The Link Between ADHD and Eating Disorders

If you struggle with an eating disorder, ADHD may be at the heart of it. Unfortunately, many girls are not diagnosed with ADHD until later in life.

Evidence suggests a strong link between individuals with ADD/ADHD and eating disorders such as:

  • compulsive overeating
  • binging
  • binging and purging (Bulimia)
  • self-starvation (Anorexia)

Passionately working with countless women over the years, I have seen this strong link in my own practice. The underlying problem is, many women (girls) are not diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, because they often do not exhibit the classic trait of hyperactivity as boys typically do. Instead, many girls’ ADHD manifests itself in inattentiveness and difficulty focusing. Being improperly diagnosed (or not diagnosed at all), many girls turn to food to ease their symptoms.

Why food?

Eating disorders are a method of self-medicating. People who feel out of control, people who feel pain or confusion, people who feel chaotic – well, they want to feel better. We can all sympathize with that at some point in our lives.

Individuals with ADHD feel that way constantly. Food makes them feel better. The drug-like effects of food are only temporary, which in turn leads to compulsive behaviors. As any addict does, sufferers of undiagnosed ADHD begin to obsess about getting their next “fix.”

Most compulsive overeaters, bingers, and Bulimics crave sugary, high-carbohydrate foods. These foods can actually change the brain’s neurochemistry in a person with ADHD, as the ADD brain is slower to absorb glucose. Sugary, high-carb foods also increase Serotonin levels, which helps alleviate anxiety, irritability, and depression.

It makes sense that food is a “drug of choice” among many individuals with ADHD, as they can turn to it at a young age to soothe their restless, chaotic brains. After eating, they can feel alert, calm, and focused for a time. They can feel in control.

For some, self-starvation is their way to curtail distractability, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. The obsession with thinness and not eating helps focus their mind and in itself feels therapeutic and calming.

Obviously eating disorders of all kinds, whether compulsive overeating, binging, binging and purging, or starvation, can lead to serious health problems. In my practice, I usually look to ADHD as a potential root problem, with eating disorders as a symptom.

Treatment for ADHD and Eating Disorders

In individuals with ADHD and eating disorders, it is absolutely imperative to treat both. Treating only an eating disorder is a band-aid solution. You must address the underlying cause in order to achieve healing and total wellness.

When ADHD is properly treated, the individual is better able to focus and follow through with treatment for their eating disorders. They also learn how to better control their impulses, and feel less inclined to self-medicate their symptoms.

But before treatment comes a proper diagnosis.

Parents: If your young daughter is suffering from inattentiveness, anxiety, or depression, or your adolescent or young adult daughter is struggling with an eating disorder, seek help from a licensed psychologist who can help you get to the root cause of her pain.

Women: Good news: There is hope for you! With proper treatment, therapy, and/or coaching, you can learn to accept yourself for the beautiful person you are, and learn the skills necessary to take control of your life! You can be focused, self-disciplined, and achieve goals at home, at work, and in your relationships!

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