ADD/ADHD and Eating Disorders

It is not uncommon to find that those suffering with eating disorders are also dealing with underlying psychological disorders. ADD or ADHD, studies have shown, often co-exist with eating disorders. Food is used as a form of self-medicating, temporarily calming the restlessness that someone with ADD/ADHD experiences both physically and emotionally.


“Food is legal. It is a culturally acceptable way to comfort ourselves. For some people with ADD, food is the first substance that helped them feel calm. Children with ADD will often seek out foods rich with sugar and refined carbohydrates such as candy, cookies, cakes, and pasta. People who compulsively overeat, binge, or binge-and-purge also eat these types of foods.

It is no accident that binge food is usually high in sugars and carbohydrates, especially when you take into consideration how the ADD brain is slow to absorb glucose. In one of the Zametkin PET scan studies, results indicated that "[g]lobal cerebral glucose metabolism was 8.1 percent lower in the adults with hyperactivity than in the normal controls..." [[1]] Other research has also confirmed slower glucose metabolism in adults with ADD, with and without the hyperactivity component. This suggests that the binge eater is using these foods to change his or her neurochemistry,” says Wendy Richardson MA, LMFCC, in her article THE LINK BETWEEN ADD/ADHD AND EATING DISORDERS.

She discusses eating to increase serotonin levels in an attempt to feel better, “One way to temporarily increase our serotonin level is to eat foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates. Our attempts to change our neurochemistry are short-lived, however, and we have to eat more and more to maintain a feeling of well-being.”

Adult vs. childhood ADD / ADHD

“The symptoms of ADD / ADHD change as someone with ADD / ADHD develops from a child into a teenager and then into an adult. While the core problems of hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattentiveness remain the same, the specific symptoms manifest differently. Typically, the symptoms of hyperactivity decrease and become more subtle, while problems related to concentration and organization become more dominant,” according to

Hyperactivity in adults:
* inability to relax
* restlessness, nervous energy
* talking excessively

Impulsiveness in adults:
* volatile moods
* blurting out rude or insulting remarks
* interrupting others

Inattentiveness in adults:
* “tuning out” unintentionally
* inability to focus on mundane tasks
* constantly losing and forgetting things

Signs and Symptoms of Adult ADD/ADHD

According to Dr. Thomas E. Brown of the Yale University School of Medicine, "ADHD is essentially a name for developmental impairment of executive function." Executive functions are the skills involved in planning, selective attention, motivation, and impulse control. Adults with ADHD have problems in six major areas of executive functioning:

* Activation – Problems with organization, prioritizing, and starting tasks.
* Focus – Problems with sustaining focus and resisting distraction, especially with reading.
* Effort – Problems with motivation, sustained effort, and persistence.
* Emotion – Difficulty regulating emotions and managing stress.
* Memory – Problems with short-term memory and memory retrieval.
* Action – Problems with self-control and self-regulation.

Symptoms in children can be found here.


"It is essential that both ADD and eating disorders are treated. Too many people are struggling with their eating disorders because they have undiagnosed or untreated ADD. When ADD is properly treated, the individual is better able to focus and follow through with treatment for their eating disorders. They also have greater control of their impulses and less of a need to self-medicate their ADD symptoms," according to

Coping Alternatives

Here are some more positive methods of dealing with your emotions and stress, rather than turning to such Eating Disordered behaviors like starving, binging and purging, or overeating.

Stop, Swap and Console!

* Use the ideas below, and your own ideas, to make a COPING BANK!

* Write in your Journal
* Listen to your favorite music
* Tell one person how you feel
* Call an old friend
* Read a book
* Remind Yourself "It'll be OK"
* Take a deep breath, count to 10
* Ask your therapist to make a tape with you that you can use during difficult times
* Go to a favorite "safe" location (beach, park, woods, playground, etc.)
* Think of advice you'd give someone else... and take it!
* Say something good about yourself
* Use Self Affirmation tapes and books... and make your own affirmations (use notebooks, index cards, tapes, post-it notes, journal)
* Meditate, use Relaxation
* Call a Hotline
* Stay in touch with others through contact - don't isolate yourself

Grounding Methods

Ideas for when you feel out of control, are having a flashback and/or need grounding...

* Remind yourself "I'm going to be OK" and "I'm not crazy"... this is a normal part of the recovery process
* Call someone on the phone
* Don't be afraid to ask for help
* Hug someone safe
* Hold someone's hand (someone safe)
* Call your therapist
* Call a Hotline
* Pray, talk yourself down or yell
* Say what you feel out-loud, even if you have to yell or cry!
* Change your environment
* Do self-affirmation... read books, listen to tapes and write down good things about yourself
* Identify your triggers (things that make you feel badly or have bad memories or flashbacks)

The above lists can be seen in full here.

picture source: MrsMenopausal


Akania said...

Good stuff. I've just now been realizing how my ADD affects my eating disorder. Although I think I'm not as bad as I could be because of my impulsiveness. It's not easy balancing restricting your diet and your body being its impulsive self wanting self-gratification now. I'm predominantly impulsive and inattentive.
For me, when I was being ana, I knew it was bad, but I was in CONTROL! All my life, I've been hostage to my impulses, and it was so gratifying to be able to ignore my body and control it in one aspect.

MrsMenopausal said...

akania,I think others will relate to what you have to say. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share your experience.