Women & Girls Series: ADHD, Body Image, and Eating Disorders

You're beautiful by ~Gali-miau on deviantART

With research suggesting that ADHD affects more boys than girls, it’s no wonder that so little information is available on how it affects on the "fairer sex." While many boys and grown men suffer with eating disorders, I want to focus this post on struggles with body image, food, and nutrition, and their impact on girls and women.

For those of you who are prescribed with stimulant medications, you’re probably familiar with the decreased appetite that accompanies such prescriptions. You may even find yourself unable to choose what you’re hungry. Of course, this type of indecisiveness also affects ADHD'rs who opt out of taking medication. (For strategies on how to limit procrastination and follow through with your short and long-term goals, see the post "Time Management Strategies." ) If you are taking medication for ADHD, however, hopefully you’re working with a therapist or doctor who warns you of its possible affects on your appetite and who can also suggest ways to stimulate your hunger. When I first tried Ritalin, my psychiatrist at the time suggested always snacking right before or after taking my medication. This habit offered my body the nutrition it needed and over time (in addition to my body’s natural adjustment to the medication), also increased my food cravings. Unfortunately, for many, the temptation to abuse such medications to restrict one's weight is too powerful, especially given that ADHD'rs are predisposed to addictive or impulsive tendencies.

The impulsivity that accompanies our playful monkey minds offers another link between eating disorders and ADHD. In the 2008 study mentioned in the Psych Central article “Teen ADHD Ups Risk for Eating Disorders,” UV Psychologist Amori Yee Mikami explains that, “girls with ADHD may be more at risk of developing eating problems as adolescents because they already have impulsive behaviors that can set them apart from their peers. As they get older, their impulsivity may make it difficult for them to maintain healthy eating and a healthy weight, resulting in self-consciousness about their body image and the binging and purging symptoms.”A mantra I preach, both in person and throughout this blog, is to maintain a support group of friends and family who can nurture you through any difficult time (See: "Populate Your Mental Landscape with Positive Influences" for more on this motto!). Often, just having someone to look out for you and talk you through such struggles, especially those as personal as eating disorders, can start you on the path to recovery.

The flip-side of such positive influences is negative thinking. On their “Associated Mental Health Conditions and Addictions” page, Something Fishy, a site that specializes in eating disorders, also suggests that ADHD’rs tend to “hold onto negative thoughts and/or anger,” which can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Do you remember the first time that you felt uncomfortable about your body? Or do you believe that your ADHD or stimulant medication contributed to your body issues?