Impulsivity May Lead to Binge Eating

Health Writer

Those with ADHD are often known for their impulsive behaviors. Children with ADHD frequently get into trouble for acting without thinking and many adults with ADHD participate in risky behaviors, such as driving fast. According to a recent study, those with impulsivity also have a higher risk for loss-of-control eating disorder (LOC-ES).

LOC-ES shares many of the diagnostic criteria for binge eating. It is characterized by an inability to stop eating, to the point of eating way past feeling full. According to the Eating Disorder Foundation, People with binge eating disorder:

  • Experience episodes of out-of-control eating, often feeling like they can’t stop eating
  • Consume abnormally large amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Eat whether they are hungry or not
  • Continue eating past feeling full

Many people who have binge eating disorder feel ashamed and distressed by their behavior and often feel guilty both during and after a binge eating episode. They might conceal their eating, binging in private to hide their behaviors from their family and friends. One of the criteria for binge eating disorder is that someone have episodes at least two times per week. Loss of control eating, which is similar to binge eating, might not occur with this frequency. A study completed in 2008 found that this loss of control eating was more common in children between the ages of 6 and 12, but that many of the children did not fit all the criteria to be given a diagnosis of binge eating disorder.

Researchers at the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine assessed 79 children to determine if there was a connection between loss of control eating and ADHD. They found that children with ADHD were 12 times more likely to have LOC-ES and the more impulsive a child was the higher the likelihood.

In adults, binge eating disorders are usually treated with a combination of self-help strategies, therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, and sometimes medication. Therapists will help adults discover their emotional triggers and help people develop a healthy relationship with food. Because children with ADHD might experience binge eating episodes for different reasons (impulsivity), you should talk with your child’s doctor. Finding ways to curb impulsivity might be more beneficial. The researchers at John Hopkins suggest that doctors screen children with ADHD for disinhibited eating behaviors. They acknowledge the need to develop new treatment strategies for children who exhibit symptoms of both.

While the study did not mention adults with ADHD, it is possible that adults who also have impulsivity could overeat at times because of ADHD symptoms. Disordered eating habits, such as LOC-ES, can lead to being overweight and can contribute to developing diabetes. If you overeat at times, hide your eating and sometimes feel you “can’t stop” eating, talk with your doctor and/or therapist about ways to curb overeating and live a healthier lifestyle. ADHD has been linked with eating disorders in past studies.

For more information:

Help for Binge Eating

Medications to Help the Binge Eater

ADHD Symptoms: Impulsiveness

Curbing Impulsive Behaviors in Children

Eileen is the author ofThe Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD,The Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love,The Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome andThe Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Follow on: Facebook:Eileen Bailey, Twitter:@eileenmbailey, Pinterest:ebailey215