Women with ADHD have a complicated relationship with food. Actually, most of the women I know have a complicated relationship with food. Sharing my story is part of my attempt to heal and be honest about my personal history.
My Struggle With Weight, Body Image and ADHD
I was in college and away from home, so I was free as a bird. Since I was in a sorority I planned my class schedule around our Thursday night mixers. A really nice guy tried to date me for a short time. I say tried to date me because I was entirely too wrapped up in my own issues to have a relationship.
By all accounts I should have been loving life. But I wasn’t. I was miserable and full of anxiety and self-loathing.
When I had to go out, I would drink excessively so that I could tolerate the loud music, and even louder people. I was a sorority girl who couldn’t stand parties. Crazy, right?
My roommate had stolen from me (and some other people) and then flunked out of school so I was living alone. I started pulling into myself and hiding in my apartment all weekend. Studying was preferable to the idea of socializing.
While studying I ate. I ate whole boxes of pasta at a time. By 1999 I weighed 207 pounds, which is a lot of weight when you are only 5’3’’. My primary care physician used the words, “totally out of control.”
And he was right. I had been abusing myself with food.
Binge Eating Disorder was not well known then, but no doubt that is what I was suffering with. Along with unremitting anxiety and ADHD. Negative thought patterns flashed through my brain like a song on repeat all day, every day.
Around the time I moved to Philadelphia, I stopped taking antidepressant medication. Almost immediately I emerged from the mental fog created of pasta and beer binges.
I read the original Zone Diet book by Barry Sears and I started to think about what I was putting into my body for the first time in my life. Slowly I began to read labels and think about macronutrients. I still credit Dr. Sears with getting me to think about how food affects our mental and physical health.
One of the benefits of city living is that you can walk everywhere. I wandered through the Philadelphia Art Museum alone for hours, not even thinking about food. On my 21st birthday I was down to 160 pounds.
These days I fluctuate between 135-145. I only weigh myself naked. And yes, I am still afraid of my family doctor’s scale.
Now l want to talk in more general terms about ADHD women and eating.
Food as a drug
There was a book published by Dr. John Fleming and Dr. Lance Levy called Understanding Women with ADHD. Oh how I wish to get a copy of this bad boy! I couldn’t find it on Amazon.
When the doctors interviewed patients from eating disorder treatment programs, they noticed that many of them were living with undiagnosed ADHD.
It seems that for some women, eating is a type of addiction. I know it was for me. It numbed me when I needed it to, and it stimulated me when I needed it to.
I self-medicated with food.
My pasta fixation is no surprise, since carbohydrates are known to raise levels of serotonin. Carbohydrates are also associated with dopamine production, which is often lacking in people with ADHD.
Poor inhibitory control
I found another link to the work of Dr. Fleming HERE.
As I was reading through I noticed that Dr. Fleming had a pretty darned clear explanation for why some of us have trouble regulating our hunger and thirst signals.
We lack awareness, i.e. inhibitory control.
We lack awareness of our own body, and often awareness of our own behaviors and thought patterns.
As Dr. Flaming states, “People with ADHD are renowned for their lack of self-awareness. Maintaining a high level of awareness of internal states, particularly in the context of other activities, can be extremely challenging for someone with ADHD.”
When I am working…or parenting…or having some kind of emotional meltdown I am most definitely NOT in touch with my internal states.
Go HERE for more information on Emotional Management with ADHD.
This is where the whole Mindfulness For Women With ADHD thing comes into play. The sense of chronic overwhelm in our lives is not exactly conducive to self-awareness. We are so busy trying to manage our distractions and soothe our emotions that we put whatever is convenient in our mouths.
Further, Dr. Fleming described “a strong correlation between dopamine receptor density in our brains and our BMI…Patients with the lowest density of dopamine receptors had the highest BMI’s.” This makes sense because if my brain were receiving enough dopamine I wouldn’t feel that urge to nibble.
Finally I know why I crave a hit of dark chocolate after every meal! I am dopamine and serotonin seeking.
Hiding from the world
Part of the reason I was eating so much when I was heavy was because I was putting an unconscious barrier between others and myself. I didn’t want to get close to anyone and I certainly did not want anyone trying to get close to me.
I needed to be alone with my thoughts, so I holed up in my apartment where I could eat and contemplate my life in privacy. It was not a pretty picture. I was not really living because of my anxiety and poor self-awareness.
I was keeping my ADHD a secret. I was hiding myself from the world.
What are you hiding from yourself? Or others?
From what I can tell, I am not alone. I found plenty of articles about the relationship between ADHD and eating disorders. I found yet another article by John Fleming, PhD HERE.
In this article he wrote, “those who live by impulse eat by impulse.”
Dr. Fleming is absolutely correct. Though I work every single day to control my impulses, food is an area that I still struggle with.
Like many women, my relationship with food is a complicated one
The impulsive urge to soothe myself with food will never leave me, any more than my ADHD will leave me. My perfectionism has gotten better over time, but I am still working on it.
How do you fuel your body/mind?
Does ADHD affect your relationship with food?