ADHD may put you at a higher risk of developing eating disorders like binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa. But treatment is possible.

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder associated with impulsivity and inattention. It may also be associated with eating disorders.

Research estimates that approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

For those living with both ADHD and an eating disorder, you may have found that there are several commonalities between the two. It’s important to understand the connection between both ADHD and eating disorders so you can learn how to effectively manage both.

If you live with ADHD then you know how it may interfere with many aspects of your life. According to research, you may also face an increased risk for certain eating disorders.

Here’s what research has to say about a possible link between different eating disorders and ADHD.

Is there a link between ADHD and binge eating disorder?

Many experts suggest that the condition that overlaps the most with ADHD is binge eating disorder (BED). This is an eating disorder that causes someone to eat large amounts of food in a short amount of time even if they’re full.

A 2015 expert review describes research evidence that links ADHD to bulimia nervosa (BN) and BED in both children and adults. The researchers suggested that impulse control may play a role in these eating disorders.

In one 2014 study, 26% of children who had ADHD also experienced binge eating, compared with only 2% of children without ADHD.

Plus, in a 2017 study, 27% of people with BED had high enough scores on an ADHD screening test to suggest they had ADHD.

Since binge eating behavior is often impulsive — much like a characteristic in many individuals with ADHD — a growing body of research shows an association between individuals with ADHD, obesity, and binge eating disorder.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone who is overweight or has obesity experiences BED and vice versa.

Experts believe that this tendency for overweight and obesity may be because people with ADHD may not be aware of their eating habits and skip meals, then later overeat. They may also overeat to satisfy their brain’s need for stimulation.

Children with ADHD may also have a greater chance of experiencing loss of control (LOC) eating, which may involve binge eating. A 2015 study reports that children with ADHD are twelve times more likely to show signs of LOC eating than children without this condition.

Are people with ADHD more likely to have anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder where individuals restrict their food intake or avoid it altogether. This restriction can lead to significantly low body weight.

With anorexia, there is an intense fear of gaining weight, and individuals may repeatedly weigh themselves. It’s also associated with a distorted body image, where folks may see themselves as overweight even though they are underweight.

Some say that AN is less common in people with ADHD. However, a 2017 study found that the bingeing/purging subtype of AN, as well as BN, were most common among people with self-reported symptoms of ADHD. The restricting subtype of AN was least common.

Is there a link between ADHD and other eating disorders?

Research from 2016 suggests that the eating disorders mostly associated with ADHD are BED and bulimia nervosa (BN), a condition where people eat large amounts of food then compensate for overeating by vomiting or taking laxatives, so they won’t gain weight from their binging.

Individuals with BN have been found to exhibit impulsive behaviors, that are not just binge eating but linked to ADHD. Studies have found that bulimia is more common in adolescent girls with ADHD than it is with their peers without ADHD. In fact, girls with ADHD were 5.6 times more likely to present with BN than those without.

A 2016 review reported that ADHD is rarely an isolated disorder and about 70% of those living with ADHD have at least one other comorbid disorder (two or more disorders that occur at the same time). The same expert review proposed to explain the association linking ADHD to eating disorders.

Possible ADHD risk factors for eating disorders include:

  • Impulsive behavior may lead to disordered eating.
  • Psychologic comorbidities may account for eating behavior.
  • Poor eating habits may contribute to ADHD symptoms.
  • The dopamine system may be implicated in ADHD, obesity, and binge eating.
  • Poor interceptive awareness may affect awareness of hunger and satiety cues.

Medication for ADHD can also be a factor in eating disorders. While it helps improve self-control, it also often has the side effect of reducing appetite.

If you’re concerned about the possible side effects of ADHD medication on appetite, it’s best to seek advice from your doctor or your child’s pediatrician.

Treating ADHD and caring for eating disorders typically involves a team of doctors and nutritionists. Some treatments may help with more than one condition. However, some may need to be treated separately.

Possible treatment options may include:

  • stimulant medication for ADHD. Medications may help with binge eating and self-control but often have the side effect of loss of appetite.
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT may help with both disorders by learning to avoid negative thought patterns and building a positive body image.
  • dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT focuses on managing emotions and regulating harmful behaviors which can be helpful for both ADHD and eating disorders.
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs may help with obsessive-compulsive and mood symptoms. They may also be beneficial in treating bulimia.

Many experts agree that there is a link between ADHD and various eating disorders.

To successfully manage ADHD as well as an eating disorder, consider finding a professional who is well-versed in both conditions.

You may want to let your doctors know about any treatments you’re currently using, as well as your symptoms. This will help them determine the best possible treatment for you.

While living with ADHD and an eating disorder can be challenging, keep in mind that recovery is possible. There are also plenty of opportunities for you to connect with people who live with ADHD and eating disorders. You may consider: