ADHD and Weight Loss Struggles: What is the Connection?

by | Apr 20, 2024 | Lifestyle | 0 comments

Many people with ADHD tend to have struggles with weight loss, but we don’t often actually connect the two concepts. Those of us with ADHD face unique challenges that I’ve come to understand deeply, especially after my own late diagnosis and a life long struggle with my weight.

It often catches people off guard when I mention the link between ADHD and weight loss struggles. It’s not a connection many make spontaneously, but once you see it, it seems so obvious. Diving into the literature, the amount of research available is pretty huge, yet the understanding of why ADHD impacts weight is still murky.

A review that I came across on PubMed illustrates this beautifully. When it comes to ADHD and obesity, this review states that “there is meta-analytic evidence supporting a significant association between these two conditions “.

But while this is super interesting (and to me now, seems pretty obvious), it is also frustrating that they can see the connection, but they can’t fully establish the reasoning from a scientific perspective. The review goes on to state that “after almost 20 years from the first report of a link between ADHD and obesity, this association continues to be puzzling.”

Diving Deeper: Why ADHD Affects Weight Loss

So even after decades of studies, we know there’s a link, but the exact pathways are not clear from the perspective of science. But to me, as someone who has lived in a body that has gone up and down in weight, and has a brain with ADHD, I find the connection to be actually pretty clear now that I have examined it from my own perspective.

Each of us is different, how we think, how we cope—it’s all so varied that pinning down a one-size-fits-all reason seems almost impossible. But this doesn’t take away from the reality of the connection; if anything, it emphasizes the need for a personalized approach in working towards weight loss for those of us with ADHD.

Key Factors Connecting ADHD and Weight Loss Struggles

Based on my own experiences, everything that I know about ADHD, and everything that I know about weight management struggles, I have identified 5 main connections between ADHD and weight struggles:

1. Interoceptive Awareness

This fancy term boils down to how well we tune into our body’s signals—like hunger or thirst. Those of us with ADHD often struggle with this. We might miss cues until we’re extremely hungry or full, leading to not-so-great choices. Remembering times I’d get so engrossed in work only to realize I hadn’t eaten all day is a great example of this. But usually it’s more like eating non-stop in the pantry after a stressful day and not even noticing how it was actually making me feel physically.

2. Impulsivity

If you have ADHD, you know all too well that our decision-making can often be based on what feels good or makes sense right in this very exact moment, with no regard for impact in the future. This impulsivity can really come through in our eating habits.

The idea isn’t just to eat what’s in front of us but also what we impulsively desire. This can often be things that aren’t going to help us in working towards our weight loss goals. We also deal with impulse eating from things like boredom, procrastination, and sensory desires like just wanting something crunchy. No doubt all of this factors in to making weight loss a bit more elusive for us.

3. Neurotransmitter Deficiencies

Dopamine and GABA play significant roles here. Our brains might flush out dopamine faster than neurotypical brains, leading us to seek quick dopamine fixes from food—yes, that includes the sudden cravings for chips or sweets. Food, especially easy glucose hits for our brain like salty carbs or sugary sweets, can really provide that dopamine hit that we are often on the hunt for.  

GABA is another neurotransmitter that affects us differently. This one is responsible for things like our self-control, and the fact that we are lower in this can make it easier to simply go for the food that brings you pleasure rather than taking the time to think through and make balanced, reasonable choices all the time.

4. Executive Functioning Differences

Planning and organization are both things that can contribute to a successful weight loss plan. However, with ADHD these can be things that don’t come as naturally. This can make consistent meal planning and maintaining a healthy routine feel somewhat out of reach, if you aren’t taking your unique brain into account. It’s not just about choosing the right foods but also planning movement, rest, and other health-supportive activities.

5. Sleep Patterns

Poor sleep affects everything from hunger hormones to mood regulation. Many of us with ADHD struggle with sleep, whether it’s trouble falling asleep or waking up anxious in the middle of the night This disruption can significantly impact our weight loss efforts if we aren’t aware of how it’s affecting us.

So then what do we do?

It might feel overwhelming at first to read all of this, and to feel like there is no hope for you if you have ADHD and want to pursue weight loss. But I am here to tell you that is simply not the case! Recognizing these connections can actually help us to know what may or may not work for us, and then we can come up with strategies that are adapted to our needs.

Whether it’s setting reminders to eat, planning meals ahead, or coming up with plans to help you get more sleep, small steps can lead to big changes. You can absolutely do this if you take in to account the ways that your brain works differently than how it does for others in mainstream weight loss programs!

Conclusion

Understanding the link between ADHD and weight management isn’t just scientific; it’s deeply personal. It’s about realizing that we’re not lazy or lacking willpower but that we navigate these challenges with a different set of tools. This can actually be both liberating and validating, and it’s something I hope each of you can use to feel more in control and optimistic about your journey.

If this resonates with you, you would love the free guide for my CALM Method for Weight Loss with ADHD, which you can get right here. If you would like to join a community of women working on weight loss with ADHD, you can find more info on my membership, The Anchor, right here as well. I can’t wait to share more info with you and help you on your weight loss journey!

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