ADHD and Eating – What They Don’t Tell You

October is ADHD awareness month. In addition to more awareness and reducing the stigma faced by children with ADHD, it is nice to see adults with ADHD coming forward and telling their stories.

Sadly ADHD is still seen by some as a “naughty child” condition. It is assumed that children with ADHD grow up and become adults without any symptoms. Whilst some of the classic hyperactivity type symptoms may change over time it doesn’t mean those adults have no difficulties or are cured of ADHD by simply reaching 18.

Adults with ADHD often have difficulties that people don’t necessary link as an ADHD symptom, meaning there is little support for these people.

As George is now 13 we are seeing first hand how the support needs change but the support is just not there as you get older.

For years we have been really struggling with George’s binge eating and weight gain. We have mentioned it numerous times with every professional we have ever met with. As George also has Autism he has a restricted diet of foods he finds safe, it takes a very long time to introduce new foods to George so for a long time the issues with taking food and binge eating were assumed to be linked to Autism rather than ADHD.

The nearest we got to support with George’s eating was switching his medication from Clonidine to a stimulant ADHD medication in the hope it would help supress his appetite. This has only led to George not eating all day at school and when the medication wears off he returns to binge eating and hiding food to eat later.

The lack of information about this pattern of hiding food, taking food, binge eating is astounding. Yet every single ADHD group I visit online has numerous posts from parents experiencing the same issue and not getting professional help.

It is easy when children are young to restrict what comes into the house, or lock cupboards and kitchen doors; this approach doesn’t help them in the long run as it isn’t treating the reason they binge eat or take food. As they get older and are at high school, have access to shops or friends that have access to shops the problem is simply moved outside the home. George has started taking food from other people’s houses, taking loose change to buy junk food and is one step away from shop lifting. It is like an addiction and one that we are receiving no professional support in dealing with properly. People don’t understand the extent of the problem and the lengths he will go to get at the food. It is an issue that effects every member of the family. His siblings are scared to even bring home a party bag as unless it is extremely well hidden the contents would not be safe.

George’s school are currently writing a new referral to a different CAMHS team to get him some proper support in learning ways in which to deal with his problems around food.

For years we have really felt alone with this problem and were it not for the other parents posting online about similar problems we would not have known it was a common symptom of ADHD.

I am no scientist so I will leave the scientific explanations to the professionals. A quick google search will provide many articles relating to specific scientific studies showing the link between the neurotransmitter Dopamine and addictions in people with ADHD. Amongst other important functions Dopamine activates the brain’s reward centre. People with ADHD have underlying issues with Dopamine and are more likely to seek out the things that will provide the fast reward their brain is seeking, add in other symptoms such as difficulty with organising and planning and poor impulse control and it all comes together to create the perfect storm.

We have tried to get George into sport and exercise as a more healthy way to provide the same pleasure signals. We have had very limited success at the moment as his Autism comes into play with new activities, so it is baby steps at the moment.

I just wish there was more awareness of these hidden aspects of ADHD and not just the embarrassed whispers from other parents not understanding how to help a child with worrying eating behaviours.


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