It isn’t easy to follow a diet – especially if you have ADHD!
We generally think of will power when it comes to keeping a diet – but diets actually require many different cognitive abilities to help us stay keep on track. We often need to keep track of all sorts of information: when and what we eat, our caloric intake, hours and types of physical exercise and more…
As most of us know – to diet successfully, it is important to plan our meals in advance. This includes menu planning, shopping according to plan and then preparing food in so as not to find ourselves suddenly hungry in the middle of the day next to the doughnuts in the worker’s lounge!
In short – in order to counter the kind of cravings and impulsivity that comes with hunger – we need many more cognitive abilities than we may first realize! Advance preparation requires planning, and then acting according to that plan, tracking information and of course the ability to persist in the face of challenges.
This is where “Executive Functions” comes in… these are a set of cognitive abilities that help us organize and coordinate our behaviors, emotions and resources in order to achieve a goal. Executive functions include planning and organizational skills, working memory, self management and even keeping our motivation focused towards our goals.
That is why for those with ADHD, where executive functions are lacking, keeping a diet is so much harder than for most others. The initial enthusiasm for cooking new dietetic meals can quickly wear off leaving yet another repetitive task to try and keep up with. Sound familiar?
Not only can slow executive functions get in the way, but tendency towards impulsivity and even secondary symptoms such as low self-esteem so common to ADHD adults can compound the difficulty of eating in a healthy and balanced manner.
Attention Disorders and Impulsive Eating
Studies show that there is a tendency in those with ADHD to eat quickly whatever is at hand, without any correlation to their actual level of hunger. This and impatience with cooking at home often leads to eating fast food and grabbing snacks. Besides the difficulty in stopping to think ahead and plan for healthy, well-balanced and consistent meals – studies indicate strong cravings for coffee and chocolate, junk food, carbohydrates and dairy in individuals coping with ADD/ADHD.
ADHD’ers also tend to become very busy during the day – eating very little, and suddenly feel great hunger and then – again – go for the fast and easy solution of high-calorie food. Over time, this can develop into a pattern that obviously leads to a constant rise in weight.
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is when we eat – not because we’re hungry – but because we’re bored, or sad; anxious or seeking to compensate ourselves. Those suffering from ADHD from childhood and into adulthood often develop low self-esteem that can drag in its wake secondary emotional difficulties including hypersensitivity, anxieties, problems in relationships and even depression.
Combined with impulsivity and a stronger need for immediate satisfaction, many ADHD adults may suddenly find themselves in the midst of an eating binge. It is so important for ADHD adults to understand this pattern – understanding is the first step towards taking back control!
How to keep to a diet if you have ADHD?
Let’s be honest here – it’s hard for anyone to keep a diet, especially if it includes following rigorous rules. But in the case of ADHD, we recommend first taking care of the root cause: start with treating your ADHD symptoms.
Thus for example, by improving the core cognitive abilities we discussed above, such as organization, planning, decision-making, self-control and inhibiting your impulsivity – you will then be in a much better place to take control over all areas of your life, including your diet.
How can we do this? You can improve your core cognitive abilities with cognitive training! AttenGo’s online cognitive training program gives you a professional tool that you can use from home to improve attention, concentration, self-control and impulsivity – improving your symptoms will have a positive effect on every part of your life, including keeping to a diet!