What You Need to Know About ADHD & Eating Disorders

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Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is among the many conditions that can co-occur with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Each condition can be difficult to manage on its own, but when a woman or young girl is struggling with both, she may find it challenging to function.

Understanding Eating Disorders & Co-Occurring ADHD

BMC Psychiatry found that, among 1,165 adults, 31.6% of women reported that they potentially suffered from ADHD. Of all the study participants, the highest rates of ADHD (35%-37%) were found among those who reported bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa bingeing/purging subtype traits. The study concluded that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder more commonly co-occurs with eating disorders associated with bingeing and purging behaviors.

Dr. Patricia Quinn, a developmental pediatrician and co-founder of the Center for Girls and Women with ADHD, told U.S. News and World Report that “ADHD and eating disorders have a lot of symptoms in common” and “the impulsivity of ADHD tends to lead women to have disordered eating, low self-esteem, and depression.”

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Difficulty with impulse control is one of the many symptoms that ties ADHD and eating disorders together, but girls and women who have both conditions may also struggle to find ways to cope with stress and troubling emotions. This can lead them to binge-eat to alleviate those distressing feelings and later purge to try to keep from gaining weight.

Signs & Symptoms of ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder involves more than just seeming distracted or energetic from time to time. It is a condition that can seriously interfere with a person’s ability to succeed in their daily life. Without professional help, a woman or young girl who is struggling with ADHD may start failing classes at school, not perform as well at work, or act in ways that seem careless.

Some common signs and symptoms that may indicate that a girl or woman is suffering from ADHD include:

  • Misses important details or makes careless mistakes
  • Has trouble maintaining attention or doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to
  • Struggles to keep things organized and frequently loses things
  • Constantly talks or interrupts others Is always moving, fidgeting, or in motion
  • Doesn’t like to sit for long periods of time

Males are diagnosed with ADHD much more often than females, but that doesn’t mean that women and young girls aren’t at risk of experiencing ADHD. It is essential for women and girls to get professional help if they think they are struggling with the symptoms of ADHD.

Signs & Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders encompass multiple conditions that affect a woman’s or girl’s physical and emotional health. These complex illnesses can be fatal if an individual does not get the professional help she needs. While each eating disorder causes a unique set of symptoms, there are some characteristics that are common to most eating disorders.

Asian College student dealing with an eating disorder and ADHDHere are some common signs and symptoms a woman or girl might display if she has an eating disorder:

  • Always weighing herself or checking her appearance in the mirror
  • Constantly worried about what she’s eating or how much she’s eating
  • Refuses to eat around others
  • Stops going out to eat with friends and family
  • Frequently diets or has new food rituals
  • Noticeable weight gain or loss
  • Unusually irritable or moody
  • Feels cold all the time
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Trouble sleeping

When combined with ADHD symptoms, eating disorder symptoms can be even more difficult to manage on a daily basis. It is critical for women and girls who are living with an eating disorder and co-occurring ADHD to get treatment for both conditions to ensure that they achieve successful long-term wellness.

Treatment for Eating Disorders & Co-Occurring ADHD

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healing from an eating disorder and co-occurring attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It is important to work with your treatment team to find the approach that best addresses your specific needs and recovery goals.

Many women and girls benefit from a combination of prescription medication and evidence-based therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), to begin to manage the symptoms of both conditions. In some cases, a trauma-based approach may help get to the root of any traumatic experiences that might have caused some of the symptoms a woman or young girl is struggling with.

By getting professional treatment that addresses both conditions, women, and girls who are suffering from an eating disorder and co-occurring ADHD can live successful, fulfilling lives.


References

Reynolds, Jennifer L. (2017). ADHD and eating disorders: What you need to know. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from: https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-09-29/adhd-and-eating-disorders-what-you-should-know.

Svedlund, N. E.; Norring, C.; Ginsberg, Y.; and von Hausswolff-Juhlin, Y. (2017). Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among adult eating disorder patients. BMC Psychiatry, 17(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-016-1093-1.


About Our Sponsor:

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At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center in Lemont, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and girls who are struggling with eating disorders, addiction, and a range of mental health conditions. Our private facility offers gender-specific care that addresses the unique needs of women and girls. We work closely with each person to develop treatment goals that maximize their strengths while focusing on their individual needs. We empower each woman or girl who comes to us for care to play an active role in her journey to wellness.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published July 16, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on July 16, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.