Intuitive Eating, ADHD: Learning to Pay Attention to Hunger and Fullness

Published on: 09/01/2023
Woman enjoying brownies and eating mindfully

If you’re someone with ADHD struggling with overeating, you may be wondering if it’s possible for ADHD and intuitive eating to go hand in hand. When you have ADHD, intuitive eating is possible, but your intuitive eating journey will be as unique as you are.

The intuitive eating movement is gaining momentum as more people realize that the cycle of restriction and dieting ultimately leads to weight gain, body dissatisfaction (1) and takes away from one of life’s greatest pleasures – food!

Intuitive eating is made up of 10 Principles. These intuitive eating stages are the same whether you have ADHD or not. Let’s dive in!

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating encourages you to reject diet culture and trust your body to tell you when and how much to eat. 

The 10  intuitive eating stages include:

1. Reject Diet Mentality

Recognize diet culture for what it is – media and industry targeting insecurities to make money. The promises made by diet culture set you up for failure, lead to low self-esteem and increase the risk of disordered eating. 

2. Honour Your Hunger

This might sound silly to say, but eat when you’re hungry! Skipping meals and snacks leads to overeating and often binge eating behaviour. Eat a variety of whole foods that meet your nutrient requirements, and you will have consistent energy throughout the day – setting you up for success with mindful eating. 

3. Make Peace with Food

Enjoy the foods! All the foods! Nothing is “forbidden.” By giving yourself permission to eat all foods, you free yourself from guilt and the all or nothing thinking associated with being either on or off a diet. 

4. Challenge the Food Police

Years of restriction and dieting can create an internal critic when it comes to food “rules.”

When this voice takes over, acknowledge it for what it is and counter that thought with a more accurate food statement – “I’m enjoying ice cream today, and I can have some tomorrow if I choose to.”

5. Discover Satisfaction

Preparing and eating food that you enjoy, will reduce that burning desire to keep eating. This means not just eating to not be hungry, but actually eating food that tastes, feels and smells satisfying. 

6. Feel Your Fullness

Just as important as it is to recognize when you are hungry, it is also important to recognize when you feel full. Both hunger and fullness happen on a spectrum. Ideally we start to eat when we are feeling hungry and stop eating before we are uncomfortably full. 

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Life is a roller coaster of emotions and food is often used as a way to cope with them. On top of emotions like loneliness, boredom and depression, ADHDers might also use food as stimulation. 

Mindfulness will help you to identify your triggers to eating. Finding other ways to cope with your emotions and staying stimulated will be part of transitioning to intuitive eating. 

8. Respect Your Body

Respect your body for what it is and everything it allows you to do in life. It’s a lot easier to find inner peace when you are no longer working to achieve something that isn’t realistic.

9. Move Your Body for Enjoyment

Don’t be active because you “have to” or because you need to burn calories to “earn” your food. Move because it makes you feel good. 

Make a list of your non-weight based goals for physical activity. Some ideas include:

  • Improved focus
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Increased energy
  • Stress management
  • Improved cholesterol or blood glucose
  • Stimulation

10. Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition 

There’s no such thing as a perfect diet! Eat a variety of foods for nourishment and also for enjoyment.  

Now that we’ve covered the basics of intuitive eating, let’s take a look at how ADHD impacts your food and eating patterns. 

How ADHD Affects Eating Patterns

Whether it’s speaking out of turn, losing your temper or working for hours in hyperfocus, ADHD affects many areas of your life – and eating is no exception. 

Here are some of the ways that your ADHD traits may impact your eating patterns:

1. Impulsivity and Overeating

Impulsivity and overeating might look like:

  • Eating to decompress from your day
  • Eating fast and beyond the point of feeling comfortable
  • Eating when you are not truly hungry

If you’re not an impulsive ADHDer, you may have trouble paying attention to your meal. Inattentiveness can lead to mindless eating – keep reading for the full scoop. 

2. Inattentiveness and Mindless Eating

Do you eat in front of the TV or while scrolling on your phone? 

Mindless eating happens when you eat without paying attention to your food and how your body feels before and after eating. Often Mindless eating can lead to overeating, because our brains are focussing on whatever else is happening around us. 

Paying attention to our food is part of mindful eating. We’ll cover how to reconnect with your hunger and fullness cues later, when we discuss strategies for incorporating intuitive eating with your ADHD.

Next up – your ADHD superpower – and how hyper-focus may be leading to overeating.

3. Hyperfocus and Missed Meals

It’s easy to get caught up in work and just forget to eat lunch until it’s too late. Part of what makes you so talented with ADHD is your ability to hyperfocus and work for hours “in the zone” and sometimes it just feels good to get things done!

The truth is, that missing meals can cause you to crave high calorie foods and may lead to overeating. We’ll cover how to overcome these obstacles to ADHD and intuitive eating in a later section. 

In the meantime, as you work your way through the intuitive eating stages, ADHD can present some bumps along the way. Let’s take a look at some of the obstacles that may come up on your intuitive eating journey. 

Challenges with ADHD and Intuitive Eating

The intersection of ADHD and intuitive eating, can present some unique challenges. Here are some common issues that may come up:

Difficulty recognizing hunger and fullness

Do you ignore hunger cues to finish a task or continue scrolling on social media? It’s easy to get distracted and even forget that you are hungry, especially when you’re in the middle of an enjoyable activity. 

