Skip to main content

ADHD can put you at a higher risk of developing eating disorders like binge eating or bulimia nervosa. But treatment is possible.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder associated with impulsivity and inattention. It may also be associated with eating disorders.

To research estimates that approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

For those who live with both ADHD and an eating disorder, you may have found that there are several commonalities between the two. It is important to understand the link between ADHD and eating disorders in order to learn how to manage both effectively.

If you live with ADHD, you know how it can interfere with many aspects of your life. According to research, you may also face an increased risk of certain eating disorders.

Here’s what the research has to say about a possible link between different eating disorders and ADHD.

Is there a link between ADHD and binge eating?

Many experts suggest that the condition that most overlaps with ADHD is binge eating disorder (BED). It is an eating disorder that causes someone to eat large amounts of food in a short time, even when full.

A Expert Review 2015 describes the research evidence that links ADHD to bulimia nervosa (BN) and BED in children and adults. Researchers have suggested that impulse control may play a role in these eating disorders.

In 2014 study26% of children with ADHD also had binge eating, compared to only 2% of children without ADHD.

Moreover, in a study 201727% of people with BED had high enough scores on an ADHD screening test to suggest they had ADHD.

Since binge eating behavior is often impulsive – much like a hallmark of many people with ADHD – a growing body of research shows an association between people with ADHD, obesity, and binge eating disorder.

However, it is important to keep in mind that not everyone who is overweight or obese experiences bed and vice versa.

Experts believe that this tendency towards overweight and obesity may be due to the fact that people with ADHD may be unaware of their eating habits and may skip meals and then overeat later. They may also overeat to satisfy their brain’s need for stimulation.

Children with ADHD may also have a greater risk of losing control over eating (LOC), which may involve binge eating. A 2015 study reports that children with ADHD are twelve times more likely to show signs of LOC feeding than children without the condition.

Are people with ADHD more likely to suffer from anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder where individuals limit their food intake or avoid it altogether. This restriction can lead to significantly low body weight.

With anorexia, there is an intense fear of gaining weight and individuals may weigh themselves repeatedly. It is also associated with distorted body image, where people may consider themselves overweight even though they are underweight.

Some say AN is less common in people with ADHD. However, a study 2017 found that the bulimia/purge subtype of AN, along with BN, was most common among people with self-reported symptoms of ADHD. The restrictive AN subtype was the least common.

Is there a link between ADHD and other eating disorders?

Research from 2016 suggests that the eating disorders primarily associated with ADHD are BED and bulimia nervosa (BN), a condition in which people eat large amounts of food and then compensate for the overeating by vomiting or taking laxatives, so that ‘they don’t gain weight because of their bulimia.

People with BN have been found to exhibit impulsive behaviors, which are not just binge eating, but are linked to ADHD. Studies have shown that bulimia is more common in teenage girls with ADHD than in their peers without ADHD. In fact, girls with ADHD were 5.6 times more likely to have BN than those without.

A 2016 review reported that ADHD is rarely an isolated disorder and that approximately 70% of people with ADHD have at least one other comorbid disorder (two or more disorders occurring at the same time). The same expertise offered to explain the association linking ADHD to eating disorders.

Possible ADHD risk factors for eating disorders include:

  • Impulsive behavior can lead to eating disorders.
  • Psychological comorbidities may explain eating behavior.
  • Poor eating habits can contribute to ADHD symptoms.
  • The dopamine system may be involved in ADHD, obesity, and binge eating.
  • Bad awareness of interception May affect awareness of hunger and satiety cues.

ADHD medications can also be a factor in eating disorders. Although it helps improve self-control, it also often has the side effect of reducing appetite.

If you are concerned about the possible side effects of ADHD medications on appetite, it is best to seek advice from your doctor or your child’s pediatrician.

ADHD treatment and management of eating disorders usually involves a team of doctors and nutritionists. Some treatments can help with more than one condition. However, some may need to be treated separately.

Possible treatment options may include:

  • stimulant medications for ADHD. Medications can help with binge eating and self-control, but often have a side effect of loss of appetite.
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help with both disorders by teaching how to avoid negative thought patterns and building a positive body image.
  • dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT focuses on managing emotions and regulating harmful behaviors, which can be helpful for both ADHD and eating disorders.
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs can help relieve obsessive-compulsive and mood symptoms. They may also be beneficial in the treatment of bulimia.

Many experts agree that there is a link between ADHD and various eating disorders.

To successfully manage ADHD as well as an eating disorder, consider finding a professional who is familiar with both conditions.

You may want to let your doctor know what treatments you are currently using, as well as your symptoms. This will help them determine the best possible treatment for you.

While living with ADHD and an eating disorder can be difficult, keep in mind that a cure is possible. There are also plenty of opportunities for you to connect with people with ADHD and eating disorders. You can consider: