Eating Disorder or ADHD? Unraveling the Overlapping Threads

A woman is taking a big bite out of her sandwich. Her eyes are closed and she is holding the sandwich in both hands

Hello, I’m here today to discuss a topic that’s been on my mind for quite some time now. It’s about the intriguing connection between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and eating disorders, particularly in women in their 30s, 40s, and beyond. The journey of understanding this correlation started rather unexpectedly, but it has led me down a path of self-discovery and enlightenment that I believe many women can relate to.

ADHD in Women

Historically, ADHD was considered a disorder primarily affecting boys and young men, often associated with hyperactivity. However, as we’ve become more educated and open-minded about mental health, it’s clear that ADHD doesn’t discriminate by gender or age. Women are increasingly recognising that lifelong struggles might actually be symptoms of ADHD, and these symptoms can look quite different from those presented in men.

My personal journey into this realm began when I was researching potential assessments for my son, who displayed signs of inattentive ADHD. This exploration triggered many ‘lightbulb’ moments for myself, where I could see my own experiences mirrored in the characteristics of ADHD. Even though I haven’t received a formal diagnosis, I strongly suspect I might have (inattentive) ADHD.

Eating disorders and ADHD

So, you might ask, what does ADHD have to do with eating disorders? Well, while delving deeper into ADHD, I noticed an interesting pattern. Many of my clients, upon reflection, exhibited traits of ADHD alongside symptoms of eating disorders, specifically binge eating disorder.

ADHD in women often presents itself differently than in men. Common traits include difficulty focusing, disorganization, forgetfulness, impulsivity, emotional sensitivity, and often, a constant internal restlessness. These symptoms can often be misunderstood or misdiagnosed, leading to a lifetime of feeling ‘different’ without knowing why.

Now, let’s connect the dots to binge eating disorder. People with this disorder often lose control over their eating and consume large amounts of food in a short time. Feelings of guilt, shame, or distress usually follow these episodes. Interestingly, some of these symptoms align with traits of ADHD.

ADHD is associated with low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure, reward, and impulse control. Seeking pleasurable foods can be a way for individuals with ADHD to self-medicate, trying to increase their dopamine levels. Additionally, the impulsivity trait of ADHD can make it challenging to resist the urge to binge eat, creating a cyclical pattern that’s hard to break.

Eating Disorder or ADHD?

But how do we distinguish between an eating disorder and ADHD? It’s not always straightforward, as these conditions can coexist. However, if you notice that your eating habits are influenced by impulsivity, emotional distress, or an attempt to self-soothe, it might be worth exploring ADHD as a potential underlying factor.

If you suspect you could have ADHD, the first step is to seek professional help. Speak to a healthcare provider about your concerns and consider getting assessed by a specialist in ADHD. Some reputable websites do have online ADHD self-assessment tests that you can complete to assess for symptoms and can be helpful, but I would always recommending following up with a professional opinion.

If you’re struggling with both ADHD and binge eating, there are several steps you can take. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has shown promising results in managing both conditions. Medication for ADHD can also help improve impulse control and decrease binge eating episodes. Additionally, maintaining a regular eating schedule and practicing mindful eating can help manage binge eating tendencies.

Understanding Yourself

The journey to understanding ourselves better can be a winding road, filled with unexpected turns. In my case, researching ADHD for my son led me to recognise possible signs within myself, and in turn, shed light on its potential connection to eating disorders. I believe many women out there may find themselves on a similar path, and I hope this blog post provides some clarity and reassurance.

It’s clear that ADHD is a disorder that impacts both men and women, and can manifest differently in each. As we learn more about this condition, and how it intersects with eating disorders like binge eating disorder, it’s becoming increasingly important to recognise the signs and provide the necessary support. If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms similar to those discussed above, reach out for help. There is always someone who will listen and provide support.

If you’d like more personal support in creating your binge eating recovery meal plan, why not book a 30-minute discovery call to explore the different ways of working with me?

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