Healthy eating habits are elusive for many adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). Why? Studies show that we make dozens of decisions about food and eating every day — each one demanding strong executive functions. To devise and stick to a healthy diet, our ADHD brains must anticipate, plan, coordinate, and follow through on smart food choices. When we fall short, we feel demoralized and blame ourselves when our ADHD symptoms are the culprit.
The fact is: Healthy eating habits and healthy weight begin with understanding our ADHD brains. Here are the five most common challenges to cultivating healthy eating habits — and strategies for beating them.
Healthy Eating Habit #1: Practice Mindful Eating
Adults with ADHD are rarely mindful of the aspects of eating (what they eat, how much, when, where, etc.). They eat more calories than they are aware of, and consume fewer healthy foods. They tend to eat larger portions, even when they don’t like what they are eating. Before making any changes in your diet, you should make an honest assessment of your eating habits. Here’s how:
1. Document everything you eat in a week-long period. Write it down, make a note in your phone, or, even easier, take a photo of everything you eat before you eat it. At the end of each day and at the end of the week, before looking at your notes or pictures, think about what you ate, and see if your recollection matches the actual food intake. You will be surprised!
2. Set up times to eat. Center your appetite around hunger cues rather than boredom. A daily schedule can look like this:
- Breakfast at 8 a.m.
- Snack at 11 a.m.
- Lunch at 1 p.m.
- Snack at 3 p.m.
- Dinner at 6 p.m.
- Snack at 8 p.m.
3. Eat at a table. This may sound obvious, but people with ADHD are more likely to eat while doing other things: watching TV, studying, and even driving (yikes!). It is important to establish the kitchen or dining room table as the place to eat, so your brain does not designate every room in your house as an “eating room.”
4. Watch your portions. An ADHD brain craves volume. One hack is to use smaller plates and bowls. You will feel just as satisfied eating a full bowl of something, regardless of the size of the bowl.
Healthy Eating Habit #2: Curb Impulsive Eating
Impulsivity is a hallmark trait of ADHD, and it shows itself in our eating habits. Have you ever eaten so much that your stomach hurt and left you asking, “Why did I do that?” Adults with ADHD tend to eat their food faster, which can lead to over consumption – your stomach doesn’t have enough time to signal to your brain that you are satisfied. Use these strategies to curb impulsive eating:
1. Before eating, drink a glass of water. This can help you feel satisfied sooner when eating a meal.
2. Take three to five deep breaths when you sit down to eat.