ADHD and eating disorders have recently been closely linked together by doctors. Recent studies show us that there appears to be some connection between the two. For instance, we now know that individuals with ADHD have a significantly higher chance of developing an eating disorder than their peers.
Some of the reasons for this connection, though, are still unknown. That being said, there is evidence that points to different theories. For instance, some researchers believe that ADHD and eating disorders share some of the same underlying causes. For example, eating disorders might result from trying to manage ADHD stress and negatively affect your focus and attention.
Other contributing factors might include the limited impulse control seen in many with ADHD. Additionally, trouble handling or processing emotions might cause an eating disorder. Oftentimes, eating or not eating becomes a form of self-medication when underlying ADHD symptoms do not get addressed appropriately.
In this article, we want to first look at the most common eating disorders connected with ADHD. Then we want to provide some helpful tools for addressing ADHD and eating disorders. To begin, let’s look in depth at the three most common eating disorders.
One of the most common connections between ADHD and eating disorders appears in the form of anorexia nervosa. Of all eating disorders, anorexia tends to be the one most people are familiar with. Let’s look closely at anorexia and how it relates to ADHD.
What is anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric condition where the patient has an irrational fear of being overweight or gaining weight. Individuals with anorexia view themselves as overweight when they actually are underweight.
Many people diagnosed with anorexia eat very little food, starving their body. Some patients will also exercise constantly or use laxatives to try to lose more weight. As a result, most people with anorexia starve their bodies to the point of malnourishment. Overtime this has a profound effect on many organs within the body.
Unfortunately, no one knows for certain the cause of anorexia. Many times, though, it may be diagnosed after a particular unsettling life crisis. It might also result from stress over social identity.
Of all eating disorders, anorexia can be the most serious and the most dangerous. It has the highest fatality rate among eating disorders. For this reason, you need to take anorexia very seriously. If you suspect someone you know might be struggling with this condition, make sure you get them the help they need.
What is the connection between ADHD and anorexia?
Similar to ADHD, anorexia rarely appears alone. Individuals with anorexia tend to have a higher rate of diagnosis with other mental disorders. Common disorders connected with anorexia include ADHD and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Additionally, both people with ADHD and anorexia tend to struggle with some mental processing functions. Ultimately, some believe that the main connection between ADHD and anorexia lies in a failure to set boundaries. People with ADHD struggle with creating boundaries in life and in social settings. Anxiety caused from being disorganized, having boundaries disrupted, and struggling to fit in socially, all potentially contribute to both ADHD and anorexia.
A second common connection between ADHD and eating disorders includes bulimia nervosa. In many ways, bulimia appears outwardly as the opposite of anorexia with a person eating far too much food. The end, however, results in a similar depletion of nutrients. Let’s look more into bulimia and how it appears in a person.
What is bulimia nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder in which an individual consumes an excessive amount of food. The person eats a lot of food and then purges the food from their symptom by vomiting. The purging results in malnutrition as the body cannot absorb the nutrients before the food is expelled.
Throwing up keeps the person from gaining excessive weight. This might make identifying bulimia more difficult to diagnosis as bulimics tend to have normal weight. While they may now have a normal weight, though, many times patients with bulimia used to be overweight or obese.
Part of the believed causes of the condition include anxiety over dieting and weight loss. Many times the anxiety might result from social pressures. Typically, doctors diagnose bulimia in adolescence in patients from the age of 13 to 20. The age of the patients points to social stress and trying to fit in as a common cause.
To really identify bulimia, you must pay attention to eating habits. For instance, eating alone or consuming large amounts of food can point to a problem.
Bulimia can have tremendous consequences. As a result, like anorexia, if you believe someone might have the condition, seek out help for them immediately.
What is the connection between ADHD and bulimia?
Again, scientists believe much of the connection between bulimia and ADHD lies in an ADHD individual’s tendency towards impulsive actions. Many ADHD individuals struggle with impulse control. Likewise, many bulimics struggle with impulsive eating. After they impulsively overeat, they then purge the food they ate.
Additionally, bulimia and ADHD share social anxiety in common. Bulimia might begin in some teenagers as a way to lose weight and “fit in.” Oftentimes, then it evolves into self-treatment for the anxiety that many ADHD individuals feel.
A third and final major connection between ADHD and eating disorders appears as binge-eating disorder. Of all three disorders, binge-eating disorder happens to be the most recently recognized psychiatric disorder.
