Go straight ahead, or start with Weight, Part 1: Eating With ADHD
I ended up writing way too much as an introduction, so you can scroll down to ‘not eating with ADHD’ for the ADHD-relevant stuff. But if you’ve got the time and concentration, I think the background is helpful.
Content note: This post is full of references to issues with eating and self-image, so if that’s likely to be upsetting or damaging to you, I’d recommend skipping it.
Binge eating and being overweight make up the side of ADHD-and-eating that most people talk about and search for.
A lot of the eternal internal conflict about human body weight is centred on judging and being judged on aesthetics and lifestyle, often more so (for me, anyway) than it is about being healthy.
Despite encouraging noises from the body positivity movement – and despite the cries from many that ‘BoPo’ is going to make unhealthy weights acceptable; nay, desirable; nay, mandatory! – it is still a very uncomfortable thing to be overweight in our society.
Disclaimer: I’m not better than you (unless you are very bad)
I’m going to sound very holier-than-thou for the next few paragraphs, so I need to stress that I am also an averagely awful person who holds averagely awful ingrained prejudices. I have been noticably overweight, but never obese. I was sporadically insulted, but I don’t know what it’s like to be regularly abused for it.
I had been thinking about that in a background sort of way when my best friend gave me Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West. It is a window into life as a fat woman, and it is well written and hilarious. It is uncomfortable and very enjoyable to read. I recommend it to everyone.
Fat shaming and ADHD
There’s a lot to be said on the health implications of obesity, but frankly I am not qualified to dive into that discussion, nor does it interest me in this particular context.
What I will say is that the vitriol, abuse and more insidious types of discrimination directed at overweight people – and the fact that it is often seen as acceptable – is one of the least attractive things about our society.
Not only that, but it’s counter-productive. Make a person feel worthless every day and they will not make healthy choices. This is not something I need to tell people who have ADHD. Undiagnosed ADHD leads to years of being berated for personal failings – and those tirades very rarely end up doing any good.
Dedicated “fat shamers” say that they are doing good by hurling abuse (usually from the safety of a keyboard, although often enough in public as well). They wheel out the same few anecdotes of bullied fat-to-fit people to defend this position.
Even if this weren’t so obviously true, if you abuse people for the way they look then you are clearly a prick. I don’t believe for a second that you are doing it to be charitable, and neither does anyone else.
Not eating with ADHD
Eating and weight are topics that we are force-fed until we are sick, in one way or another. I’m not sure if writing more about it is helpful to you, or even to me, but I hope you’ll forgive me for trying.
I care very deeply about how I am perceived by others, and being under a certain weight threshold gives me a big boost in the ‘aesthetics’ category of external judgement. This is very useful for someone with ADHD: I rarely leave time to put makeup on, often neglect to iron my clothes, and my hair is often 75% dry shampoo. So the bonus points I get from maintaining a socially acceptable BMI are useful.
This used to be easy for me, as it is for many young people. Staying skinny was as simple as breathing. Even so, I used to slip into weird mindsets about food: calorie counting and scrutinising packaging when I was far too young and slim to be giving a shit.
ADHD is a funny thing. Looking back, it may have saved me from slipping into real food dysfunction a few times, as my lack of follow-through with obsessions killed my short but intense fling with calorie counting, then with Paleo, then with intermittent fasting. All reasonable weight management techniques, but if you take them and push yourself as far possible – as I did, and as I know many others do – they can lead to disordered eating.
When it came to losing weight once I needed to, though, ADHD was the enemy I didn’t know I was fighting. Its symptoms directly hinder weight loss (see part one of this post). It also boosted my propensity towards alcohol addiction, which was what eventually caught up with me and made me fat.
And I want to be thin.
Of course I want to be thin. I can go on about body positivity and how I should aim for ‘strong not skinny’ until the cows come home, but I still want to be thin.
I want the trump cards of verbal abuse – the words flung at women to shut them up when all else fails – to be ineffective on me. I am hyper-sensitive to criticism, and I can only deal with it if I can definitively deny the accusations.
You can call me stupid, if you like, and it won’t hurt me because I know I’m not stupid. Call me fat and ugly and I’ll have a harder time brushing it off, because I’m not so sure that you’re wrong.
People say that losing weight won’t fix all of your problems – that you’re the same person inside, with the same demons – and they’re not wrong. But they’re ignoring the fact that it does fix some problems. I’ve gone from underweight to overweight to (now) a ‘healthy’ weight. Smack bang in the middle of the healthy BMI chart from the NHS.
I feel much better, inside and out. Being able to see my face again – the shape of it, sharp – has been oddly relieving for my sense of self.
I doubt I’ll ever be as butterfly-bones-skinny as I was when I first hit adulthood, and I’m not aiming to be, but I do want to be thin again rather than just ‘OK’, and that’s a part of my psyche that I have to examine if I want to stay healthy, as uncomfortable as it is.
ADHD medication and not eating
Stimulants, as most of you will know, suppress appetite. This is not generally considered to be as much of a problem for adults as it is for children, as we’re not growing any more and, for many of us, the attitude is that a bit of shrinking wouldn’t go amiss.
I’m struggling to word this, because I don’t want to be harmful but I do want to be honest.
I like the fact that my medication suppresses my appetite.
It means that I am now consuming what seems to be the correct amount of food for a largely sedentary woman of my height. I haven’t let myself start counting calories again, but I would guess that I’m eating around 1,500-1,800kcal a day. For once, this does not seem like a horrible restriction. In fact, I have to make myself eat breakfast to avoid a nasty crash in the mid afternoon.
I am no longer obsessing about food: neither obsessing about limiting calories, nor obsessing about when I can finally grab a huge plate of something covered in cheese (often, in the past, I managed both at once).
This is a vast improvement over the previous state of affairs, where I was working hard to restrict myself but still regularly consuming far too much and dissolving into self-hatred. I was thinking about food all the time. It is such a boring thing to think about.
I seem to have reached a happy equilibrium, and I think that this is healthy.
However, I am trying to be honest here. I also like the fact that my medication kills my appetite because I want to be thin. It does come back to that in the end, I’m afraid. I’m pleased that I’m losing weight. I think I look good.
It is not the best thing about my medication – that remains, by far, the ability to sit down and write without constantly being distracted – but it is a good thing about it, to me. Is that OK?
I think I am OK, and that I’m not backsliding into unhealthy behaviour. I am choosing the most nutritionally dense foods, calories be damned, to make sure I don’t end up with any deficiencies. I am enjoying the weight loss but not trying to accelerate it in any way.