Chubby. Plus-Sized. Big Girl. Big Boned. I could fill a book with all of the descriptors that I have heard to describe a woman with some extra weight. Of all of the things I have discovered about weight loss, the link between ADHD and obesity was one of my favorites ( another was the percentage of people in jail with undiagnosed ADHD, but I digress). You see, I grew up with undiagnosed ADHD. Everything that I think of as me, my habits, my personality traits, and my preferences are something I have had to rethink.
Is it me or ADHD?
When I look at my past to attempt to make sense of what happened, I often find myself questioning, “is this me, or is it the ADHD?”
Do I really like to stay up late, or is it ADHD induced insomnia?
Am I really all over the place, or is it distractibility?
I’m always late. Is it just the way I am, or is this a symptom?
My life as a fat girl
So when I look at my life as a woman with ADHD, I can’t ignore the fact that while I was growing up with ADHD, I was also living my life as a fat woman. Don’t come on my post trying to tell me I’m not fat, I’m beautiful. They aren’t mutually exclusive, and this isn’t a cry for compliments. I LOVE the way I look, but the way I feel? Well, I don’t feel so great. I wanted to know if there was a link between gaining weight, struggling to keep it off and if there is a link, what the heck can be done about it?
Here’s What I learned
The information I found was pretty amazing. Not only is there a link between obesity and ADHD, it has been studied in several settings, and I am totally convinced that controlling ADHD symptoms may be the key in helping to get down to a healthier weight. Like most things for those of us with ADHD, there isn’t a simple answer, and the path to weight loss is going to be a little harder than it is for the neurotypical Joe.
ADHD and Obesity Share A Link Because of These Symptoms
- Impulse Control Issues
When you’re talking about binge anything, whether it is binge drinking, binge shopping, or binge eating, you can bet somebody with ADHD is struggling with those things. People with ADHD struggle with impulse control. When it comes to weight loss, this can be a problem. Weight loss requires a certain amount of denial when it comes to foods that are bad for you, and impulsivity gets in the way of your ability to say no. It should come as no surprise that ADHD and obesity go hand in hand hearing that alone, but don’t worry, there’s more.
- Stress-induced eating
Stressed out is my middle name. As we know, stress levels raise cortisol and other bad-for-you hormones, which lead to weight gain. Another big bonus to being stressed out is that some of us are stress eaters. When the stress levels go up, so does my food bill. I will literally inhale everything in sight the more stressed out I become. It shouldn’t be surprising that when I am feeling at my lowest emotionally, my weight usually suffers. Little did I know, the stress that life with ADHD can bring would also affect my waistline.
One thing doctors definitely know is that when you cannot sleep at night, your body’s entire system of regulation goes out of whack. That means you are up all night, stressed out, and you’re lagging during the day. Do you know what people who are stressed out and cannot sleep do more than people who are not? You guessed it, we eat!
- Executive function issues
People are struggling with ADHD and obesity in part because of executive functioning issues. Executive function is what is required when you are trying to get the weight back off. You need organization ( to know what you’re supposed to be eating and when), time management ( those meals are not going to prep themselves), planning ( to make sure you’re purchasing the right foods), and of course, you need to pay attention. If you’re not paying attention while you’re eating, it is very easy to eat more than what you should. People with ADHD struggle with executive functions, so you can imagine that getting the weight off and keeping it off would be a serious challenge for us.
- We love the dopamine
ADHD is thought to be caused by a lack of dopamine. If you know anything about food, you know that eating carbs and sugar raise your dopamine levels. That means that your body, in an attempt to correct your ADHD could be telling you to eat the very foods that are causing you to gain weight. Oh, and trust me, fat people know about food and weight loss. Most of us have been trying to lose weight our entire lives. ADHD and obesity could very well be caused by our bodies attempting to heal one condition but causing another.
- There is only “now” and “not now”
Losing weight requires a sustained effort over a long period of time. The ADHD mind does not work like that. We divide time into two sections: now and not now. What does that mean for those struggling with ADHD and Obesity? It means that we struggle to make good decisions today that will help us with a future payoff. We don’t want to hear about the reward six months from now when we can reward ourselves immediately with a candy bar and get the dopamine payout.
Women with ADHD run a higher risk
Ladies with ADHD, not only do we have to deal with a pay gap and mansplaining, we also run a higher risk for obesity. In a study performed by the Mayo Clinic, it was discovered that children with ADHD ran a higher risk for obesity, with the risk for obesity carrying over into the mid-twenties for women. Women with ADHD ran a 41.6% risk of obesity versus a 19.2% risk for women without ADHD. That means that we as women have to be especially careful in our weight management techniques – I know girls, I know. You probably have had it up to here between hormonal changes affecting your ADHD, and now this too. I’m sorry.
You’re not doomed to carry extra weight
In short, no. Just like any other ADHD symptom or comorbidity, there is help for you. Take the time to treat your ADHD symptoms, and take your weight loss goals one day at a time. Losing the weight is going to be a challenge for you, you have been dealing with ADHD long enough. You already know that life, in general, is a challenge. Fortunately, we are up to the chase. As for me, I’m going to be taking some time this year to begin working the weight off, and I’ll be sharing with you as I learn more about what I can do to get the weight off and keep the weight off. ADHD and Obesity are NOT going to beat any of us.
If you’d like to learn more about the link between ADHD and obesity, here are some great places to start.
Are you on a weight loss journey too? Let me know in the comments.
P. S. If you’re looking to join a great group for weight loss with lots of support, head over to this great FB group for tips, tricks, and recipes to start losing the weight for good!