ADHD And Hunger

The Connection Between ADHD and Hunger Management

ADHD can significantly influence eating habits and hunger regulation, often leading to irregular meal patterns and impulsive eating. This is partly due to the impact of ADHD on executive functions, which can affect self-regulation, including appetite control. Additionally, medications used to treat ADHD may suppress appetite. Understanding this connection is key to managing eating habits effectively. Strategies like setting regular meal times, mindful eating, and consulting with healthcare professionals can help in balancing hunger and nutritional needs in individuals with ADHD.

Published on
19/9/2022
Updated on
11/11/2023
estimated reading time
minutes

Written by

Alice

The mini Adhd coach

Reviewed by

In this Article

Reviewed by

A word form our expert

Do You Have a Love-Hate Relationship with Food?

I can hear my stomach growling as I'm writing this. Yet, I'm choosing to continue writing instead of eating, fearing I will lose my train of thought if I pause, or even worse completely forget what I was doing and never write this article. 😆

Skipping meals or delaying eating is something I've noticed I do a lot, and I know I'm not alone. It's a pattern for many people with ADHD. On the flip side, sometimes I overeat when bored, even if I'm not hungry. 🙄 Snacks for example can be so dangerous, as I’ll mindlessly eat entire bags while doing something else like watching television.

According to research, people with ADHD are more likely to have issues with eating. This is why unfortunately a lot of people with ADHD also suffer from an eating disorder. 😥There are quite a few reasons why this can happen, and knowing that these eating tendencies might be tied to how our ADHD brains function can be a game-changer. 🌟

In this article, we're diving deeper into this topic. We'll explore eating patterns like binge eating and stress eating, which are more prevalent in those of us with ADHD. Plus, we'll chat about how to make healthier food choices when it feels like your brain is doing everything possible to steer you towards unhealthier options. Let's dig in! 😋

The Connection Between ADHD Symptoms & Eating Issues

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder doesn't just influence our capacity to focus, manage time, or remember tasks. It can also play a significant role in our relationship with food. Understanding this connection is crucial, as it helps unveil the deeper complexities of how ADHD symptoms can manifest in our daily habits. Here are some of the most common examples:

Impulsivity & Overeating

Impulsiveness, a common ADHD symptom, can translate into hasty decisions around food. This might mean reaching for that tempting bag of chips even when we aren't truly hungry or consuming more than we initially intended.

Distractibility & Missed Meals

Just as I sometimes skip meals because I'm hyper focused on something, many with ADHD can become so engrossed in a task that they overlook their body's signals for hunger. This inattention can lead to irregular eating patterns.

Hyperfocus & Mindless Eating 

Our ADHD brains are notoriously stimulated when doing 2 things at once. Like shaking legs and fidgeting during Zoom meetings or pacing while talking on the phone…Conveniently eating is one of the easiest things you can do while doing something else, like talking, watching TV, reading, working, some even eat while driving and/or walking 😂. 

Now if you make a habit of eating during specific tasks, and you do these tasks a lot then that’s when you can end up eating way more than you think. Because you are not thinking about the food you are eating you are focused on the other task.

Emotional Regulation & Stress Eating

ADHD can sometimes come with challenges in regulating emotions. This can lead some to use food as a coping mechanism, turning to comfort foods during times of stress, sadness, or even boredom.

Executive Function & Meal Planning

One of the executive functions that can be impaired in ADHD is the ability to plan and organize. This can make it more challenging to plan meals, leading to spontaneous and often less healthy food choices.

Awareness is the first step to addressing these patterns. Recognizing how ADHD symptoms can influence eating habits is vital. By understanding this connection, individuals with ADHD can work towards developing strategies that promote healthier eating patterns, while also managing their ADHD symptoms more effectively.

Thankfully Grace from Future ADHD realized that and decided to do something about it by designing an ADHD Planner made by someone with ADHD for individuals with ADHD. Stay tuned as we release a special “mini adhd coach” edition of that planner in the coming days!

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ADHD and Its Impact on Eating Behaviors

Binge Eating

Binge eating is more than just eating a lot; it's consuming a large amount of food in a short timeframe, even when you're already full. 

