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Yes, There’s a Link Between ADHD and BED


Here’s an interesting factoid: “Studies show that someone with ADHD is 30 percent more likely to develop binge eating disorder.” When I read this statistic, I thought about my clients, formally and informally diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, who overrate and binged and wondered why I hadn’t thought or heard about this connection before. 

Most of my clients self-identify as dysregulated eaters if not binge-eaters, so let me explain what Binge-eating Disorder consists of from a blog of mine: “Criteria include bingeing at least once per week for a period of at least three months accompanied by a feeling of loss of control, eating large quantities of food quickly past fullness, and experiencing shame, upset, remorse or guilt afterwards.” According to Allan Kaplan, MD of the University of Toronto, BED is found in about one-third of higher weight clients.

Several of my clients have ADHD, a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by distractibility, poor focusing as well as hyper-focusing, forgetting, difficulty with follow through, disorganization, low frustration tolerance, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, among other traits. Dr. Kaplan found that for people with ADHD, substance abuse “involves cravings and patterns of losing control followed by regret” which he saw as similar to the impulsivity and self-disgust that people with BED often experience.

An article entitled Brain Reward Response Linked to Binge Eating and ADHD,” says that planning for meals and knowing when they’re full may be more difficult for some people with ADHD. Both of these are common complaints I hear from clients. Meal planning seems overwhelming due to too many choices, and they don’t know what to buy, so we spend a good deal of session time talking about how meals don’t need to be perfect and that the only way to know what to eat and buy is through experimentation. 

Another finding is that people with ADHD have a “heightened brain response” constituting increased brain activity when looking at food. This may be why having ADHD includes an increased risk of also having a binge eating disorder. Roberto Olivardia, PhD a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of ADHD and eating disorders, has this to say “Many individuals with ADHD are on a ‘see food’ diet. If they see it, they eat it.”

If you think you have ADHD, you might be able to reduce your bingeing by meeting with a professional and getting treatment for it. Not all treatments involve medication. There are many behavioral modification strategies that will help your ADHD and your BED.