How does ADHD affect Eating?
While ADHD is often associated with symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty with focus, it can also impact other areas of life, including eating habits. In this we'll explore the connection between ADHD and eating, and offer tips for managing food-related challenges. Often, food is a means of self-soothing or finding the "feel good" feelings when feeling out of balance or overstimulated. We might also forget to eat, which also causes dysregulation in our mood and feelings!
One of the most common eating-related challenges for people with ADHD is impulsivity. Individuals with ADHD may struggle with self-control, making it difficult to resist the urge to eat unhealthy foods or overeat. Have you ever felt yourself binge, or experienced beginning to eat, getting that "dopamine hit" and then feeling unable to stop? When the individual does stop, they're often left with feelings of shame or frustration because it didn't feel like they could "switch off." In addition, people may also struggle with executive functioning, which can make it difficult to plan and prepare healthy meals.
There are strategies that can help individuals with ADHD manage their eating habits. One key approach is to establish a routine and try to be intentional around food, even if you don't necessarily feel like it. Eating at regular intervals can help regulate appetite and reduce the likelihood of impulsive eating. Meal planning and preparation can also be helpful, as it allows individuals to make healthier choices and takes some of the pressure off "future self" to plan and create options that make us feel good.
Another strategy is to prioritize nutrient-dense foods. Foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates can help regulate blood sugar and provide sustained energy throughout the day. This can help reduce the likelihood of impulsive eating and support overall health and well-being. As well, some ADHD medications are metabolized with food - the idea that high protein and high fat meals are integral can be viewed as another component of the "medication." If we don't eat - our meds don't work!
In addition, mindfulness practices can be helpful for managing eating-related challenges. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Stop - just notice! Are you actually just looking for a way to reduce overstimulation/under stimulation? Can taking that pause help you make a food choice that makes you feel good? This can help individuals with ADHD become more aware of their eating habits and urges.
It's important to note that ADHD and eating challenges can be complex, and may require professional support. For individuals with ADHD who are struggling with disordered eating or other eating-related concerns, it may be helpful to work with a registered dietitian and mental health professional who specializes in ADHD. Get in touch for a free consultation with our therapists or dietitian today. Some of our practitioners have lived experience in this area - we get it!