Specialists and researchers have known for a while that because of the complexity of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it presents a number of comorbidities. This means that a diagnosis of ADHD can occur alongside one or more other disorders—most often Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). However, many patients and parents of children with ADHD may be surprised to find out that it is common for a comorbidity to exist between ADHD and a range of eating disorders. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, patients with ADHD are five to eight times more likely to also have some type of eating disorder. These eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and binge eating—though the research found that those with ADHD were more likely to exhibit binging and/or purging behaviors rather than restrictive behaviors.
Although the link may seem surprising, those with ADHD and those with eating disorders experience similar symptoms. According to a magazine article written by one of the study’s researchers, Dr. Roberto Olivardia, one prominent characteristic of ADHD is that patients often have “poor impulse control” and difficulty regulating emotions, which Olivardia suggests can lead to binge eating. Those who binge eat are often attempting to take control of their lives when their emotions are out of control in the only way they know how: by eating food. Olivardia describes food as a “stimulant” that comforts and fills emotional gaps for those with ADHD and eating disorders. The inability for those with ADHD and binge-eating to stop eating when they are full is, Olivardia explains, attributed to “trouble heeding their internal cues of satiety and hunger.”
Unfortunately, binging does not result in the sense of control those with ADHD seek. Instead, the control that comes from eating whatever they want is only momentary and, once they move past the point of satiation, the control quickly turns back into chaos—leading to more binging. And for many people who suffer from ADHD, their symptoms of overeating remain unrecognized or undetected. While studies have been conducted regarding this link in the past, the research is not well known, and often patients with one condition are not diagnosed or under treated for the other. Because of the nature of eating disorders, improper treatment can be dangerous and life threatening. If your child exhibits unusual eating habits or you would like more information about treating ADHD and eating disorders, please contact Dr. Foster by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.