Weight management is a difficult task. Like most difficult tasks, it’s an even bigger challenge for adults with ADHD. Symptoms like impulsivity make us more prone to give in to cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods. And the dopamine rush we get from carbohydrates and sweets becomes addictive; it feels as if our brain needs that grilled cheese sandwich.
But don’t despair! Armed with information about the ADHD-obesity link, you can understand why shedding pounds has been difficult in the past, and take the right steps to lose them once and for all.
Linking ADHD & Obesity
A study by Dr. John Fleming and Dr. Lance Levy found that more than 25% of people struggling with obesity at a specific clinic had a history of ADHD symptoms — much higher than the 4-6% found in the general population.
Additionally, studies have found that candidates for gastric bypass surgery — who have a body mass index above the 90th percentile — have a very high rate of undiagnosed ADHD. After surgery, those people with ADHD are prone to losing less weight and gaining more back.
ADHD creates problems with self-regulation — of attention, short-term memory, and emotion—that extend to food intake. The trouble with impulse control keeps people with ADHD from thinking, “I won’t eat that because it’s not healthy, and I will regret it later.” Instead, we grab an unhealthy snack without considering if it’s a good idea or not.
The ADHD brain has low levels of two neurotransmitters: dopamine (responsible for feelings of reward) and GABA (responsible for inhibition). We crave sugar to stimulate dopamine production. This, paired with a lack of inhibitions, can set the stage for weight gain.
Why Diets are Tough for Those with ADHD
Diets don’t work for those with ADHD because they are considered a quick for weight issues before returning to a manageable “normal.” But ADHD bodies are often sending the wrong signals about what “feels right,” so relying on our natural tendencies can lead to overeating.
The same difficulty with impulse control that leads you to interrupt in conversations also makes it harder to resist a tasty snack when it’s calling your name. The same feelings of being overwhelmed that stop you from cleaning a room can keep you from adding a detailed new diet plan to your life.
Putting an ADHD Healthy Eating Plan into Action
Set Realistic Goals.
When you are starting a weight-loss plan, know that it will take time (and some mistakes along the way) to find the combination of exercise and healthy eating that works for you. If that’s your expectation from the get-go, you’re more likely to stick to it, even when things get tough.
Anything that promises a quick, easy fix won’t work in the long term. Set a clear goal for yourself of losing one pound a week, or cutting refined sugar out of your diet. Weigh yourself just once a week; it’s just enough to track your progress, but not obsess over small fluctuations.
Create a Treatment Plan or Regiment.
Adults with ADHD who take medication are more likely to lose weight and keep it off than are those who do not. A study found that people who were effectively treated for ADHD symptoms lost 12% of their body weight and sustained the loss for at least a year, while people who were not taking medication gained 3% of their body weight in the same period. Medication can help control symptoms like impulsivity, restlessness, inattentiveness, and sleeplessness that can lead to weight gain.
Get Good Sleep.
Adults with ADHD often have trouble sleeping, and this can sabotage weight loss in three ways. Your body responds to fatigue the same way it responds to extreme hunger — by looking for fast energy sources like simple carbohydrates and slowing your metabolism to hang on to calories. Lack of sleep throws off the hormones ghrelin and leptin that regulate cravings and feelings of fullness. Finally, you are not as cognitively clear without sleep, which makes it more difficult to manage your time to fit in healthy meals and exercise. Before dealing with weight loss, try to resolve your sleep issues.
Get Regular Exercise.
Establishing new routines by yourself is hard, particularly when you feel like you barely have enough time in the day to fit in another task — let alone work out. Instead of trying to get to the gym a few times a week, make 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity part of your daily routine. Plan to walk to work or get off the bus a stop early to walk the rest of the way. It’s not willpower; it’s being strategic. Or, make working out easy and fun by choosing sports you enjoy, and team up with a buddy who can help keep you on track. Create a mantra like, “I’ve never regretted being active,” that will prompt you to head off the couch and out the door even when you don’t feel like it.
Neurofeedback Therapy at NHA
Here at Neurohealth Associates, we specialize in Neurofeedback therapy. Neurofeedback may be helpful for training your mind, especially if you are unsure about putting yourself or your child on medication. This easy, noninvasive therapy can painlessly improve your mental health condition and outlook on life. Schedule a consultation with NeuroHealth Associates today and find out how we can help you.