What Is The Obesity/ADHD Connection?
There may be a link between adult ADHD and having weight control issues. Although 31% of all Americans are obese, and this epidemic seems to be even worse for those with adult ADHD.
Not only do adults with ADHD have trouble controlling their eating, they also have difficulty sticking to a diet. One study suggests that adult ADHD may be up to 15 times more common in people seeking help for weight loss. The key feature that links obesity and other eating disorders with adult ADHD is impulse control.
Understanding the Adult-ADHD-and-Obesity Connection
It was once thought that ADHD was a disorder of childhood, but doctors now know that many symptoms extend into adulthood. ADHD affects over 9 million American adults. Adults with ADHD frequently self-medicate with compulsive behaviors that may include overeating and other eating disorders.
The combination of adult ADHD and obesity can be especially challenging because symptoms often make staying on a diet — and therefore getting to a healthy weight — an uphill battle. Adult ADHD can also make it hard for people to control their emotions, and eating is a common way to self-soothe.
The adult ADHD symptoms that may lead to compulsive eating include:
- Frustration intolerance
The brain chemical dopamine may explain the link between obesity and adult ADHD symptoms. Lack of dopamine may be responsible for ADHD, and the brain chemical is also important for regulating appetite. Studies show that calorie dense foods may stimulate dopamine pathways in the brain. People with adult ADHD may not be getting enough brain stimulation due to a lack of dopamine and may turn to compulsive eating behavior as a form of dopamine stimulation. This type of compulsive eating behavior is similar to other compulsive, addictive behaviors like drinking, drugging, or gambling.
ADHD Medications and Other Treatment May Help Obesity
Studies suggest that treating people who have adult ADHD symptoms can help them start to lose weight. In one study, severely obese adults with ADHD were able to lose 12 percent of their initial body weight after about one year of being treated with ADHD medications. ADHD stimulant medications may work by decreasing impulsive behaviors, as well as by decreasing appetite. Behavioral treatments that teach adults with ADHD to replace bad habits with good habits may also be effective.
If you think you might have adult ADHD or if you have been diagnosed with ADHD in the past and are having trouble managing your weight, talk to your doctor. ADHD medications and behavioral therapies can help you control symptoms, which in turn, may help you reach a healthy weight.