Research, including studies from Harvard Medical School, points to a unique connection between ADHD and behaviors like binge eating. Our ADHD symptoms, like impulse control or lack thereof, play a big part here. In the ADHD brain, the regions responsible for executive function, decision-making, self-control, and working memory may not function optimally. 🧠

For example, imagine you're hungry or bored and you see an ad or get a text message inviting you to grab some fast food… If you've got ADHD, the brain's ability to manage impulsivity might not be strong enough to stop at just that. Before you know it, you could find yourself eating compulsively and without thought. 😬

And it doesn't stop at impulsivity; living with ADHD often means juggling many other aspects that indirectly fuel binge eating. For example fast food restaurants seem more straightforward when struggling with decision paralysis or task initiation. Similarly eating candy or chips is easier than cooking a meal. Consistently grocery shopping and cooking fresh food before it spoils can be really challenging when you also struggle with time blindness and object permanence

Either way, these eating habits can snowball into something much bigger, like binge eating.

Stress Eating

If you find yourself reaching for a bag of chips or a piece of cake when the going gets tough - you're not alone. Stress eating, or emotional eating, is often a quick fix for instant mood elevation. 

Stress eating shouldn’t be confused with binge eating disorder. Stress eating is usually not as severe but still impacts your emotional wellbeing and eating habits. 🤔

Now, we know that when your brain's executive function isn't working at its best, it becomes easy to act on a whim, making it hard to resist that chocolate bar when you're feeling down. It's not just about being hungry; it's about dealing with emotions like anxiety, sadness, or loneliness by diving into comfort food. 

When we eat something high in sugar, for example, we often get a boost of serotonin and dopamine - which is like pure bliss to our dopamine-deprived brains. 🤩 In fact, research shows that people with ADHD are more likely to self-medicate with sugary food. 🍭

Under Eating

While it's often assumed that ADHD might lead to overeating due to impulsivity or emotional triggers, under-eating is another concern that doesn't get as much spotlight. In fact, people with ADHD can forget to eat just as easily as they might forget where they put their keys. 🙈

For me, the key culprit behind undereating is hyperfocus. When engrossed in an activity, time can fly by without realizing I missed a meal. At that moment, I'm so wrapped up in what I'm doing that the idea of stopping and eating doesn't even cross my mind. 😬

For many of us, stimulant medication 💊commonly used for treating ADHD symptoms can suppress appetite. While the medication helps improve focus and reduce impulsivity, it can make you significantly less hungry.

On the other hand, when the medication wears off, we can also find ourselves feeling ravenously hungry, and eating everything in sight after not eating all day. 

Forgetfulness plays a part here, too. With the attention deficit aspect of the disorder, it's easy to get sidetracked and forget to eat. And let's not forget how emotional states like anxiety can make you lose interest in food.

Indeed, people with ADHD are more susceptible to issue like substance abuse and disordered eating, including anorexia and bulimia. Studies have revealed that both children and adults with ADHD tend to show higher rates of these disorders compared to the general population.

The impulsivity and attention issues inherent to ADHD can make a person vulnerable to disordered eating. Anorexia, for instance, may seem counterintuitive to ADHD, given its association with impulsivity, but the disorder's emphasis on control can attract those struggling with ADHD symptoms. 

On the other hand, bulimia often involves cycles of binge eating followed by purging, which can be exacerbated by ADHD's impact on impulse control, emotional regulation, and shame. 

If you show signs of an eating disorder, a consultation with a clinical psychologist or eating disorder specialist is essential. They can offer diagnostic evaluations and effective treatment plans tailored to the complex interplay between ADHD and eating disorders. ❣️

The Domino Effect: Health Implications

It's critically important to think beyond the immediate symptoms and consider the long-term health risks as well. Eating issues are not just about food and weight; they often lead to more severe health problems like obesity, hypertension, and heart disease.

Additionally, people with ADHD can sometimes lead a sedentary lifestyle. For example, they might forget to exercise or have difficulty sticking to an exercise routine. Many of us struggle with sleep and fatigue, which can throw a wrench on our best intentions to burn fat and losing weight. On the other hand, while hyperactive ADHD types might seem like they'd burn off more calories, their ADHD symptoms can just as easily lead them to impulsively eat unhealthy foods and avoid exercise. 

