Understanding Food Sensitivities and ADHD

When you have ADHD, what you eat matters a great deal. Some foods, after all, can improve or worsen your symptoms. Interestingly, ADHD can affect our eating behavior. What’s this love-hate relationship between ADHD and food? Find out here.

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ADHD & Food: Our Love-Hate Relationship With Diet & Appetite

Do you feel intense emotions when you are hungry? Whenever I am outside running some errands and don't have enough time to eat and munch some snacks, I will be in a bad mood unless you give me a delicious meal. 😔That's how food affects my whole being, and sometimes, besides the absence of food,  other factors likewise affect my ADHD symptoms. For now, let's explore how food and ADHD are connected.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodivergent disorder mainly characterized by hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity which can affect how a person handles executive functions, such as planning, organizing, and prioritizing. 

Some studies suggest that ADHD can be linked to the brain's production of the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps with motivation, focus, and pleasure. Low dopamine levels have been found in many people with ADHD, which can explain some of the symptoms associated with the disorder.

Interestingly, some research suggests the active participation of food to achieve the stability of dopamine. It was even stated in an article from Harvard Health Publishing that what a person eats can significantly affect how the brain functions. But before we dig deeper into the possible effect of a particular food on our ADHD symptoms, let's first know the impact of ADHD on having a balanced diet.

How exactly does ADHD affect our ability to have a balanced diet? 

How Food And Diet Are Affected By ADHD Symptoms

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder comes in various, numerous traits that anyone can experience differently. 

Research suggests that these ADHD traits can affect how we perceive food and that it can interfere mainly with our eating habits. Sometimes, our appetite depends on our mood and how we are feeling on a particular day. In fact, it is not only the case for people with ADHD but also for neurotypical individuals as well. The difference lies in how much these traits can affect us and nutrition.

ADHD & Forgetfulness - How It Affects Our Eating Behavior

Allow me to share a story that may resonate with you. 

One time, after a long and tiring day, I suddenly felt hungry. I munched on plenty of snacks, but I knew I had to get a proper meal 🍲 to reach my optimal nutrition requirements for the day. So, when I arrived at my place, I saw the frozen foods waving at me and tossed them in the microwave to reheat them. As soon as I placed them inside, I saw my trash bin still full from the previous day. I immediately threw the contents out, sat down on my couch, and grabbed a fruit I saw on the table. Then, I proceeded with my night routine for bedtime. I only remembered the now completely thawed-out food inside the microwave when I brushed my teeth.😅 

Sometimes, we get so fed up with many activities in our daily lives that we tend to disregard the routines that we ought to do, like having a regular meal in a day. We are more likely to forget to eat because we are so preoccupied with other things that we perceive as more interesting and satisfying than eating.

ADHD & Impulsivity - Why It’s Hard To Have A Regular Meal

Do you often get distracted by the food advertisement you recently saw on the television and order it immediately? Or are you someone who tends to go straight to the fridge or the pantry as soon as you feel a little bit hungry? I am that type of person. 😅 I would rather snack on something instead of preparing a meal because it is more convenient and less time-consuming. You see, ADHD & cooking can sometimes be challenging and much more complicated.

The impulsivity trait of ADHD can sometimes interfere with having a regular diet. We are more likely to make sudden decisions without thinking about the consequences that they might bring. For instance, we are more likely to choose unhealthy snacks over healthy meals because we get discouraged by the hassle that cooking might bring.

ADHD & Picky Eating - We Might Be Missing Out On The Nutritious Foods

Did you know that other studies suggest that an ADHD person is likely to be a picky eater and have food sensitivities? It can commonly occur as a child's ADHD symptoms, but can also be experienced by adults. Certain foods make us more delighted because we are used to eating them, and we don't like to try eating something else. When we crave a particular meal or food, we tend to fixate and think of it until we get them, which may cause a restricted diet and limit the nutrients we absorb from eating.

Food sensitivity and picky eating can sometimes be the reason for an imbalanced diet in people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It can also be one of the reasons why we are more likely to have a nutrient deficiency, which can exacerbate our ADHD symptoms.

ADHD & Analysis Paralysis

"What do you want to have for dinner?" This can be the most challenging question that someone often asks me. I want to eat some steak, but having a burger is also lovely. What about pasta and ice cream after? These are the things that I want to answer, but I don't know which one to choose. 😵 This is what analysis paralysis looks like. Of the plenty of options you want to try, you might choose the least likely option because you can't decide which one to choose.

The trait of analysis paralysis is also common in some people with ADHD. We often overthink the situation and try to look for the best option that we can have. However, this often leads to us not being able to decide at all because we are so caught up in finding the perfect choice.

ADHD Medications

Other people with ADHD can struggle significantly with their appetite while having ADHD treatment. Sometimes, the medications we take for our ADHD can also be why our appetite is suppressed or increased. It can be one of the side effects we experience while taking our medications. When the drug's effect wears off, there's a high chance that your appetite will be affected again, causing further nutritional imbalances.

If you are someone with ADHD, it is essential to be more mindful of what you eat. You should have a balanced and nutritious diet to prevent further complications. It is also crucial to consult your doctor regarding your medications and the side effects to ensure that you are getting the proper treatment.

These are just some of the ADHD symptoms that can affect your appetite and eating behavior. Alternately, a few foods diet can also have effects that can aggravate or intensify a person's ADHD symptoms. That's why there's a love & hate relationship between ADHD and Food because of the complications that these two bring to us.

