• ADHD, Impulsive Eating, and Obesity


    By John Fleming, PhD

    “Just as adults with ADHD may struggle to understand what people are saying, they may also misinterpret what their bodies are telling them. They mistake feeling upset or bored for hunger.”

    Those who live by impulse eat by impulse. Eating compulsively is a main cause of obesity in many adults with ADD/ADHD. I have found that the condition is five times more prevalent among overeaters than in the general population. Just as ADD/ADHD adults may struggle to understand what someone is saying, they have difficulty interpreting what their bodies are telling them. They mistake feeling upset (or bored) for feeling hungry.

    I’ve come up with tips specifically designed for ADD/ADHD overeaters. Notice that there are no recipes. It’s all about changing the way you think, feel, and behave.

    Use Your Hyperactive Brain to Lose Weight

    Having ADD/ADHD is like having a good engine and lousy brakes. Instead of focusing on “not eating,” focus your high-revving adult ADD/ADHD brain on something positive — such as cooking healthy food or starting an exercise program.

    Don’t Expect to Be Able to Resist Food Temptations

    Try to avoid them instead. Keep the foods you typically overeat out of the house. If you must eat ice cream or a Big Mac, do so infrequently, and only with a watchdog friend or in public.

    Take Time to Exercise

    Do what doesn’t come naturally, when you feel a slump in energy or mood. Force yourself (without asking whether you feel like it) into a short burst of activity, such as a brisk 10-minute walk. This will leave you with greater energy, decreased tension, and less subjective hunger.

    Avoid Boredom and Stimulate Your Brain

    Get your minimum daily requirement of stimulation. Boredom and restlessness frequently translate into hunger. Doing interesting tasks will decrease your reliance on food for amusement. Avoid TV, which provides little brain stimulation, and is a common trigger for overeating.

    Schedule When You Eat

    People with ADD/ADHD are often unaware of their feelings. The tendency to think three steps ahead often disconnects them from what they feel at the moment. These ADDers need to be reminded to eat, in order to avoid getting hungry and overdoing it. Eat something every four hours. The stimulation may lessen feelings of restlessness.

    Pay Attention to the Experience of Eating

    More than the actual enjoyment of food, it’s the anticipation of pleasure that causes most binge eating. The next time you binge, ask yourself whether you are enjoying your food, and ask again every five minutes. Are you tasting your food or gulping it, so you can move on to something else?

    Teach Yourself When to Stop Eating

    Use preset serving sizes. Focus on your changing feelings during a meal; practice stopping at different feeling states that precede “stuffed.” Eat with a friend who can make you aware of these states.

    Don’t Give Up If You Blow it

    Don’t berate yourself when you make a mistake. If yelling at yourself were effective, wouldn’t you be perfect by now? Restart your diet and forget the past.

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