What is binge-eating disorder?
Similar to bulimia, individuals who have binge-eating disorder tend to gorge themselves on an excessive amount of food. Binge-eating disorder differs from bulimia, though, in that there is no purge of the food just consumed. Additionally, while bulimics typically have normal weight, individuals with binge-eating disorder tend to be obese.
People with binge-eating disorder tend to eat more food than others in similar situations. Additionally, individuals with binge-eating disorder feel a compulsion to eat more and more. No matter how much they eat, they always still want more.
As with the other disorders, you want to pay close attention to warning signs if you believe someone might be binge-eating. For instance, pay attention to how a person acts around mealtimes. After overeating, binge-eaters tend to feel bad or depressed. Also, pay attention to the amount of food consumed. Binge-eaters binge typically at least once a week or more. If you see indications there might be a problem, be sure to seek out help.
What is the connection between ADHD and binge-eating disorder?
Binge-eating disorder has connections to ADHD similar to bulimia. The main connection lies in the lack of impulse control. Binge-eaters cannot control the impulse to eat more and more. Binge-eaters, like ADHD individuals, are very much driven by their impulses and emotions.
Part of the struggle to fight binge-eating involves trying to find ways to reign in the impulse to continue to eat. Many times in order to treat binge-eating or any eating disorder, you want to address ADHD first. Let's now look closer at finding ways to address both ADHD and eating disorders.
How to Fight Back Against ADHD and Eating Disorders
Now that we have covered the most common eating issues, we want to look at addressing the problem. As we’ve mentioned, many eating disorders occur as a result of self-medication or as a result of ADHD stress or anxiety. To treat the underlying causes and find help, start with following the tips outlined below.
Admit there is a problem
To best address ADHD and eating disorders, you need to first admit that a problem exits. Many people with eating disorders try to hide the symptoms out of shame. Unfortunately, hiding the symptoms only makes the situation much worse.
If you feel that someone you love is hiding an eating disorder, try talking to them. Express your compassion and love for them. Let them know that there is no shame in getting help and connect them with resources to get help. Admitting that a problem exists is the first and most important step towards finding a permanent solution.
Make sure you are properly treating your ADHD
Since many eating disorders result from self-medication, to help solve the problem you need to ensure you treat your ADHD properly. If you have never been diagnosed with ADHD but think you have it, see a doctor to get treated.
Work to become your own ADHD expert and get informed. If you match closely with many ADHD symptoms, ask a doctor to test you. After diagnosis, you need to work with your doctor to treat ADHD effectively.
While treating ADHD alone won’t automatically fix the eating disorder, it will help relieve the urge to self-medicate. Additionally, since ADHD and eating disorders share some of the same root causes, treating ADHD helps remove some of the other issues relating to eating disorders. In fact, some studies have shown certain ADHD medications may help treat eating disorders, too.
Treat the problem holistically
Here at FastBraiin, we believe in treating the whole person. For instance, when it comes to ADHD, we advocate building an ADHD comprehensive treatment plan. To address both ADHD and eating disorders, we recommend a similar approach. You should treat the issues holistically.
First, this means getting a team on your side. You need both a medical doctor to address your ADHD and a licensed specialist to address the eating disorder. You need both your doctor to help treat the physical symptoms and a specialist to address the underlying mental issues.
Secondly, you need to address the problem holistically by paying attention to the physical and emotion health in the home. This means you need to pay attention to diet and exercise of the patient. Be sure the person is eating at regular times and eating healthy foods. Make sure that they exercise regularly. Furthermore, make sure that you keep anxiety under control. Work to find ways to keep ADHD and stress in line so it doesn’t become overwhelming.
Working to Address ADHD and Eating Disorders
ADHD and eating disorders are not issues that you can wish away or resolve quickly or overnight. Unfortunately, many times even after addressing the underlying issues you might still have to deal with repercussions and relapses later. It might be best then to view managing ADHD and eating disorders as works constantly in progress.
We want to encourage you that although these issues present challenges, you can face them. You might not feel strong enough or capable enough. Don’t worry, though, because we are here to support you in your ongoing journey to manage ADHD.
We want to help you address ADHD and any related issues including eating disorders. Please reach out to us here at FastBraiin for help and refer to our resources page for more helpful articles and videos related to the different aspects of ADHD.