These factors make obesity a pressing concern for any adult or child with ADHD. That's why it's crucial to not only address ADHD symptoms but also take proactive steps towards developing healthier eating and weight loss habits. Don't let ADHD be an excuse for neglecting your wellbeing; see it as another reason to plan ahead and be mindful of your health. 🌱

Strategies & Tips for Healthier Eating With ADHD 

According to research from John Fleming on the relationship between ADHD and disordered eating, folks with ADHD often struggle with recognizing when they're full or still hungry. But don't stress! There are totally actionable strategies to help you better understand your body's cues and regulate your eating habits. 👍

The Power of Planning 

First up, let's talk about meal planning. It might sound boring, but knowing what you'll eat ahead of time tackles two significant challenges for most people with ADHD: impulsive food choices and under-eating due to forgetting meals. Meal planning isn't just jotting down what you'll eat; it's also about portion control. Knowing the right portion size can help you avoid overeating and manage your weight better.

Another super effective hack if you often forget to eat is prepping a large container of healthy options and placing it in a visible spot in your fridge. This approach serves as a reminder to eat and simplifies meal and snack decisions, making it easier to eat while you manage other tasks.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind 

You know those trigger foods that you just can't resist? 😉Keep those out of sight or, better yet, out of the house. People with ADHD tend to be impulsive, making it hard to resist these temptations. Of course, this doesn't mean never eating your favorite foods - but if you have to intentionally go out to buy them, it reduces the risk of mindless binge eating.

Channel Your Energy Elsewhere

Have you ever wandered to the fridge just because you're bored or feeling down? ADHD symptoms often include emotional dysregulation, making us turn to food for comfort. Finding alternative ways to deal with boredom or emotional distress is crucial. You can listen to music, take a walk, or even text a friend. The aim is to break the cycle and avoid using food as a coping mechanism.

Master Self-Control 

Self-control isn't just about resisting that extra piece of cake and remembering to eat when needed. ADHD can make you forget meals, which messes with your metabolism and may make you gain more weight in the long run. Small, regular meals might be the key here. To do this, you might need to set reminders - and actually stop what you're doing and eat when it goes off. 😜

Don't Skimp on Sleep 

Sleep deprivation can mess with your body's hunger hormones and make you crave more calories. Considering that ADHD symptoms often include sleep difficulties, it's even more critical for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to get good sleep. The same goes for dehydration - not drinking enough water can cause our brain to misinterpret thirst for hunger. So, ensure you stay adequately hydrated throughout the day. 💦

Reach Out for Help 

It might be time to consult a professional if it all seems overwhelming. There's no shame in needing extra help navigating the complexities of eating disorders and ADHD. They can help you connect the dots between both ADHD symptoms and disordered eating to provide tailored treatment options.

Conclusion

Although managing issues with hunger and eating with ADHD symptoms is tough, improving your relationship with food is possible. 🥰 By incorporating tips like meal planning, working on impulse control, and focusing on portion size, you can pave the road to better health and less overeating.

Understanding the connection between ADHD and things like weight, obesity, and appetite suppression can give you the tools to make more informed choices. After all, knowledge is power! 🌟

There's hope, whether you're looking to lose weight, stop eating out of boredom, or tackle underlying issues like eating disorders. Remember, every small step counts; there is always time to start making changes. If you feel you might meet the diagnosis criteria for an eating disorder, you must contact a specialist as soon as possible. 

Remember, you deserve health and happiness just as much as anybody else. 💕

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ADHD and Hunger: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can ADHD affect hunger?

Absolutely, ADHD can have a significant impact on your sense of hunger and your eating patterns. Research shows that ADHD could influence how we perceive hunger signals.

Do people with ADHD snack more?

Snacking can be more common among those with ADHD. The need for constant stimulation can sometimes manifest as frequent snacking, even when it's not socially acceptable or healthy. It's not just about hunger; it's often tied to emotional needs or boredom. Sticking to small meals at regular intervals can be an effective strategy to manage this tendency.

Can ADHD occur with eating disorders?

ADHD and eating disorders can co-occur, making health management more complex. For example individuals with ADHD are more likely to binge eat. Understanding this link is critical for proper treatment and to prevent repeated failures in managing either condition.

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