ADHD and Hunger: More Than Just a Matter of Willpower

ADHD and Hunger

Managing hunger and eating habits can be more challenging for some people with ADHD due to factors like being impulsive, forgetfulness, dopamine chasing and sense of time, which can all affect regular meal planning and how food is consumed.

Here are some ideas that might help:

Establish a Routine

First things first: structure is your friend. By setting fixed times for meals and snacks, you can combat impulsivity and the all-too-familiar scenario of forgetting to eat until you’re ravenously hungry. A predictable routine reduces impulsive eating and helps stabilise your mood and energy levels throughout the day. Set multiple alarms to remind you throughout the day if it helps.

Opt for a Balanced Diet

Turning to what’s on your plate, a balanced diet can do wonders. Aim for meals that include a good mix of proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. These nutrients are essential for stabilising blood sugar and preventing the energy dips that might send you scurrying for a quick dopamine fix through sugary snacks or junk food.

Sources of Protein:

  1. Chicken breast
  2. Turkey
  3. Fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  4. Eggs
  5. Greek yoghurt
  6. Lentils
  7. Chickpeas
  8. Tofu
  9. Quinoa
  10. Cottage cheese

Sources of Healthy Fats:

  1. Avocado
  2. Olive oil
  3. Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews)
  4. Seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds)
  5. Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
  6. Dark chocolate
  7. Coconut oil
  8. Full-fat yoghurt
  9. Cheese
  10. Eggs

Sources of Complex Carbs:

  1. Oats
  2. Quinoa
  3. Brown rice
  4. Sweet potatoes
  5. Whole grain bread
  6. Barley
  7. Lentils
  8. Chickpeas
  9. Bulgur wheat
  10. Whole wheat pasta

Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is about fully experiencing the food you consume—notice the flavours, textures, and aromas. Eat slowly and without distractions – so avoid social media, Netflix and the TV!

This practice isn’t just about eating healthily but enjoying each bite, and recognising and stopping when you’re full. If you are full it is OK to leave food on your plate. For some people with ADHD, this mindfulness can be rewarding, providing a sensory dopamine boost without overeating.

Find Joy Beyond the Plate

It’s also crucial to seek out alternative sources of dopamine that don’t involve food. Whether it’s engaging in physical activities like cycling or yoga, pursuing hobbies such as painting or playing an instrument, or participating in social events that you enjoy, these activities can satisfy your brain’s need for dopamine in healthy, fulfilling ways.

Plan and Prepare

For many with ADHD, the prospect of meal planning and preparation might seem daunting (and for those who don’t have ADHD too!). However, taking the time to plan and prepare meals for the week can save you from decision fatigue and unhealthy impulse decisions later. Plus, the act of cooking can itself can be a rewarding activity.

Reduce Temptation

Try to keep high-sugar and fast food to a minimum. These are often designed to be irresistible and provide a rapid dopamine surge that is hard to resist for nearly everyone but especially for someone with ADHD. Instead, focus on nutritious and satisfying meals that support sustained energy and overall well-being.

One simple hack is to keep these kind of snacks out of the house and remove the temptation completely. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these kinds of foods from time-to-time, but just avoid having a supply in easy reach all of the time.

Seek Professional Advice

Never underestimate the power of professional guidance. A coach or therapist can provide personalised strategies and insights, particularly around managing impulses and improving dietary habits. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another option that can help address the patterns of dopamine-seeking behaviour.

Stay Active

Lastly, incorporate regular physical activity into your routine. Exercise not only promotes general health but is also a potent natural dopamine enhancer. Finding an activity you enjoy can make it much easier to have fun and avoid it feeling like a chore. There is a lot to be said for finding a fun activity first to get you started, and not just following what others may consider the “perfect” approach to exercise. The best type of exercise – and the best type diet for that matter – is the one you can consistently stick to most of the time.

Remember, managing your eating habits with ADHD is about making gradual, sustainable changes, not seeking perfection. Everyone is different, so do whatever works best for you.

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