You've heard the myth that people with ADHD are skinny, but is it true?
"Not always," says John Fleming, a Toronto psychologist who works with patients who have eating disorders. Over the years, Fleming began to notice a trend. Looking deeper, he found that the rate of ADHD among his overweight patients was about five to ten times higher than was to be expected (30 percent compared to an expected three to six percent in the general population).
Fleming and his associate Dr. Lance Levy have found that, in many cases, they can help patients control their weight by treating their ADHD.
I met John Fleming at a conference where he was presenting the results of his research. He wanted to talk with me about weight loss and ADHD. To be honest, I wasn't ready to hear what he had to say. Like many overweight people, I was dealing with my problem by pretending it wasn't there: "Damn the torpedoes — full plate ahead!"
Losing weight can be a challenge for anyone. But, according to Fleming, it may be even more difficult for people who have ADHD. He believes that people with ADHD may have difficulty interpreting what their body is trying to tell them, just like we have trouble understanding what someone else is trying to say to us. We may mistake feeling upset with being hungry. Or, like others who are overweight, we may overeat in an subconscious attempt to soothe negative feelings. Either way, we're eating more than we should.
Another problem is staying focused long enough to stick to a diet and an effective exercise routine. Being easily distracted and impulsive can make it difficult to stick to any sort of project — weight loss and/or exercise included. Could the same medications that make it possible for us to balance our checkbooks also be used to help us balance the scales?
Perhaps. Fleming is reporting good results among his patients, but he admits that his approach needs more research. Ironically, Adderall — a popular ADHD medication made from a combination of amphetamines — was originally developed and marketed over 20 years ago as a weight loss medication under the name "Obetrol."
Dexedrine is another ADHD medication that has been prescribed for weight control. Prescribing amphetamines for weight loss eventually fell out of favor due to the potential for abuse of the medications and other possible health concerns. Doctors eventually stopped prescribing Obetrol for weight loss. It became an orphan drug that was later adopted by Shire, renamed Adderall, and re-approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of ADHD.
As for me, well... everyone needs something that finally pushes them over the edge and away from the table. I saw myself in all my obese glory when ADDitude ran an ad for the website that ran on the back cover of the print version. I received an e-mail from one attentive reader who said, "Bob, you're fat!"
They say the camera adds 20 pounds. Maybe so, but so does living on pasta, burritos and entire bags of chips. At 5'10 and 245 pounds, I weighed exactly 100 pounds more than I did when I graduated from high school twenty-something years ago. Throw in a beard and ponytail, and I looked like an out of shape professional wrestler.
After trying various diet plans and pills over the years, I've come to a simple conclusion: To lose weight, I have to burn more calories than I consume. Now I'm riding a bike, eating less and trying to take things one day at a time rather than being quite as easily discouraged.