By Leslie Rouder, LCSW Cht.
There has been a lot of research lately on the relationship between ADHD and eating disorders, as well as problems with obesity that would indicate that having ADHD may predispose individuals to difficulties regulating their weight. A study done in 2004, found that 10% of individuals with ADHD suffered from an eating disorder at some point in their life time compared to the general population of .6 to 4.5 %. In another study done at an obesity clinic in 2005, 58% of overweight teenagers were diagnosed with ADHD as opposed to 35.7% of the general population. In looking at these numbers one might ask, what are the reasons for these differences and what do we do about it? In answer to those questions, I have written the following article.
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Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not act, but a habit.” However, when one has ADHD, developing healthy habits can be a big challenge due to problems with self-awareness, as well as self-regulation. The 3 biggest problem areas facing individuals with ADHD that would affect one’s ability to maintain a healthy weight are the following;
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1. Difficulty with Planning and Organization
Eating healthy food requires planning, making the time to shop for the right foods, and making the time to prepare one’s meals. This can be tricky for someone with ADHD, due to difficulties with executive functioning, that could impair one’s ability to plan and organize one’s meals as well as one’s time in shopping and preparing them. Very often individuals are juggling work, family and other social obligations and find that it is just easier to eat on the run, which could lead to fast food and poor food choices.
2. Difficulty with Self Awareness and Regulation
Being able to identify when one is actually hungry as well as satiated means one must be mindful. Paying attention to one’s internal messages can be a challenge in the face of the many distractions and responsibilities an individual may have. In addition, some individuals with ADHD have a tendency to hyper- focus which may lead to skipping meals only to find themselves starving and later overeating or binge eating as a result. Another difficulty for many individuals with ADHD is in the ability to regulate ones sleeping habits. Since getting enough sleep is vital to maintaining a healthy weight, for those individuals with ADHD, who find it difficult to fall asleep or cannot regulate their sleeping patterns so that they are well rested, lack of sleep adds to the challenge in maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, many individuals with ADHD will often eat while studying, watching TV, or doing some other activity, not even paying attention how much food they are eating or the amount of calories they are actually consuming.