Very interesting.. I was one of those kids who never seemed interested/bothered by food, and was a tiny, skinny kid. When I started Ritalin, at 12, my appetite actually improved —I think part of it was, I was instructed to eat prior to every dose because of the potential side effects, and I’m a bit of a people pleaser so it didn’t occur to me to do otherwise. But I do recall starting to feel and acknowledge my hunger, which I’d previously been unaware of.
At 17, I ceased Ritalin of my own volition, and went on to develop an eating disorder owing to a series of traumatic events. Ultimately, at about 19/20, it was my Mum who suggested to resume Ritalin and on agreement with my paediatrician (awkward, but she had my history and Australia poorly recognises adult ADHD, so finding someone suitably qualified within a short time frame was impossible, and public mental health refused to be part of it because of the risk) with careful monitoring, I resumed Ritalin.. I won’t lie, there is no doubt I was abusing it and skipping meals but, by treating the underlying ADHD (and in part, PTSD), I was better able to concentrate and reap the benefits of treatment for my anorexia. After years of in/out/day patient, I eventually discharged myself, slightly under weight restoration, and I thrived. I wouldn’t recommend that for anyone, I took a massive chance and it paid off.. slowly, but naturally and away from a mental health setting, I recovered from my eating disorder. There are very occasionally times when I feel at risk of relapse, but I am conscious and healthy enough to recognise this and go gently on myself when I need to.
Nearly three years ago I stopped Ritalin again, this time because I’d actually never experienced a healthy, adult version of myself without being drugged up to my eyeballs and I wanted to prove I could do it without —I could, but my life was a bit of a hot mess. I enjoyed it for a while, but then basic tasks felt insurmountable and I couldn’t manage finance/concentrate/move forward professionally etc. Now 33 and living in the UK, I very recently went for a reassessment and resumed Ritalin.. the first thing I noticed was a greater awareness of my own body, and how it fits comfortably within the space that I occupy. I was sat between two small children in oversized car seats which would normally make me feel very trapped and fidgety, and I was able to just chill and enjoy their company. I recognise sounds and can better place where they are coming from, and can filter out the ones that don’t matter. After a week, I am sleeping/eating/concentrating better. My confidence in holding a conversation and keeping my train of thought is immeasurably better, my constant stream of distracting thoughts has slowed so I can complete tasks. I am now training for an epic swim, so I work out a lot and that helps my appetite.
So my suggestions, based on what worked for me:
-Decide if YOU want to recover from the eating disorder. Any attempt to do so until you make that conscious, deliberate choice will likely be futile.
-Appreciate that a healthy amount of exercise might help to manage your ADHD, but I absolutely wouldn’t embark on this without appropriate support. A health professional who understands both conditions might help here. The trick is, consider WHY you are doing it.. is it enjoyable, or just to lose weight? Setting yourself some achievable goals helps make it fun for our reward-driven brains. ie. I used to go for a light walk as a reward, after I’d eaten all my meals. When I was buzzing with energy at 5am, I’d take an ensure and kick a soccerball at a wall until sun rise.
-Eat supplements/high calories/fortified meals. Seriously, it takes the pressure off. If they’re a little frightening, it helps to consider them as medicinal.
-Don’t take the advice you receive as gospel. Of course they are the professionals and I would never suggest you refute their advice over something you read in a forum, but try and take it all it and figure out what works for YOU. What really helped me was learning to listen to my own body and knowing what was right for me. I wasn’t very good at following a meal plan, because I’d lost touch with my own hunger signals; when I discharged I was able to concentrate on learning how to eat naturally again. Wings at 3am? Hell yeah. These were life experiences I’d previously missed out on. Bear in mind I seemed to recover mentally before physically, which is almost unheard of.
-Just as my eating disorder played tricks on me, I learnt to play by the same rules in a positive light. I wouldn’t have the Ritalin if I’d deliberately restricted on meals —a bit like the advice given to me as a kid. It worked, because I needed the medication for college/hold down a job/mental well-being etc.
-Distract yourself while eating. I used to watch a tonne of SpongeBob Square Pants while eating, because it was the perfect acceptable timeframe for “normal” eating, and it’s light-hearted and fun and took the focus off my food. Now I can’t hear the theme tune without feeling hungry. Pavlov’s dog right here.
-Know that there is a known association with ADHD and eating disorders, although research is still new. I only found that out recently and it helped a lot. You’re not alone.