Guest Blogs

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.

8 reviews

  1. I have an 11 year old ADHD girl with much the same constant hunger. She has been growing at a quicker pace the past 6-9 months, but I cannot attribute all of her hunger to her growth.
    Unlike you, we say no a lot more to food requests. We want to teach her to eat only when she is hungry, not bored or anxious or for any other reason. It’s a fine line to allow or deny your child food. And with her emerging tween body I am careful to send positive image messages even has her tummy grows and her younger siblings tease her for being fat (which she isn’t).
    I hadn’t heard of this type of hunger being related to ADHD. I’d like to know more about what causes it and how to deal with it.

  2. I laughed as well lifetime ADHD . A few years ago after I retired i had to make a list of my typical days food consumption and that 10,000/day calorie number jumped out based just on my weekly average. A significant portion was carbs and fats.
    This continued despite at one time losing 20 lbs in a few weeks before a thyroisd storm. It also continued after and I made a few notes. My cravings for that package of cookies usually started after Dinner and desert, and lasted continuously till sleep . Sleep only occurred if i had seriously big bowlf Corn Flakes and a banana. And breakfast was three courses. Cereal, Fruit, Fruit juice Toast PB and Jam and a boiled egg. All slurped down with significant mugs of coffee (now decaffe milk or cream and sugar twin. Did i tell you the egg and toast were swimming in Marj.
    On this diet with major meals at noon and dinner time that included meats fish poultry potatoes mixed veggies, salads, and pasta. I was still a constant grazer at night. Cookies, muffins, chocolate bars and Hot Chocolate, . A typical 350 gm cookie package lasted between two and three days.
    My weight and remember i am retired and mostly sedentary, usually maxed out about 15% above my 18 year old military peak. And mostly stayed around 5 -7% higher.
    When I tried eating less nothing changed weight wise. But the cravings were sure there.
    Then i was prescribed Ven Lafaxine a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. ( i dont remove as much seotonin and norepinehrine from my brain as before. And suddenly all the dark sides of ADHD are muted. RSD disappears and the craving except late in the evening after the pill has worn off and when its cold are reduced. My caloric intake is greatly reduced. Weight is still the same)

    There is a neurotransmitter reward associated with food and you might want to read about it.

  3. At Jasmines age it was PB and Jam , Popcorn also swimming in butter, and Chocolate milk and of course that last of the day cereal. Cookies, cakes, pies, and preserved peaches, pears, apricots, and other milk puddings were our standard dessert fare for every lunch and dinner. After school snacks just before dinner included raw potatoes, carrots, apples, and if we were lucky fig newtons.
    I am 6’1″ and 200 lbs.

  4. My son went from underweight at ages 6-10, due to poor appetite from ADHD medications, to constantly binging and gaining 100 lbs in 18-24 months, now 40-50 lbs overweight at age 15. Mind you, he never stopped taking his ADHD medication. Puberty hit and his eating flew off the rails, and crashed and burned.

    We have, of course, tried everything to get a handle on this situation. I’ve tried helping him write down his goals so we can discuss if eating X will help him reach his goals. Even when we only have good food in the house — no junk food — he’ll eat an entire box/package of something in 1-2 days. Protein bars last 2 days, tops. A package of cheese sticks might last a day. When we let him have a box of cereal, the box is empty (along with the milk carton) within 36 hours.

    We now hide food from him. It has helped a bit to slow his weight gain, but he is still constantly looking for and thinking about food.

    Someone asked above about the correlation between ADHD and weight gain… here’s what Dr. Roberto Olivardia, and other ADHD experts told me when I researched for this article: https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-medication-side-effects-obesity-weight-gain/.

    Penny
    ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

  5. I have tried the one-meal-a-day diet.
    The one thing I learned from it was how addictive food actually is. The first 2 days I really felt hungry. After that I didn’t feel hungry but all I could think of was to eat. When my eating period started after 20h of fasting I wasn’t hungry at all. But like an addict needed my food fix.
    Slowly this feeling decreased what made me realise how addictive food is (especially food full of sugar) .

    In the other hand, research also says food cravings are your body saying it needs more fuel and building blocks.
    I read an article about a baby who couldn’t stop eating salt. After she/he was admitted to the hospital and doctors gave her a low salt diet the baby died.
    The baby had a very high need for salt and her body was making her eat more of it.

    I would like to advice to try to reduce the many snack times but have bigger meals. Best to keep it structured and reduce only one snacktime per x amount of time.
    Food is a necessary addiction. But too much food is also a unhealthy.

  6. My comment is somewhat different, but only because I have experienced insatiable hunger as have others in my family. ADHD is in my blood line and so is mild anemia. I just wanted to mention that because I wonder if there is a connection between these two things that has not yet been identified in some lines of ADD. My two sons with ADHD have high metabolisms and are constantly hungry. My father with ADHD struggled with hunger and carb cravings, and while I am not ADD, I too endure incredible hunger which has been very hard to manage. I’ve kept a healthy weight but I notice that other people don’t seem to struggle with hunger in the same way that I have. My family all checks out as slightly anemic (low in iron) and so I’ve been taking an iron supplement for several years. For some reason the iron stores that should normally build up in my body just don’t and I have to continue taking iron. The interesting thing is that once I take iron (300mg/day) I feel normal. I am not starving hungry for carbs all day long. Before I discovered this, I could eat and eat and eat and have a stomach that hurt from too much food and still be ravenously hungry. My body was starving for energy and the natural instinct was to eat, but what really was the problem was that the oxygen could not get to the cells (not enough hemoglobin to carry it due to low iron levels). I’m not suggesting that everyone who struggles with ongoing hunger is anemic, but it is something worth looking into especially if you crave carbs, love to eat red meat, enjoy cold beverages or ice cubes in your drinks, and can’t seem to find anything to stop you from being hungry all of the time. That king of hunger is not normal no matter who you are.

Leave a Reply