ADHD and Your Eating
I'm delighted to bring to you this guest blog by Bracha Halberstadt, LSW. BRacha is a licensed therapist practicing in Lakewood, NJ. Bracha treats teens and adults struggling with disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image. She also treats ADHD, anxiety, depression, and trauma. She utilizes a combination of DBT, IFS, EMDR, and sand tray therapy. Bracha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hey to all of you warriors with ADHD!
You are likely creative, intuitive, compassionate, intelligent and funny.
And, you probably struggle with different areas of executive functioning. This post will address the specific challenge of ADHD and eating competence.
People with ADHD are much more likely to struggle with disordered eating/eating disorders. Here’s a breakdown of just some of the connections between ADHD and eating:
Now that we’ve identified at least some of what is going on for you… let’s talk about some strategies that might be helpful:
1. Mindfulness/ Check-ins: Mindfulness training is super-helpful in reducing so many symptoms of ADHD because it helps you get in touch with your body, reducing impulsivity, and slowing things down. This is where yoga, meditation, breathwork, somatic interventions, horseback riding, journaling and even martial arts can be incredibly helpful.
To incorporate mindfulness as a daily practice to help with your eating, try this: Set your timer to ring several times throughout each day. When it rings, ask yourself,
“What am I feeling physically? What are my physical needs? Do I need to eat, drink, use the bathroom, stretch, sleep, put on a sweater?”
“What am I feeling emotionally? What are my emotional needs? Do I need to call a friend, get a hug, cry, do a hobby, engage in self-care, journal, set a boundary, or maybe take a walk?”
2. Mindset Shift: For several of the reasons listed in the chart above, you may find that conventional eating patterns and meal suggestions don’t work for you.
For the record: Intuitive eating is not supposed to be an Instagram-y goal of “perfect meals.” (Spoiler alert: arbitrary perfect meals don’t exist anyways 😉).
Instead, intuitive eating is about feeding your body in a way that works best for YOU. That may mean four meals daily. Or two meals, and extra snacking. It may mean interesting food combos that are based on what you happen to have around the house, or based on what foods take the least energy to prepare.
If you don’t have time or headspace to prepare a proper meal, check to see if there’s something that IS simple enough to eat. Keep in mind the motto, “Any food is better than no food.”
This is where we want to be careful with black-and-white-thinking. If you notice thoughts like, “I shouldn’t be eating like this,” or “If I don’t have time to prepare something nutritious, it’s not worth eating anything,” that’s your sign that your mind has left the City of Helpful Thoughts and is heading straight for Township of Anxious Rumination.
3. Executive Function Strategies:
There are so many tips, tricks, and strategies to help manage ADHD. Like with any other area of ADHD management, when it comes to strategies to help regulate your eating, there is no one-size-fits-all.
Here are some tried and true suggestions, to be tweaked for your individual needs 😊.
o Keep a ready supply of frozen meals, fruit, energy bars, etc. Some people find it helpful to have a weekly order delivered by a local supermarket.
o Stock your car, desk and other important areas with pretzels, energy bars, or other non-perishable snacks.
o Set timers to remind yourself to eat and drink, especially if you will be focusing on other things.
o Drink smoothies or meal supplements if your appetite is affected by a stimulant… or if that’s easier for you for any other reason.
o Some people with ADHD struggle with what is dubbed as “ADHD paralysis.” Essentially, it a sense of being frozen or unable to engage in basic tasks, despite continuous thoughts urging you to do so, and considerable attempts to get going. If ADHD paralysis is making it difficult for you to prepare meals/ eat, check out this blog post for suggestions.
While I hope these suggestions are helpful, they may not be enough for you. Learning to manage your ADHD can be exhausting, and sometimes it’s helpful to work with a non- diet dietitian and/or therapist informed in ADHD. For many people with ADHD, medication and/or ongoing coaching is important.
And throughout it all… be kind to yourself 😊
(Note: this blog post is not a substitute for working with a professional. If you have an active eating disorder, check with your team before trying any of the suggestions listed here).