Sanctum Healthcare • Sep 26 •
What is the link between diet and adult ADHD?
You may have heard or read that there is a link between diet and managing ADHD. Back in the 80s and 90s, there was a concern that additives in food– especially the bright colours used in sweets and drinks- might be linked to ADHD. These concerns led food manufacturers to reduce use of many of these additives.
Today, specialist ADHD clinics do consider diet and nutrition when it comes to ADHD management, usually as one part of a wider treatment pathway. Certainly, when it comes to managing ADHD in some children, it’s been found that there are benefits to excluding certain additives from their diet. However, the link to diet and adult ADHD is more complex.
Diet and Nutrition for adults with ADHD
Focus, the online adult ADHD magazine, explains that “ADHD in adults likely impacts how the person living with ADHD is able to interact with their food environment (how they, choose, buy, and eat food) and then how what they eat ultimately impacts their physical and mental health.”
In other words, the link between diet and ADHD in adults is more about how ADHD affects a person’s choices when it comes to diet, as opposed to certain foods having a direct impact on ADHD symptoms. For example, ADHD is associated with an increased risk of binge eating disorder and obesity. In addition to this, some medications used for ADHD (such as amphetamine stimulants) cause appetite suppression.
Here, we look at how certain ADHD traits might impact how adults with ADHD eat, to understand how we can help to manage dietary habits in ADHD adults.
Inability to focus
One of the symptoms of ADHD is inability to focus or pay attention to one thing for too long, which can make it difficult for adults with ADHD to plan nutritious meals in advance. People with ADHD can struggle with the idea of making a weekly shopping list- planning meals for the week in advance, and then shopping for them all in one go. People with ADHD may also have a reduced interest in preparing foods, and may overlook details in recipes. Both of these issues can be important when preparing nutritious, tasty meals.
To an adult with ADHD, it may seem a lot simpler to just grab something quick and easy: whatever they feel like eating at that moment. However, options such as supermarket ready meals are often ultra-processed, and less healthy than meals made from scratch.
A helpful tip for adults with ADHD is to have a small selection of quick meals that are easy to prepare and include only a handful of ingredients (for example, smashed avocado on toast topped with poached eggs). On occasions where reduced focus is an issue, it’s a good idea to set reminders for mealtimes and have one of these ‘go to’ meals ready to prepare. There are lots of books and websites dedicated to quick and easy recipes now; the key is to find a handful of dishes that you like and are not too complicated, then try to keep the correct ingredients in stock so they’re all at hand when you need them.
One of the traits of ADHD is hyperfocus- long-lasting, highly focussed attention. Hyperfocus is one of the reasons that ADHD is often referred to as a superpower, as individuals with ADHD are able to complete much more, much faster, than those without this superpower. However, adults with ADHD often report becoming so focused on a task that they forget to eat all day, or don’t realise it has become nighttime, and this is where hyperfocus can become a problem in terms of diet and nutrition. Missing meals can lead to a lack of nourishment, which affects our ability to function at the top of our game. It can also lead to unhealthy meal choices later on- for example, a quick, unhealthy meal late at night when you realise you haven’t eaten properly all day.
Again, adults with ADHD could benefit from setting reminders for meal breaks. Because it can be difficult to break hyperfocus, it’s a good idea to keep healthy food at hand, such as a visible fruit bowl or a sandwich- as it’s more likely that you will eat this rather than leaving your task to go and prepare a full meal.
In the two points above, it’s fair to say that an amount of organisation is required: setting meal time reminders and preparing simple healthy meals in advance. However, for many adults with ADHD, disorganisation is a symptom of the condition, so the above approaches may prove to be challenging if disorganisation is an issue. It’s important to just try to make steps to improve your diet and nutrition, but not to mentally beat yourself up if you don’t always get it right. It might be that support from family members can help: those around you can help you to set up an environment that supports a healthier diet and regular eating – things like helping to plan, shop for, and prepare meals can be invaluable.
Impulsiveness is a core trait of ADHD and can be associated with poor food choices. However, impulsive eating is certainly not something that is unique to those with an ADHD diagnosis! Most people frequently have the impulse to eat – and very often our impulse is to grab something delicious but not very healthy! When you get an impulse to eat, a simple tip is to drink instead – often, when we think we’re craving food we are actually thirsty. Try to set reminders to drink water as frequently as possible to keep unhealthy food impulses at bay.
ADHD and Diet
Data is limited when it comes to ADHD and diet. There is no scientific link that certain foods cause ADHD, or particularly exacerbate symptoms. However, many health experts think that what you eat and drink may help ease symptoms. ADHD specialists tend to believe that whatever is good for the brain is likely to be good for management of ADHD.
What adults with ADHD should eat:
- A high-protein diet. Beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts can be good sources of protein.
- More complex carbohydrates. Vegetables and some fruits, including oranges, tangerines, pears, grapefruit, apples, and kiwi.
- More omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in in tuna, salmon, and other cold-water white fish. Walnuts, Brazil nuts, and olive oil are other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Foods to Avoid With ADHD
It is recommended that the food group to avoid is simple carbohydrates, which includes:
- Corn syrup
- Products made from white flour
- White rice
- Potatoes without the skins.
How a specialist ADHD clinic can help
If you’re interested in how diet and nutrition can help to manage ADHD symptoms, a specialist ADHD clinic can help. Sanctum is a private ADHD clinic based in Wilmslow, Cheshire, who consider nutritional approaches to ADHD management as part of a wider treatment pathway.
If you suspect you might have ADHD but are yet to receive a formal assessment and diagnosis, Sanctum can help. A private ADHD can help you obtain an ADHD assessment and diagnosis much faster than the NHS can. For example, Sanctum clinic in Wilmslow, Cheshire, guarantees to respond to all ADHD enquiries within 24 hours, and patients can expect to be assessed and diagnosed within just one day.
Sanctum is a specialist ADHD clinic offering a comprehensive, multi-professional assessment for adults and children who may have ADHD. Sanctum’s diagnostic team all have specialist experience of assessing and supporting individuals with ADHD. If you would like to chat to Sanctum’s team about obtaining an ADHD assessment and diagnosis, get in touch today.
If you’re an adult with ADHD, maintaining a nutritious, healthy diet can sometimes seem like a daily struggle thanks to the way that the traits of ADHD can impact diet.
As we’ve discussed above, your brain might not give you the usual pushes to eat, so setting reminders can be a helpful tip to overcome this. Try to have healthy options or quick “go to’ meals to hand, so when the impulse to eat arises, the easy option is also a healthy one.
Remember: it’s important to be kind and patient with yourself, but making small changes each day can lead to big improvements.
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