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These Foods May Worsen ADHD Symptoms

A person's diet determines the nutrients that their body gets. It is important to have a balanced and healthy diet to ensure that our bodies get the nourishment they need. However, this can be pretty challenging for many people with ADHD.

The struggles stated above can make it hard for us to get the necessary nutrients and brain chemicals to have a balanced diet. This can further lead to problems with our health and well-being. 

Case in point: there are certain foods out there that can affect us significantly and make our ADHD symptoms worse. People with ADHD should try to avoid foods with high sugar, foods with artificial additives, and artificial sweeteners because they can directly affect our ADHD symptoms.

Here are the other foods that you need to be wary of while eating:

  • Processed foods: These are usually high in sugar and artificial additives, which can further trigger our ADHD symptoms.
  • Junk food: This is usually high in fat and calories and has artificial coloring, which can make us more hyperactive and impulsive.
  • Caffeinated drinks can cause us to be more jittery and anxious, worsening our ADHD symptoms with every caffeine intake.
  • Soft Drinks and Carbonated Drinks: These contain high amounts of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine, which can worsen our ADHD symptoms.
  • Alcohol: This is a depressant and can make us feel more tired and lethargic and can further worsen our condition.
  • Dairy Products: Some studies show that dairy products can cause an increase in mucus production, making it difficult for us to focus and concentrate.

As for my experience, I tend to limit myself from eating sugary foods. Having them, especially at night, makes it hard for me to sleep.😴 I still consume sweets, but eating sugar-rich food at a critical time gives me a more hyperactive brain. I am also cautious about caffeine because too much of it can trigger my anxiety. Sometimes, it can positively affect me, especially when I need to focus on things that I should be doing, but if I consume too much, it will make my heart pound and my hands shake.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet, the ADHD Way

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) should not be taken lightly. The effects of ADHD can be very overwhelming, and it can make a person struggle to live his daily life. It is vital to get the proper diagnosis and treatment for it as soon as possible. Keeping your brain health at the top should be one of your priorities.

Aside from that, you should also make sure to have a healthy and balanced diet. Eating the right food can help you focus and concentrate more on things. It can also help improve your mood and well-being. Healthy foods should always be a part of your ADHD diet and meal planning.

Here are some tips that you can follow to improve ADHD symptoms by taking the proper diet:

  1. Discipline is one of the most important keys to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Always check what you eat and do an elimination diet to know which intakes produce food sensitivities that may affect your ADHD symptoms. Check the food packaging of what you are going to consume to understand what works for your diet.
  2. If you have no time to find out which food gives you a more intense ADHD trait and elimination diets don't work for you, you can consult a nutrition specialist or a healthcare professional for diet interventions. They generally give you tips on hacking your dietary patterns and producing the needed mineral supplements that your brain needs.
  3. Many foods can be a source of the much-needed nutrients that our ADHD brain finds hard to produce. We can have seafood, specifically a fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Peer-reviewed studies suggest that the essential fats that you find in fish like salmon or tuna can help in improving brain function.
  4. Foods like seeds, grains, and nuts are also good sources of vitamins and minerals. Consuming them can help improve our ADHD symptoms. You can try to have chia seeds, one of the most popular superfoods nowadays. Soak them in water for a few minutes, and you can add them to your oatmeal or smoothies. If you aren't fond of chia seeds, you can try whole grains like oats and quinoa or nuts like almonds and walnuts.
  5. Vegetables and fruits should always be part of our diet, not just for people with ADHD but for everybody. These powerhouse foods rich in antioxidants can help protect our brain cells from damage. They are also a good source of vitamins and minerals that can help improve our cognitive function. If eating them doesn't suit you, you can make fruit punches, slushes, or smoothies out of them.
  6. You can also try some dark chocolate for a change. Chocolate contains flavonoids, which are plant compounds that have antioxidant properties. These flavonoids can help improve blood flow to the brain, making you more alert and improving your focus. Just make sure to choose dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao to get the most flavonoids.
  7. Water is also an essential part of our diet, not just for people with ADHD but for everybody. Drinking enough water can help improve our focus and concentration. It can also help in flushing out toxins from our bodies.
  8. If still everything needs a sustained mental effort to make the ADHD diet smooth-sailing, try to consult your mental healthcare professional for assistance. They can provide dietary supplements that can fill in the nutrients you need. These nutritional supplements can make a significant difference, especially if you combine them with a well-balanced diet.

There are many things that you can do to improve your ADHD symptoms. Eating the right food is just one of them. 😉 Aside from that, you should also make sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid stress as much as possible. Try to follow these tips, and you'll see a significant difference in your symptoms in no time.

ADHD and Food: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why do ADHD and Food have a love-hate relationship?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD has a love-hate relationship with food (and vice versa) because of how they affect each other. ADHD traits and symptoms can affect how you consume food. Likewise, what you eat can also improve or worsen ADHD symptoms.

What foods make ADHD symptoms worse?

Generally, sugary foods and drinks, as well as caffeine and alcohol, can make your ADHD symptoms worse. Processed foods and dairy products can also worsen symptoms.

What foods can make ADHD symptoms better?‍

The good news is, foods that can improve ADHD symptoms and traits are also ones that keep the body and mind healthy. These include whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, and seafood. Of course, proper hydration with water is likewise crucial. 

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