Binge Eating Disorder

ADHD and binge eating: 5 tips to stop overeating

February 7, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by

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ADHD
Contents
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Key Points

  • Research shows that people with ADHD are more likely to have an eating disorder
  • People with ADHD may resort to fad diets, skipping meals, and using food for emotional regulation, triggering disordered eating
  • Also, nutritional deficiencies and hormone imbalances can hurt eating disorder recovery
  • Using ADHD strengths and building the right support system can help

There are unique challenges to living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One such issue is that ADHD is closely linked to eating disorders. In particular, there is a strong connection between ADHD, binge eating disorder, and bulimia.

The binge-eating cycle and the binge-purge cycle of bulimia can have a negative effect on physical health and mental health conditions. They can even make the symptoms of ADHD worse.

However, there is hope; there are ways to manage your overeating. The right support can help you recover from your eating disorder.

Here are 4 tips to help with binge eating if you have ADHD.

1. Avoid fad diets (even if they seem to work for others)

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), a preoccupation with food and dieting, frequent dieting, and new practices with food or fad diets are common symptoms of an eating disorder. Having ADH can make it harder to manage your eating disorder.

Trending or highly-restrictive diets may:

Trigger binges

In general, fad diets involve some type of food deprivation and the concept of “good” and “bad”’ foods. They are designed for fast but short-term results. It can be challenging to sustain such diets long-term and even harder for people with ADHD.

There is recent evidence that the ADHD brain may be more sensitive to food-related rewards, which may make it harder to resist binge eating. Extreme food restrictions can trigger the urge to binge eat.

Affect your self-esteem and mental health

Fighting the urge to binge often looks like this:

  • Making plans to eat ‘healthy’ or cut out ‘bad’ foods
  • Eventually, giving in to binges, and
  • Dealing with the resulting feelings of guilt, shame, frustration, and helplessness.

Research shows that people with ADHD are highly self-critical and deal with extremely negative perceptions of themselves. ADHD also often coexists with depression and anxiety. To ease the pain of negative emotions from binge eating and possibly purging, people with ADHD may turn to food.

2. Do not skip meals

If you have ADHD, you may skip breakfast and other meals. This type of irregular eating habits in the morning or afternoon can trigger binges or a binge-purge cycle later in the day.

Reasons why having ADHD may make you skip meals are:

Hyperfocusing on tasks you find interesting

While “being in the flow” as you hyperfocus can be very rewarding when you want to get things done, you may forget to eat your food on time.

Poor time perception

Symptoms of ADHD include trouble with executive functioning, including a weaker perception of time. Some call this ‘time blindness.’ Because of time blindness, you may go for hours without food and not realize it.

The effects of ADHD medication

When the type of ADHD meds and their dosage is optimal, people with ADHD report having better focus, lower stress, and reduced hyperactivity and impulsivity. However, these medications can decrease appetite, leading to skipped meals.

When the meds wear off, your hunger may return with a vengeance. If you suffer from disordered eating, this may trigger the urge to binge or binge and purge.

You may need to set a timer or develop a system to remember to eat your meals on time, whether you are hungry or not.

If you want to talk to someone about help with your eating disorder, Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.

3. Lean into your strengths to sustain healthy habits

When you’re trying to manage your ADHD symptoms, it can feel like an endless struggle. But the truth is, the ADHD brain is also wonderful, imaginative, and creative.

After all, being ‘impulsive’ also means you are spontaneous and unafraid to try new things. Also, when focused on a goal, people with ADHD are great at research and experimentation, given the right motivation or incentive.

Here are some easy ways to add novelty to your kitchen:

Make it interesting

If you know a recipe well, time yourself when you cook as if you were on a cooking show. See if you can make it faster than before.

Bring in novelty without overwhelming yourself

Introduce one new vegetable, sauce, or spice into your kitchen and learn how to cook with it. This way, you can spend less money, time, or mental energy on shopping, putting away groceries, prepping, or learning completely new recipes.

Prepare for low-motivation days

Save easy recipes that only take 3, 4, or a maximum of 5 ingredients for days when motivation is low.

Tie ‘boring’ tasks with something you look forward to

Invest in meal prep - clean, cut, and store vegetables in clear containers to make it easier for you to cook. If this feels monotonous, watch a show or listen to your favorite crime podcast as you do it.

Body double

Body doubling can help people who are neurodivergent get motivated to stay on track with their goals. It involves working along with someone else (either in person or virtually). You could cook or meal prep with a friend or an online instructional video.

Novelty through subscription

If you can afford it, subscribe to a meal delivery service that offers a recipe and all the ingredients you need to make that meal.

4. Fix nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances

Sometimes, nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances can prevent you from healing from an eating disorder. Unless they are addressed, these issues can continue to wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.

Biological issues that may impact disordered eating include a dysfunction with ghrelin (a protein that controls appetite), a bacterial imbalance in the gut, insulin resistance, and PCOS in females. 

5. Build the right support team for sustained success

When someone hires a trainer at the gym, we do not think they are weak. We assume they are trying to achieve their fitness goals by consulting an expert.

When someone signs up for a new course to advance their career, we do not think they are ‘stupid’ or ‘broken’ for not knowing the new information in the first place. We praise them for trying to improve their knowledge by setting ambitious goals.

Similarly, managing symptoms of ADHD and an eating disorder (and maybe depression and anxiety) is complex. It can be exhausting and lonely trying to do it all by yourself.

Consider therapy, medication (when needed), and a registered dietitian to help you along the right path to recovery. Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.


The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.


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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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