Think about the early stages of hunger like little text messages from your body saying, “Hey, I’m running low on fuel, please take a break and feed me” 

Ignoring these messages means your body has to resort to more urgent hunger signals that lead to overeating.

Eating regularly throughout the day and including protein with meals and snacks will set you up for success as you learn to thrive with intuitive eating, ADHD and all. 

If you want more information on balanced snacks with protein, check out my recipe for Peanut Butter Bliss Balls, the perfect high protein snack for busy people like you!

Having a routine with eating will help you get into the habit of eating regularly and help to prevent missed meals. In the next section we’re going to talk about the importance of structure to keep your ADHD brain on track and moving towards your goals.

Lack of routine and structure 

Are you the type of person who lives life by the seat of your pants? Waiting to see where the day takes you and what adventures unfold along the way? 

Lack of routine and structure can lead to situations where you are hungry (too hungry) and left with limited choices, and a brain in primal hunger – driving you to overeat. 

With all these challenges to conquering ADHD and intuitive eating, you might be wondering – Is it possible to repair your relationship with food? Don’t be discouraged! There are strategies to help you start your ADHD and  intuitive eating journey. 

Strategies to Incorporate Intuitive Eating with ADHD

Mindful Eating 

Mindful eating involves reconnecting with your hunger and fullness cues and to really understand everything in your environment that affects your food choices. 

Transitioning to mindful eating will involve reflection to identify your eating patterns and connecting them to your physical and emotional experience of eating. 

Journalling can be a useful tool to make these connections. Things to take note of in your journal include:

  • How hungry you are when you start eating
  • How full you are when you stop eating
  • Where are you eating?
  • What are you eating?
  • Who are you eating with?

Achieving mindfulness in any area of life takes time. Our world is full of technology and information – driving us to want more of everything fast.  Mindfulness is retraining our brain to slow down and focus. 

Creating Structure and Routine

I know what you’re thinking – structure? With ADHD? Ha!

But hear me out. Whether you want to accept it or not, we all do better with some sort of scaffolding and framework in our life. 

Our bodies like routine. ADHD can feel like your brain is full of so many competing ideas and priorities, each one trying to take you in a different direction. 

Think of all these ideas like wild horses,with the potential to take you to far and exciting places. Harnessing the horsepower of your ADHD means taming those horses and giving them direction so they will take you where you want to go!

So how do you accomplish this with eating? There’s a few options:

Use a timer to remind yourself to eat

Anyone with ADHD knows that timers are key! We’ve got screen time timers, tooth brushing timers and homework timers. There’s no reason not to add an alarm to take a break from work and eat. 

Meal plan ahead of time

I can tell you first hand that if I don’t have a plan for supper, we’re eating peanut butter sandwiches (which is ok sometimes!). Decision paralysis and mental fatigue from focussing all day can make it impossible to plan supper at the end of the day. 

Make a plan when you have the time and mental energy to do it. Figure out how many meals you need to make for a week. Plan the leftovers into your schedule to avoid waste and plan for quick and easy meals on busy nights. 

Meal Prepping

Meal prepping will help you stick to your plan and make it as painless as possible. Set aside time 1-2 days per week to chop veggies, measure spices and marinade meat. This reduces the amount of work and cleanup needed during the week, leaving you with more time for family and relaxing.

With a routine and plan for meals in place, you may have noticed that your eating habits have started to improve. The next step on your ADHD and intuitive eating journey is managing impulsivity. Let’s take a look at how you can help manage this signature ADHD trait and eating. 

Managing Impulsivity

Impulsive actions happen when your behavior is driven by emotions and not logic.

Food has been shown to give our brains a burst of dopamine (2). This signal signals the reward center in your brain and makes you feel good. Unfortunately, once we finish eating and the dopamine is gone, the negative emotions are still there.

The first step to managing impulsive and emotional eating behaviour is to recognize it. This will take time and practice. There will be lots of trial and error, be kind to yourself as you learn and don’t give up. 

If you are frequently turning to food to cope with other emotions and physical needs, it might be time to work on alternate coping mechanisms. 

Other options that will help to boost dopamine over the long run include (3):

  • Exercise (walking counts)
  • Meditation 
  • Spending time in nature
  • Reading 
  • Yoga

Repairing your relationship with food and eating is not something that will happen overnight. Working with a registered dietitian will give you support along the way and help you progress through the intuitive eating stages. 

Key Takeaways

Living with ADHD and intuitive eating is possible. It won’t always be easy, but there are a few things you can do to start your journey to eating without guilt.

Practicing mindfulness and getting yourself into a routine for meals will be an important part of reconnecting with your hunger and fullness cues. Meal planning and prepping will help ease the burden of cooking and preparing meals during the week.

If you’re ready to take the next step to eating well and thriving with ADHD, book your discovery call today. I can help you make an individualized plan that fits your life. 

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

MEET THE AUTHOR
Photo of Author

Hi there!

Welcome to my blog! I’m combining my love of writing with my love of food to bring you evidenced based information on sports nutrition and mental health – specifically ADHD.

learn more

VIEW CATEGORIES

Free Recipes

High protein snacks for busy peeps!
photo of child's hand making energy balls

 Don’t be caught off guard by hunger. These are high protein snacks that I ALWAYS have on hand. Perfect for busy on-the-go people like you and me! Get your free copy today.

Get your recipes here!

VIEW RECENT POSTS

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This