
Now, what’s the connection between dopamine and foods? Apparently, there are some ways to “increase” our dopamine levels, and these ways might influence our food intake.
For example, exercise can give us the feeling of accomplishment that may trigger the release of dopamine. The thing is, exercise can make us hungry or crave for food. So, the next time you see someone with ADHD working out (in the hopes of feeling good later on), don't be surprised if they eat a lot after finishing their workout.
Aside from this, food appears to have direct interaction with our dopamine production. When we crave and eat the food that we want, we tend to be energetic and lively because of the dopamine hit that we acquire by consuming them. Also, eating some foods, such as dark chocolate, may also trigger the release of dopamine.
However, some foods contain substances that can have an opposite effect on our ADHD brains. These kinds of food can sometimes mess with our dopamine levels and trigger unpleasant feelings. As a result, we may become more hyperactive, unfocused, and scattered when we consume these types of food. Examples of this type of food are those high in fat and sugar.
ADHD, Organizing Meal Plans, and Eating on Schedule
One of the symptoms that some people with ADHD widely experience is difficulty in managing executive function, which involves memory management, organization and time management, and other cognitive skills. This symptom makes it hard for them to create schedules and plans. 📝📅
Couple this ADHD symptom with ADHD forgetfulness, and there's a chance that having a meal plan can be unsuccessful with an ADHD brain. 😅
Now, making a list of what we will eat in the next couple of days can already be challenging. What more if we are the ones who will prepare them and cook the food?
That is why some people with ADHD find it more comfortable to have someone else plan their meals. This way, they can have a meal plan that is already organized and ready-made. They only need to follow the meal plan and reheat the food.
If this isn't an option and we tend to forget to eat at the proper schedule, it can be potentially harmful to us.
On top of our possible difficulty in preparing meal plans, there are also times when we have a messed-up body clock that affects our sleeping and eating patterns. Do you experience having breakfast in the afternoon or having dinner in the wee hours of the morning? Like me, you may also experience having meals at irregular intervals because your body clock is messed up at times.
Another ADHD-related factor that can affect our eating habits is our medication. Some ADHD medicines can make us eat heavily, while others can suppress our appetite. This might be one of the reasons why some people with ADHD are losing weight while others are gaining more. It would be best if you talked to your physician regarding this so that they can properly adjust your medication.
Many ADHD Symptoms can be managed when we take medications. However, these medicines can alter our diet and our appetite. When the effect of these meds wears off, the risk factors of experiencing differences in our eating behaviors can be felt. It might even cause us to lose our self-control and eat heavily.
Treating ADHD and, at the same time, dealing with our woes with an appetite, can be a considerable challenge. It is best to talk to your trusted mental health expert and dietician to properly address both ADHD and the possibility of having an eating disorder.
Eating Disorder and Social Anxiety
One thing that may be true to our time right now is that we tend to be more conscious of how we look because society may dictate what the norm is and what is not. It is tough to fit into what is “popular” and "normal."
For some people with ADHD, this can be a daunting challenge because of the possibly already-existing feeling of not being good enough or feeling different. We may become too aware of how we look that it may affect how we think.
When disordered eating and our perception of how society thinks of us mix inside our brain, the effect can be quite negative to us. Usually, eating disorder symptoms start with how we see ourselves fitting inside the norms of society.
There are plenty of disordered eating behaviors that some people with ADHD can experience. Here are some of them and a quick definition of each:
- Binge-eating is having a large, excessive amount of food at one sitting. This may be due to stress or being upset.
- Anorexia nervosa is the intense fear of gaining weight (even though you are underweight), resulting in restricting your food intake and potential obsession with exercising or dieting.
- Bulimia nervosa is the habit of eating large amounts of food and then throwing it back up.
It is essential to be knowledgeable about these topics to know how to manage our eating habits and remember to consult a professional if we experience any abnormal eating behavior.
ADHD can have direct and indirect participation in our eating habits. It would be best to be constantly on the lookout for changes in our diet and eating patterns and have an open communication with our trusted physician or mental health expert. ADHD symptoms should be managed well to prevent any further complications from happening, especially when it comes to our eating behavior.
Eating disorders are serious conditions that people with ADHD should not take lightly. It would be best to have professional help if you experience such. Lastly, it is essential to be mindful of how we see ourselves because it can affect our eating habits. I know ADHD can significantly affect our self-esteem, but don't let society's perception determine how we view ourselves as much as we can.
ADHD and Disordered Eating: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
1. Does having ADHD automatically lead to eating disorders?
No, having ADHD doesn’t automatically lead to disordered eating. However, some symptoms of ADHD may contribute to negative eating behaviors, that, when not managed, can lead to disordered eating.
2. What ADHD symptoms contribute to negative eating behavior or disordered eating?
Several ADHD traits may contribute to the development of negative eating behavior or disordered eating. For example, being forgetful and having difficulty in executive functions, may lead to challenges in meal planning and preparation. Impulsivity can make us purchase foods without second thoughts. And low dopamine levels can trigger unpleasant feelings that might affect our eating habits.
3. Can ADHD medicines affect eating behaviors?
Yes, it’s possible. Hence, if you feel that your medicine negatively influences your eating behavior, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.