Exercise & Health

ADHD and Impulsive Eating

“Just as adults with ADHD may struggle to understand what people are saying, they may also misinterpret what their bodies are telling them. They mistake feeling upset or bored for hunger.”

A woman with ADHD impulsively eating french fries
A woman with ADHD impulsively eating french fries

The Link Between ADHD and Overeating

Those who live by impulse eat by impulse. Eating compulsively is a main cause of obesity in many adults with ADHD. I have found that the condition is five times more prevalent among over-eaters than in the general population. Just as adults with ADHD may struggle to understand what someone is saying, they have difficulty interpreting what their bodies are telling them. They mistake feeling upset (or bored) for feeling hungry and many reach for food to combat boredom.

I’ve come up with tips specifically designed for overeaters who have ADHD. Notice that there are no recipes. It’s all about changing the way you think, feel, and behave.

Use Your ADHD Brain to Lose Weight

Having ADHD is like having a good engine and lousy brakes. Instead of focusing on “not eating,” focus your high-revving brain on something positive — such as cooking healthy food or starting an exercise program.

Don’t Expect to Resist Food Temptations

Try to avoid them instead. Keep the foods you typically overeat out of the house. If you must eat ice cream or a Big Mac, do so infrequently, and only with a watchdog friend or in public.

Take Time to Exercise

Do what doesn’t come naturally, when you feel a slump in energy or mood. Force yourself (without asking whether you feel like it) into a short burst of activity, such as a brisk 10-minute walk. This will leave you with greater energy, decreased tension, and less subjective hunger.

[Are You “Chemically Wired” to Gain Weight?]

Avoid Boredom and Stimulate Your ADHD Brain

Get your minimum daily requirement of stimulation. Boredom and restlessness frequently translate into hunger. Doing interesting tasks will decrease your reliance on food for amusement. Avoid TV, which provides little brain stimulation, and is a common trigger for overeating.

Schedule When You Eat

People with ADHD are often unaware of their feelings. The tendency to think three steps ahead often disconnects them from what they feel at the moment. They need to be reminded to eat, in order to avoid getting hungry and overdoing it. Eat something every four hours. The stimulation may lessen feelings of restlessness.

Pay Attention to the Experience of Eating

More than the actual enjoyment of food, it’s the anticipation of pleasure that causes most binge eating. The next time you binge, ask yourself whether you are enjoying your food, and ask again every five minutes. Are you tasting your food or gulping it, so you can move on to something else?

Teach Yourself When to Stop Eating

Use preset serving sizes. Focus on your changing feelings during a meal; practice stopping at different feeling states that precede “stuffed.” Eat with a friend who can make you aware of these states.

[Free Guide: What to Eat (and Avoid) for Improved ADHD Symptoms]

Don’t Give Up If You Blow it

Don’t berate yourself when you make a mistake. If yelling at yourself were effective, wouldn’t you be perfect by now? Restart your healthy eating plan and forget the past.

Slim Up Faster with these Tips

  • Eat less by using a smaller plate — and always leaving something on it.
  • Do sit-ups, crunches, and core exercises to firm up your stomach and decrease the size of your waist.
  • Make your stomach look smaller by making other parts of you look bigger. Lift weights to build up your chest, shoulders, and arms.
  • Avoid perfectionism and don’t give up. Results take time. Go easy on yourself and be patient. One day — and one pound — at a time.

–Bob Seay

[Is There a Link Between Eating Disorders and Women with ADHD?]

4 Comments & Reviews

  1. This is a damaging article that is not well thought out. It is poorly researched and clearly misses the mark.

    over-eating does not necessarily lead to obesity. There are many people that over-eat or have binge eating disorder. Telling them to lose weight could cause them to purge. telling them to exercise could cause them to over exercise. Both of which are forms of bulemia.

    Being overweight in itself is not a metric of health. Measured by BMI, individuals who have higher muscle mass will fall into overweight or obese categories. There is no need to tell people who are overweight to lose weight unless you know that they have jealth issues. This article wasn’t aimed at those people.

    Overeating can also be an addiction. Telling anyone with any addiction to “just stop” (which is basically what this article suggested by not keeping binge worthy foods in the house) is reductive at best, dangerous at worst.

    ADHD has a huge number of comorbid conditions. Addiction and eating disorders being among them. Please review this article.

    1. I agree. While the backbones of this article are sound, I believe the most important thing that’s missing from this article is compassion. The way it’s written, this article oversimplifies matters and is written too much in line with our cultural beliefs, which are incredibly damaging to everyone, particularly to those with ADHD. Nobody is perfect. Perfectionism is practically a symptom of ADHD, and we use it to beat ourselves mercilessly until we crash.

      People with ADHD naturally learn not to value themselves. This is what underlies all our problems. We need to start there if we want to improve our lives.

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