ADHD and Eating Disorders: A Connection


It’s the third time in the last hour that you’ve ventured into the kitchen, searching for a quick snack. It’s okay, you tell yourself, I’ll just eat a cup of zucchini for dinner. Your eyes scan the room, searching high and low for that thing that will satisfy the itch in your brain. You weren’t even hungry, but the urge to get up and do something, anything, was too powerful to overcome, and you gave in for the third time. I guess I’m kinda hungry, you say, convincing yourself that the slight dissipation of painful fullness is actually hunger. You take a couple of bites of your prized snack (maybe a couple more), exit the kitchen, and return to your interrupted activities. This is just one situation that could be familiar for those with comorbidity for binge eating and ADHD. Binge eating disorder is just one of several eating disorders that researchers found to have associations with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive (ADHD) is a complex common brain disorder that millions of people worldwide have. It can influence attention, behavior, and impulsivity and can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms under the three types: hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive, and combination (Web M.D. n.d.). The hyper-impulsive type is notably characterized by restlessness while the inattentive type is characterized by forgetfulness and low attention. (Mentalhelp.net, n.d.). A contributing cause of ADHD development is deficient amounts of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain (Greenblatt, 2019). These neurotransmitters are involved in attention, rewards, learning, and memory (Ranjbar-Slamloo & Fazlali, 2020). With low levels, individuals may experience issues with attention, forgetfulness, and impulsivity. These symptoms could apply to eating schedules in which individuals may experience decreased awareness of biological hunger cues (resulting in eating until overstuffed or uncomfortably full). Individuals may also experience an increased desire to eat rewards foods, potentially leading to an eating disorder (Greenblatt, 2019). ADHD can also affect eating differently, by being used as a form of self-medication. In one survey completed by women with ADHD, carbohydrate-based snacks and foods were reportedly used “as a means of self-calming” and stimulation against boredom which could cause overeating and/or eating disorder development (Quinn & Nadeau, 2020). 

ADHD has a relatively high rate of comorbidity — the presence of having two or more chronic conditions — estimated to be occurring 60-80% of the time with other conditions, including eating disorders (Mentalhelp.net, n.d.). Evidence supporting comorbidity and associations between eating disorders and ADHD have been found in various studies, one study found that girls with ADHD were “3.6 times more likely to a clinical or subclinical ED [eating disorder] and 5.6 times more likely to clinical or subclinical BN [bulimia nervosa]” (Bleck, 2015). Another study observed that 21% of newly admitted inpatients at a treatment facility for eating orders displayed six or more ADHD symptoms (Bleck, 2015). Other studies conducted on both men and women have also seen strong associations of ADHD eating disorders, especially with bulimia nervosa (Ziobrowski et al., 2018). 

Though more studies are still being conducted to demonstrate correlations between ADHD and eating disorders, present information gives strongly supporting evidence of an association between the two. With more research being conducted, more information on ADHD and eating disorders (as well as other possible comorbid disorders) will be accessible, ultimately resulting in improvement in how to properly recognize and effectively treat them.  

 

References 

ADHD Comorbidity. Mentalhelp.net (n.d.). Retrieved February 20th, 2021, from https://www.mentalhelp.net/adhd/and-comorbidity/ 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Web M.D. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19th, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd   

Bleck, J. R., DeBate, R. D., & Olivardia, R. (2015). The Comorbidity of ADHD and Eating Disorders in a Nationally Representative Sample. The journal of behavioral health services & research42(4), 437–451. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11414-014-9422-y 

Greenblatt, J. “ADHD and Disordered Eating .” (2019) Walden Eating Disordershttps://www.waldeneatingdisorders.com/blog/adhd-and-disordered-eating/ 

Quinn, P., and Nadeau K . (2020) “Is There a Link Between Eating Disorders and Women with ADHD?” ADDitude, ADDitude,, www.additudemag.com/adhd-and-eating-disorders-why-women-can-struggle-with-both/.  

Ranjbar-Slamloo, Y., & Fazlali, Z. (2020). Dopamine and Noradrenaline in the Brain; Overlapping or Dissociate Functions?. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience, 12, 334. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnmol.2019.00334 

Ziobrowski, H., Brewerton, T. D., & Duncan, A. E. (2018). Associations between ADHD and eating disorders in relation to comorbid psychiatric disorders in a nationally representative sample. Psychiatry research, 260, 53–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2017.11.026

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