If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD and she seems to be overly-preoccupied with the way she eats, keep on the lookout. A growing number of studies suggest that there is a link between ADHD and eating disorders.
These eating disorders manifest themselves in one of the following ways.
- compulsive overeating
- binge eating
- bulimia (bingeing and purging)
- anorexia (self-starvation)
The theory is that ADHD sufferers, especially those that have not been diagnosed and are not being treated, use eating as a way of self-medicating. Food can become something like the drug of choice for them. Eating has a calming effect, but like drugs, it is also a temporary “high”, so they continue eating to get their next “fix.” Also, foods high in carbohydrates temporarily raise serotonin levels, which is one of the feel good neurotransmitters in the brain. These foods are more likely to be higher in calories, less nutritious and more addictive.
It is thought that obesity in children is connected with the impulsive behavior of children with ADHD and a loss over control in eating. Researchers found that children diagnosed with ADHD were more 12 times more likely to have Loss of Control Eating Syndrome (LOC-ES). They also found that overweight children were more 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Impulse control tests also showed that the likelihood of having LOC-ES increased as the child had less and less control over impulses.
For other ADHD sufferers, especially girls, their impulsiveness and distractibility can be calmed by self-starvation. Their obsession with thinness provides the “therapeutic calming” that they crave. This obsession over thinness results in either anorexia or bingeing and purging. It is important that adolescents and young adults get help from a licensed psychologist to determine if ADHD is at the root of the eating disorder.
The symptoms of ADHD can also interfere with a child’s ability to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan. They may have trouble making good food choices. You can help your child be successful with some planning ahead.
- ADHD kids strive on structure, so schedule meals, snacks and exercise for them.
- Remove trigger foods (sweets, chips) from the home. Try some nutritious, delicious paleo treats instead.
- Also, try scheduling smaller meals more frequently.
- Other dietary changes that may help are eliminating food dyes, going gluten-free, eliminating dairy products, or switching to organic meats and dairy products.
- Be like a researcher yourself, trying one diet change at a time and recording the difference.
- Engage your child in activities that will help curtail boredom. Schedule and limit watching television, which is a sure-fire way to lead to snacking.
All eating disorders are serious health issues. In fact, the mortality rate for them is among the highest of all mental disorders. Experts agree that both the ADHD and the eating disorders must be treated together. Only then can total wellness be achieved.
Eating disorders may not be purely psychological. In her amazing book The Mood Cure, Julia Ross discusses how often, imbalances are due to nutrients the brain hungry for. If a person is feeling depressed and obsessive, it’s often seratonin, briefly mentioned above, that’s missing. Seratonin is made of the amino acid L-tryptophan. Not many foods contain high amounts of tryptophan and it isn’t difficult to not get enough – especially if dieting is going on. Julia Ross has a concise article on this topic here. Basically, if the body isn’t making enough tryptophan, the brain may start to have obsessive thoughts, to have low self esteem and to become depressed.
I’m not a doctor and neither are you. Ok, you could be. But eating disorders are no laughing matter. Get your child professional help as soon as possible if you suspect that your child has an eating disorder.