ADHD & Binge Eating

ADHD Binge Eating: Deciphering the Link

ADHD binge eating is often a result of impaired impulse control and emotional dysregulation associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This tendency stems from ADHD's impact on executive functions, leading to challenges in managing eating behaviors and a higher likelihood of turning to food for emotional comfort and even developing an eating disorder. Recognizing and addressing this specific aspect of ADHD is key to improving our relationship with food and overall wellbeing.

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Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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The Link Between ADHD And Impulsive Eating

We all occasionally eat to cope with overwhelming emotions or stress. However, with ADHD symptoms in the mix, this habit can become frequent, impacting both physical and mental health.

In this article, we'll discuss:

  • The nature of binge eating and its common triggers in individuals with ADHD.

  • A brief look at how binge eating intertwines with ADHD symptoms.

  • Distinguishing between occasional overeating and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

  • Strategies to manage disordered eating patterns in ADHD.

Join us as we unravel the complex relationship between ADHD and eating habits and explore practical ways to develop a healthier relationship with food. ⬇️

Binge eating in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder  (ADHD) often takes a different form than what we might consider 'normal' eating habits. Now, many people (including those without ADHD) can relate to doing this - reaching for that extra slice of pizza after a tough day or ordering takeout because the thought of cooking feels too overwhelming. 

But when ADHD is part of the picture, these occasional indulgences can become more frequent, slipping into a cycle that's hard to break.

Here are some signs indicating that someone with ADHD might be struggling with binge eating:

  • Eating much more rapidly than usual: Rapid food consumption, especially  high calorie foods, and particularly during or after stressful events or emotional experiences.

  • Eating until uncomfortably full: Ignoring the internal cues of fullness, leading to stomach pain or nausea.

  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry: This might be due to difficulties distinguishing emotional hunger from physical hunger.

  • Eating alone due to embarrassment: Feelings of shame or guilt associated with the quantity of food consumed.

  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or very guilty after overeating: Emotional aftermaths of binge episodes can exacerbate poor self-esteem and self-disgust, which may begin the cycle all over again.

How ADHD Symptoms Contribute To Binge Eating

In exploring the relationship between ADHD and binge eating, it's crucial to understand the behavioral and neurological aspects that intertwine these conditions. Those who live impulsively due to ADHD often eat impulsively, too, leading to a higher prevalence of compulsive eating. This tendency is about more than just being a 'foodie'; it's rooted in the unique challenges that individuals with ADHD face in interpreting and responding to their bodily signals and emotional needs.

Several factors can trigger binge eating in those with ADHD, stemming from the core symptoms of the disorder. 

Here are a few of the most common triggers to binge eating in relation to an ADHD diagnosis. 

Misinterpreting Body Signals

Adults with ADHD often face challenges in correctly interpreting their body's signals. They may confuse feelings of upset or boredom for hunger, leading to a tendency to reach for food in response to emotional states. People with ADHD may also be prone to dehydration due to hyperfocus, forgetfulness, and lower self-awareness, which can trigger feelings of hunger.

Eating to Combat Boredom

The impulsivity and restlessness that are hallmarks of ADHD can lead to using food as a means to combat boredom or fill in periods of inactivity, further entrenching the cycle of binge eating.

The Brain's Reward Circuits

Neuroimaging research highlights overlapping neurobehavioral circuits between binge eating and ADHD. Studies suggest that these tend to include the dopamine system, a key player in the brain's neurobehavioral circuits, suggesting differences in how we process reward and pleasure, such as those obtained from eating, in individuals with ADHD.

Impulsivity Symptoms

Neuroimaging research also points to the role of impulsive behavior, including an inability to control actions such as eating, as a common thread in both binge eating and ADHD. These studies reveal that the brain areas responsible for impulse control and decision-making function differently in individuals with ADHD, meaning that when faced with food, the functions that regulate eating behavior may be less effective, leading to uncontrolled eating episodes. 

Impaired Response Inhibition

In people with ADHD, impaired response inhibition, a key aspect of executive function, often makes it harder for them to control impulses. This challenge can significantly impact their eating habits, potentially leading to binge eating due to difficulties in stopping even when full. 

Emotional Regulation Difficulties

Studies suggest that negative emotions, particularly anger, sadness, and those tied to interpersonal issues, can lead to binge eating as a coping mechanism. People who binge eat frequently suppress emotions, and this suppression often exacerbates their psychopathological symptoms, leading to a cycle of increased negative thoughts and further binge eating episodes.

People with ADHD often struggle with emotional processing and regulation due to a combination of neurological and psychological factors. For example, one systematic review found that in adults with ADHD there was a significant association between people with ADHD using non-adaptive emotion regulation strategies (such as binge eating) compared to those without.

