Exercise & Health

How to Battle the Bulge – and Win!

Being easily distracted and impulsive can make it difficult to stick to any sort of project – weight loss and/or exercise included. I raise my glass (of water) and wish all of us a happier and healthier new year!

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.

[Free Handout: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule]

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.”

[Your ADHD Weight-Loss Guide]

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.

More important than eating less is the fact that I am eating better. I eliminated most of the pound-packing foods from my diet and replaced it with food that provides better nutrition and less waste — or waist, as the case may be. I started dieting in late October and have since lost about 25 pounds (it turns out that starting a diet right before the holiday season is not such a great idea.) Still, it’s a daily effort to “just say no” to Taco Bell.

Like many adults with ADHD, I am also under treatment for a mood disorder. This is significant because I’ve found that my eating tends to cycle with my mood. Knowing this has helped me control it. I have to decide if I am eating because I’m hungry, because I’m feeling blue or simply because it’s there.

Tips – for tipping the scale in your favor

  • Be realistic. You didn’t put on 20, 30 or 100 extra pounds overnight. It takes time to reverse the effects of years of over eating and inactivity. Talk with your doctor about what is a realistic weight loss goal for you.
  • Make changes you can live with. Crash diets or weight loss gimmicks often produce a boomerang effect that can leave you weighing more than you did when you started. Try to see your weight loss as part of a larger plan to improve your overall physical and mental health. A sustained weight change requires sustained changes in both your diet and your behavior. Are you really willing to live on nothing but grapefruit and poached eggs for the rest of your life? If not — and who would? — then you need to make changes in your diet that you can maintain over time.
  • Learn about nutrition. Become an informed food consumer, rather then a grazer that eats without thinking. Research on weight loss shows that dieters who understand the importance of good nutrition are more likely to lose weight, and less likely to regain it.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. People with ADHD tend to be easily frustrated. This is just as true when you’re trying to lose weight as it is for anything else. Accept the fact that you are going to occasionally slip up. If you come out of a stupor only to find a fork full of chocolate cake in your mouth, don’t panic. Just put the fork down. Above all, don’t let a setback make you give up. Aim to improve your eating habits gradually.
  • Keep a log. I didn’t realize how much or how often I was eating until I began to write down everything I consumed during the day. You may want to include the number of calories or carbohydrates that each item contains, but don’t get hung up on numbers. Instead think of these numbers as point totals in a game that you intend to win.
  • Enlist the support of friends. Two months ago, I made a bet with two friends. We each wrote down our target weight — mine is 175 — and put $100 down. The first person to hit the target gets the money. The financial motivation is encouraging. The support that comes from knowing that there are at least two other people suffering right along with me is even more encouraging.
  • Exercise. It’s a simple equation: Energy Consumed – Energy Burned = Weight. Consuming energy (calories and carbohydrates) without burning it off is like continuing to fill your car’s gas tank without ever turning on the motor. Eventually the tank will overflow. If it didn’t spill out of the top, the tank would eventually burst.

If you’ve been sedentary for some time, like, say if you’re a professional writer who lives behind a computer, you will need to gradually rebuild muscle tone, flexibility and stamina. Walking is a great exercise. As you lose weight, you’ll be able to go for longer walks.

  • Don’t give up. Visualize yourself at your desired weight. Pick out some clothes that are only one size smaller and use them as a short-term goal. I’ve gone from a 42-inch waist to a 38. I’m proud of that! I enjoyed buying these pants! I would be feeling much less encouraged — and would probably look pretty stupid in the process — if I had waited until I had reached my goal of a 32 inch waist before buying any new pants.

I raise my glass (of water) and wish all of us a happier and healthier new year!