Tame Your ADHD Eating Habits
Last week, I wrote about the connection between obesity and ADHD. Now that we have research that shows there is a definite connection between the two, what can we do to work towards the goal of getting the weight off and improving our health?
Like most everything else in our lives, staying on track with a health and fitness plan can be overwhelming. Procrastinating, losing interest, being forgetful, and other ADHD “traits” come into play big time. Typically, ADHD symptoms worsen when they’re attached to areas in our lives where we have little motivation or interest, and they lessen when we’re engaged and interested. For example, managing paperwork can be excruciatingly boring, so we tend to procrastinate on getting it done. On the other hand, if you love to garden, cook or play golf or video games, well…that can grab our attention so well, it can be hard to force ourselves to stop.
For many, starting and maintaining a diet and exercise routine falls under the “boring, hard to stay motivated” category. Thus, many with ADHD are faced with failure as they try to change their life styles. However, I’ve known many people with ADHD (myself included) who have found that changing their lifestyles can (and usually will), improve ADHD symptoms. So what are you waiting for? Let 's get started
Below are 10 tips to get you back on track on improving your health.
1. Assess what it is you need to change. Do you need to lose weight? Eat more healthfully? Begin exercising? Make a doctor’s appointment? Get your cholesterol checked? Write down all the things you would like to change about your health and then prioritize them by number.
2. Start small, start slow. Start with #1 on your list. Ask yourself what you need to do to get started. If it’s, say, to exercise, ask yourself what activity you would most likely be apt to stick with. Write down what you need to do to get started, i.e. join a health club, purchase appropriate equipment, etc. Once you’re prepared to begin, spend only 10 minutes in the given activity and build up from there. If you bore easily, consider choosing more than one activity to switch back and forth from.
3. Write it in your planner! If your goal is to begin exercising, write in the days and times you’ll be working out. If it’s starting a diet, write your start date with your current weight, then list what you will be eating that day. Or consider using a separate notebook to track your foods.
4. Be mindful of how your ADHD plays out. For some, the thought of cooking special foods is overwhelming. If you have the resources, look into companies that do the cooking for you. Companies like Nutrasystem and Seattle Sutton are examples of programs that measure, cook and even deliver your foods. Remember that the cost may seem high, but it is a temporary measure until your weight is down and more manageable. Other weight loss programs are very helpful; they teach you how to make healthy choices and often offer support groups. In the long run, you’ll save lots of money by avoiding expensive health care for weight related health problems.
5. Many people with ADHD self-medicate with food. For some, it’s a way to self-calm. For others, it’s stimulating. Take note of when and why you find yourself reaching for the Oreos or potato chips. What could you be doing instead? Catch yourself and note what your triggers are, then substitute eating with a healthier alternative.
- ADHD and poor planning often go together. Do you rush out of the house with little or no time to eat breakfast? Do you come home too late to plan a healthy dinner? As hard as it might be for one with ADHD, work on setting up an eating plan. Breakfast, especially one that contains some protein, is imperative for people with ADHD. Pack something the night before to eat at work or wake up 15 minutes earlier to give yourself time to eat.
Plan your dinners out, as well. Take index cards and write out a menu for each day of the week, including items needed at the market. Choose a card the night before so that you don’t have to deal with meal decisions at the last minute. When you are at the grocery store, take your cards with you so that you can be sure that you have the needed ingredients for the week.
7. Eating disorders are often seen with ADHD, as is anxiety and depression, which can also cause over or under eating. If you’ve struggled with this, consider working with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders.
8. Make sure your ADHD is properly treated. Once the ADHD is better controlled, the need to self-medicate with food often decreases.
9. Give yourself some slack. Many people, ADHD or not, fail to stick with their diets and exercise programs. It’s often better to think about “making better choices”, than putting yourself on a diet. Don’t throw in the towel if you find yourself slipping. Tell yourself you’ll get back on track tomorrow.
10. Change your shopping habits. We often find ourselves buying the same things and are on autopilot at the market, tossing in cookies and other treats in the basket. Start by eliminating ONE thing that you know isn’t good for you and your family. If you are feeling sabotaged by family members who insist on eating poorly and if they are old enough to cook for themselves, allow them to take over their own meals. As a parent, your job is to keep you and your family as healthy as possible. If your children are young and need you to cook for them, gradually make healthy changes to their diets. Engage them in the process by having them help shop for healthy items and by assisting you in the kitchen. Sometimes having fewer dinner options is the way to go. Write a list of seven healthy dinner ideas and let them choose from that.
11. Often times, people with ADHD simply forget to eat. We then get to the point of feeling so starved, we’ll just grab whatever is at hand or rush to a drive-in fast food restaurant. Start getting into the habit of eating three meals plus a few healthy snacks in between. Keep granola bars, whole wheat crackers, etc. in your purse/car/office and strive to eliminate after dinner snacking.
12. Pair up with a buddy. Your spouse/partner, child, neighbor…it’s always easier when you have someone who understands and shares your goals.
Remember that your goal is to improve your health. But breaking old habits can be very hard, so start small and start slow. You can do it!
Terry wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for ADHD.