Inattention Symptoms

ADHD's characteristic inattention symptoms contribute to challenges in maintaining a healthy eating plan. This lack of focus can lead to irregular meal patterns and mindless eating, further complicating the relationship with food. For example, one study linked ADHD with obesity, suggesting that the inattention and impulsivity traits in ADHD can contribute to increased food intake and, in turn, weight gain. 

However, it's vital to recognize that binge eating is not solely linked to body weight. Individuals of all body sizes can experience difficulties with binge eating, underscoring the fact that binge eating is more about behavioral and neurological issues than physical appearance.

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Binge Eating vs Binge Eating Disorder

Distinguishing occasional overeating from binge eating disorder, a common eating disorder, is crucial, especially for adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), who may struggle with disordered eating. 

Binge eating disorder is a recognized psychiatric disorder that involves recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food and is marked by a lack of control and significant distress.

Binge Eating Behaviors

  • Occasional and Situational: These episodes might occur under stress or emotional turmoil but are not a regular pattern.

  • Variable Impact: While concerning, they are less severe in frequency and impact compared to a diagnosed eating disorder. For example, you might only binge eat during intense but occasional stress.

Binge Eating Disorder

  • Diagnostic Criteria: Binge eating disorder is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and requires a clinical diagnosis. It is characterized by frequent episodes of consuming large quantities of food within a relatively short period of time, at least once a week for three months.

  • Psychological Impact: Binge eating disorder is associated with poor self-esteem due to repeated failures at self-control, anxiety, depression, and significant emotional distress. People are often distracted by continual thoughts of food, weight, and body shape

  • Treatment: Effective treatment often involves a combination of talk therapy, pharmacologic treatment (including approved medications like Vyvanse), and lifestyle modifications.

Understanding this distinction is vital in treating ADHD, as impulse control issues and poor awareness of internal cues can contribute to eating disorders. According to research, people with ADHD are approximately 3.8 times more likely to meet the criteria for an eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. 

To learn more about the connection between ADHD and eating disorders, check out our in-depth guide here.

Overcoming Disordered Eating and ADHD

Managing disordered eating and binge eating, especially in ADHD, involves adopting specific strategies and lifestyle changes that cater to the unique challenges posed by the disorder, working with a neurodiverse brain, rather than against it. 

Here are some practical steps:

  • Set Yourself Up For Success
  • Keep trigger foods out of reach and indulge in them only occasionally in a controlled environment.

  • Stock your kitchen with nutritious snacks and easy-to-prepare meals. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables, along with batch-cooked, healthy dishes, offer healthier and low-effort dining options and are also more budget-friendly.
  • Schedule Regular Exercise and Meals
  • Incorporate short, frequent bursts of physical activity, like brisk walks, to boost energy and mood. Even dedicating 10-15 minutes daily to exercise can be a great start and something you can gradually build upon. The key is to find an activity you enjoy, which makes it more likely you'll stick with it.

  • Use your phone to set meal times and exercise reminders, ensuring regular eating and physical activity that is incorporated into your routine.
  • Use Mindful Eating and Portion Control
  • Focus on the experience of eating, paying attention to tastes and feelings of fullness.

  • Use preset serving sizes to avoid overeating, and practice recognizing cues that indicate when you're full, such as a decrease in hunger, no longer feeling compelled to continue eating, and a physical sense of fullness in your stomach.
  • Stimulate Your Brain
  • Engage in stimulating activities and hobbies to reduce reliance on food for entertainment.

  • Opt for tasks that engage the brain actively and limit passive activities like watching TV.
  • Embrace Mistakes & Flexibility
  • Forgive yourself for occasional overeating and focus on restarting your healthy eating plan.
  • Avoid strict dieting, which can trigger binge episodes, and instead focus on balanced, nutritious eating.

Seeking Professional Help

A holistic approach to treatment for both ADHD and binge eating usually involves ADHD medication, talk therapy, and lifestyle modifications. When we treat ADHD effectively, the underlying impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, and reward-processing issues can make managing binge eating slightly easier. Personalizing these treatments to individual needs is crucial for effectively managing both ADHD and disordered eating patterns.

Some of the most common methods for tackling binge eating in people with ADHD include:


Coincidentally, one of the first-line medications for treating binge eating is one of the same stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD: lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse), which is also a novel pharmacologic treatment in acute binge eating disorder. 

In 2015, a randomized clinical trial reported that lisdexamfetamine dimesylate demonstrated greater effectiveness than a placebo in reducing both the frequency and behavior of binge eating. Since then, it has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of a moderate to severe acute binge eating disorder in adults.

