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Never Full, Never Still

Suppressed hunger is a problem for many children with ADHD. With my daughter, we face a different challenge: her insatiable hunger and equally voracious persistence.

It’s 6:23pm, and Jasmine is munching on a bowl of popcorn. This might be her fourth or fifth snack since dinner; I’ve lost count at this point. I remember giving her a tuna packet, a large navel orange, and a rice cake. All of this after she polished off a large spaghetti dinner with tomato sauce, grilled chicken, pepperoni, and green beans. “Daddy,” she says, “Can I have another bowl of popcorn?”

Laurie and I chuckle when our two boys, ages 13 and 10, and both with diagnosed ADHD, open the refrigerator at least once an hour. They’re adolescent and preadolescent boys, and their bodies probably burn 10,000 calories on a sedentary day. I have vivid memories of polishing off a half-pound cheeseburger, followed by a big bowl of cereal at that age. But at six years old, Jasmine can eat circles around us all.

Sometimes, I push back when she asks repeatedly for food. I might be cooking dinner and she’ll ask for a snack. “You can see I’m working on it, baby doll,” I say.

[Free Guide: Best Foods for ADHD Symptoms]

“But how long until its ready?” she whines.

“It’ll be ready when it’s ready,” I say.

She stomps her foot and crosses her arms.

“Go take your attitude in the other room,” I tell her.

Then she runs off, probably to ask Mom for a snack.

When Jasmine was younger, Laurie and I pushed back more. We worked hard to consistently address her constant requests for food, and then to address her breakdowns when we said no or couldn’t feed her fast enough. We treated her behavior as an attitude problem, which we still believe it is. But as she’s gotten older, and our consistency hasn’t worked, we’ve softened our approach. We’ve realized that her hyperactive misbehavior is triggered, in part, by hunger. We can be having the best day when Jasmine pipes in, “I’m hungry,” and the day quickly derails for everyone.

[11 Meals to Fuel the ADHD Brain]

So we keep on hand specific foods that are, at least in Jasmine’s perception, filling. Pretzels, cheese sticks, crackers, rice cakes (she’s the first person I’ve ever met who admits to enjoying rice cakes), and sunflower nuts are all life savers. Any food high in carbohydrates can buy us time until the next meal or the next snack request.

“So can I have another bowl of popcorn?” she asks me.

“No, baby doll. You’ve had enough. I don’t want you to have a tummy ache when you go to bed.”

She slumps her shoulders and says, “Aww.”

She’s had a good day with no other attitude problems, so I let this go. A few moments pass, and then she perks up and asks, “Daddy? What’s for breakfast tomorrow?”

“Are you serious?”

“Can you make chocolate chip pancakes?!”

[The Benefits of Breakfast Are Real — and Delicious]

I scratch my forehead. “I don’t know, baby.”

She gives me a smirk, “That means ‘yes!’”

And I can’t help but laugh, because I know she’s probably right. Tomorrow morning, I’m probably going to make her chocolate chip pancakes. And then, an hour later when she asks for an ice cream sandwich, I’ll probably say yes to that, too.