Eating with ADHD: Overcoming the Food Struggles

Do you have ADHD and find it challenging to regulate hunger and fullness, establish healthy eating routines, or deal with food-related issues? Do you eat so fast that you don’t realize that you are already full, and find yourself panting on the couch with unbuttoned jeans? Is it difficult to stop eating when something is forbidden, or do you never feel any desire for food? Or do you have an insatiable sweet tooth and a diet that gives both your dietitian and dentist gray hair?

If you’ve also struggled with eating disorders in the past, you’re probably even more sensitive to feeling uncomfortable, overweight, or unattractive in relation to food. Perhaps you’ve already noticed that these feelings become particularly intense on certain days of your menstrual cycle? Because appetite is, of course, closely connected to our hormones, and it can be more challenging to resist overeating during different hormonal phases. Also, your weight may creep up even if you haven’t eaten more than usual just because of your hormonal status during luteal phase or PMS. If you are sensitive to these experiences the post ovulatory period can trigger an exhausting cycle of starvation and overeating even if you know intellectually that your weight will drop again once your period arrives.

With this background, it’s perhaps not surprising that many individuals with ADHD have had, and still have, a complicated relationship to both food and their bodies. Indeed, research shows that up to ten percent of all individuals with ADHD struggle with full-blown eating disorders (Nazar et al., 2016). Many more are dissatisfied with their bodies and use food for comfort and emotional regulation throughout their lives. We know that the brain’s reward system and dopamine are closely linked to both ADHD and experiences of hunger, cravings, and saturation. Furthermore, sleep difficulties mor common in ADHD lead to the release of stress hormones, which, in turn, can lead to weight gain. If you’re also impulsive, a core feature of ADHD, it’s also harder to resist temptations and unhealthy foods; if you can’t regulate your energy levels, you might eat to get things going, and if you’re restless, you might eat just to have something happen.

One of the key messages in this blog is that loss of control overeating isn’t about morality, character, or stupidity. But can you have a healthy relationship with food and your body when you have ADHD? According to Letterlife beta users, you can! Here are some simple tips and life hacks that have worked well for them:

Eat Anyway!

Don’t skip meals and eat regularly even if you’re not hungry. This will help you establish routines that work over time. Always have breakfast, lunch, and dinner AND snacks in between. Both your appetite and weight fluctuations usually calm down when your body and brain start to trust that you’ll provide energy regularly. It’s also incredibly liberating to realize that you’re not thinking about food and your body every second! Don’t forget or prioritize away your meal and sleep schedule. All means are good except the bad ones, so find ways to remind and motivate yourself. Can you ask someone at home or a colleague at work to remind you when it’s time to eat? Can you plan meals together with others for support? Always have simple, healthy snacks with you!

Stop Trying to Eat Your Feelings!

Do you use food to avoid feeling sadness, shame, anger, or restlessness? Initially, you might not have the strength to stop yourself, but try just sitting with your uncomfortable feelings. Go for a run, take an ice-cold bath, or distract yourself with a TV show instead of burying your unpleasant emotions under sugar and fat. You won’t succeed every time, but more and more often if you stick to your regular eating schedule.

Create Your Own Dietry Model!

Few have missed the message that it’s good to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and of course, this applies when you have ADHD. However, many also find that foods rich in fat and protein, even though they contain more calories, create a more stable feeling of fullness than carbohydrate-rich foods and light products. In the end, calorie-rich food can lead to necessary weight loss in the long run and there are healthy options such as nuts, beans, avocado, egg, olive oil etc….

Keep an Eye on your ADHD Meds

If you take central stimulant medications for your ADHD, your appetite can disappear completely during the day when the medications are active. Even if you don’t feel hungry, your brain and body still need energy during the day. Otherwise, you’ll experience ADHD symptoms due to energy deficiency, despite taking ADHD medication. If you don’t eat, there’s a risk that you’ll end up in a negative spiral of consuming massive amounts of food and calories in the evening and collapse into bed. Just to repeat the same unhealthy pattern tomorrow.  Set alarms on your phone to remind you to eat. This will counteract both energy deficiency and long-term weight gain. I promise!

Enjoy your meal! /Team Letterlife

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