Can ADHD Make You Fat?

Almost everyone struggles with their weight at some point in their lives. But if you have adult ADHD and are coping with symptoms, the challenge of managing your weight becomes even greater.

“Impulsivity is a key feature of ADHD, and this can cause a failure to inhibit eating behavior,” says Eric Hollander, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and director of the Compulsive, Impulsive, and Autism Spectrum Disorders Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. “The final result of this tends to be overeating.”

Luckily, those with adult ADHD can manage their weight by trying a few straightforward strategies.

Seek Medical Advice

Find out from your doctor whether you need to be on medication for your ADHD, which can not only help you manage ADHD symptoms but also stick to a healthy diet, according to Dr. Hollander. One of the primary effects of ADHD medications is to decrease impulsivity, including overeating, so being on the right medication can be helpful in putting a stop to weight gain.

Plan Ahead

To better manage adult ADHD symptoms, create with a daily schedule that includes structured activities as well as meaningful ones. This will enable you to stay busy and avoid boredom and distraction, which can often lead to overeating, explains Hollander. “Pursue other reward-seeking behaviors, such as reading, writing, or walking,” he says. Of course, the more calories you burn, the more control you will have over weight gain.

Eat Right

When it comes to preventing weight gain for adults with ADHD, Edward Hallowell, MD, a board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and author of two books on ADHD, Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction, says that one of the easiest pieces of advice is also the simplest: To stick with a healthy diet, remove all the foods you might be tempted to overeat from your home, starting with junk food. “Also get rid of soda pop and fruit juice,” adds Dr. Hallowell. “Drink water or seltzer instead.” Adults with ADHD can also help prevent or lose extra weight by eating cereal or bread made from filling, fiber-rich whole grains, says Naheed Ali, MD, ADHD expert and the author of Diabetes and You: A Comprehensive, Holistic Approach. Whole grains serve a dual purpose. You avoid processed foods, which are linked to worsening ADHD symtoms, and you’ll lose weight while doing so, Dr. Ali says.


Another key to avoiding weight gain with adult ADHD: Eat small healthy snacks throughout the day, rather than allowing yourself to get overly hungry, says Ali, which makes you more prone to overeating. Having a steady source of fuel helps keep blood sugar levels in check. “This also helps to avoid mental hyperactivity [an adult ADHD symptom] because the body allocates blood and nutrients away from the brain and toward digestive organs when you eat something,” he says.

Limit The Liquor

If you’re trying to trim down, you should aim to limit the amount of alcohol you drink, which helps cut out unnecessary calories. And if you are trying to manage adult ADHD symptoms, alcohol intake is generally not going to be helpful. Explains Ali, “Alcohol leads to abdominal fat and central obesity, which, in turn, can lead to hormonal imbalances in the brain.” It’s best to cross alcohol off your diet, if you can.

Work It Out

Exercise is always a good idea for achieving overall good health, and it’s especially beneficial when you’re trying to manage adult ADHD symptoms and weight gain. Exercise is also a good mood-booster. Opt for moderate-intensity activities such as brisk walking and biking. Another point to remember is that getting more exercise to prevent weight gain doesn’t have to involve elaborate or complicated routines that could make managing your adult ADHD symptoms harder. “Take stairs whenever possible, park far away from your destination, walk whenever you can, stand rather than sit when waiting, and make it a point to take a brisk walk every day,” says Hallowell. These small changes, along with a healthy diet, can bring big results.

Partner Up

One great way to lose weight, reduce stress, burn off extra energy, and stick to your fitness regimen is to recruit a friend or a loved one to exercise along with you, advises Hallowell. “Pick a partner to exercise with, so you have to show up,” he says. Remember that exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to a gym — having a walking partner, for example, can help you stay on track to better manage adult ADHD symptoms and your weight.

Reward Yourself For A Job Well Done

Creating a system that reinforces and rewards you for keeping up with your exercise regimen or eating healthfully is helpful for adults with ADHD. For example, Hollander says that you can give yourself a gold star for each day that you stick to your diet and avoid overeating. At the end of the week, reward yourself by going to a movie or doing another activity that you enjoy, such as a massage at a spa.

It’s rarely easy for any of us to lose/maintain a healthy weight, but conditions make this even more of a frustrating challenge. But, per the above simple tips, slimming down and keeping it that way is far from impossible.