In addition to helping treat some of the underlying ADHD symptoms that led to the disorder, the stimulant seems to help reduce the number of binge eating episodes.

If you already take stimulant medication for your ADHD and still struggle with binge eating disorder, your healthcare provider might recommend one of the following:

  • Topiramate (Topamax): This anticonvulsant is meant to treat seizures but can also suppress appetite, helping reduce the urge to binge.

  • Antidepressants: While it's unclear why, studies have found that antidepressants, specifically SSRIs, can reduce binge eating episodes. It may be related to the medication's ability to treat some underlying depression or emotional distress that could trigger an episode. It's often used as a first-line treatment for binge eating disorder and many other eating disorders.


In addition to medication, therapy can be beneficial, especially for people struggling with both ADHD and binge eating who want to understand the root cause behind their impulsive eating.

Some of the most commonly used approaches include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help patients develop strategies for managing their ADHD while also helping to identify triggers and work on the thoughts associated with binge eating.

  • Dialectical behavior therapy: This approach was developed specifically for people who experience emotions intensely and struggle with emotional regulation. The goal is to help patients develop the skills to regulate their emotional responses, including the tendency to binge eat as a form of self-soothing.

  • Behavioral weight loss programs: Standard weight-loss programs can be very triggering for people with binge eating disorders since they don't consider disordered eating. On the other hand, behavioral weight loss programs incorporate CBT with medically supervised nutrition plans to help you develop a more balanced diet and exercise habits while also addressing your binge triggers.

Seeking professional help is a crucial step in managing both ADHD and disordered eating. With the right combination of medication and therapy tailored to your needs, you can gain control over your eating habits and improve your overall wellbeing. 

Don't hesitate to reach out to healthcare professionals who specialize in treating ADHD and eating disorders, as they can provide the guidance and support you need on your journey to recovery.

Key Takeaways

  • Binge eating in individuals with ADHD can take on unique characteristics, such as rapid consumption of high-calorie foods during times of stress.

Signs of binge eating in ADHD may include:

  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating when not physically hungry
  • Feelings of guilt or disgust after overeating.
  • ADHD symptoms contribute to binge eating by:
  • Affecting impulse control, emotional regulation, and response inhibition.
  • Misinterpreting body signals, eating to combat boredom, and differences in the brain's reward circuits.
  • It's essential to distinguish between occasional overeating and binge eating disorder (BED), which is a diagnosed psychiatric disorder marked by frequent episodes of consuming large quantities of food, often with a lack of control and significant emotional distress.
  • Managing disordered eating in ADHD involves tailored strategies, such as:
  • Keeping trigger foods out of reach and preparing ahead by stocking your kitchen with nutritious snacks and easy-to-prepare meals. It’s also important to practice mindful eating, use preset serving sizes, and recognize cues for fullness..
  • Scheduling meals and exercising regularly, and engaging in stimulating activities to reduce reliance on food for entertainment.
  • Embracing flexibility and forgiveness, avoiding strict, restrictive diets that may trigger binge episodes.
  • There are various pharmacological treatments for binge eating disorder and ADHD.

    These include:
  • Vyvanse
  • Topirmate & SSRIs
  • Psychotherapy
  • There are also several effective therapeutic approaches, including:
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • CBT informed behavioral weight loss programs 

Remember, you're not alone in facing the challenges of disordered eating with ADHD. Additionally, just because we're vulnerable to issues with food doesn't mean we're destined for a life of unhealthy eating patterns. With some education, patience and self-awareness, we can develop a healthy, balanced approach to food, emotions and ourselves. 💕

What’s Next?

Ready to change your relationship with both ADHD and food? Check out these related articles below.

Optimizing Your Diet for ADHD Management

ADHD's Influence on Eating Habits and Food Choices

Mastering the Art of Cooking with ADHD

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ADHD & Binge Eating FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder where a person has frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food, usually in a short period, to the point of discomfort. It may also be accompanied by unhealthy compensatory measures, such as purging, and negative feelings, such as guilt and shame.

Is Binge Eating related to ADHD?

There’s a connection between the two conditions. Experts point out somewhat similar neurological pathways and reward systems, as well as a connection in lack of impulse control. Also, there’s the fact that many people with ADHD also have Binge Eating Disorder.

How do you manage Binge Eating when you have ADHD?

Working closely with a mental health professional is a must. Remember that Binge Eating Disorder can be severe and life-threatening, so medical intervention is necessary - be it in the form of therapy or medicines. Of course, a support system will also be a great help.

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