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May 20, 2018
by Patricia Tomasi

New Study Finds Link Between ADHD And Binge Eating

May 20, 2018 08:00 by Patricia Tomasi  [About the Author]

A new study published in Frontiers In Psychiatry has found that the core symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are associated with binge eating. They also found a correlation between ADHD and restrictive eating. Interestingly, a negative mood is what mediates the relationship between ADHD and binge eating or ADHD and restrictive eating. So in other words, a person with ADHD only experiences the urge to over eat or under eat while experiencing a negative mood and since people with ADHD are more prone to anxiety and depression which oftentimes, results in a negative mood, the correlation is pretty significant and researchers say warrants further study.


“Compulsive eating individuals with ADHD may be a compensatory mechanism to control frustration and anxiety associated with attention and organizational difficulties,” note the authors of the study. “Similarly, restrictive eating may also be used as a coping mechanism for negative affect, and significant weight loss through extreme restrictive another means of emotional regulation resulting in a short-term decrease in negative mood.”


There are three types of ADHD: 1) Inattentive; 2) Hyperactive; and 3) Combination Inattentive-Hyperactive. The core symptoms of inattentive ADHD include the inability to focus, frequent daydreaming, becoming easily distracted, and missing details to name a few. The core symptoms of hyperactive ADHD include also a difficulty to focus as well as fidgeting, boredom, and impulsivity.


ADHD occurs in five per cent of children worldwide and persists into adulthood 75 per cent of the time. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, ADHD symptoms include behaviours such as “failure to pay close attention to details, difficulty organizing tasks and activities, excessive talking, fidgeting, or an inability to remain seated in appropriate situations.” These symptoms are also present in multiple settings, such as at school and the home.


The largest brain imaging study to date recently revealed that children with ADHD have differences in certain parts of the brain when compared to children without the disorder. ADHD affects the frontal lobe of the brain as well as other areas and results in impairment in regulating attention. In addition, some children may also have increased levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity. All types are equally impaired in their learning with an average high school drop-out rate of 30-40%.


Studies have shown a correlation between ADHD and eating disorders such as bulimia. Researchers of the current study actually conducted two studies in one to determine results through participants who were recruited online through social media as well as through support groups and a local university.


In the first study, online questionnaires were completed by 237 men and women with different severities of ADHD between the ages of 18 and 60. The questionnaire assessed their symptoms of ADHD in relation to their eating attitudes and behaviors, negative mood, awareness, and reliance on internal hunger and satiety cues.


In the second study, the same questionnaire was completed by 142 students from the University of Birmingham, U.K. Ages of the participants in the second study ranged from 18 to 32. The participants of the second study also completed further sensitivity and impulsivity testing.


To ensure the questions were being answered as accurately as possible, “trap” questions were included throughout the questionnaires to make sure the participants were paying attention to the questions being asked of them. Any participant that answered incorrectly to three of the trap questions were eliminated from the survey.


To double-ensure they were getting honest answers from their participants, at the end of the questionnaire, researchers asked a final question: “Finally, it is vital to our study that we only include responses from people who devoted their full attention to this study. In your honest opinion, should we use your data?”


The researchers found that inattentive ADHD was more associated with binge eating and restrictive eating rather than hyperactive ADHD due to decreased awareness of the internal signals of hunger and satiety. The researchers hypothesize that those with inattentive ADHD may be relying on external cues to guide their eating behavior.


“These findings could have important implications for prevention and early intervention programs, which might usefully focus on mood regulation in individuals with ADHD symptoms at risk for developing disordered eating,” write the study’s authors. “Further investigation of the role of the inattentive symptoms of ADHD in disordered eating may be helpful in developing novel treatments for both ADHD and binge eating.”



Patricia Tomasi, (May 2017), Huffington Post, ADHD and Autism: What’s the Difference?,

Panagiota Kaisari, Colin T. Dourish, Pia Rotshtein and Suzanne Higgs, (March 2018), Frontiers in Psychiatry, Associations Between Core Symptoms of Attention Deifict Hyperactivity Disorder and Both Binge and Restrictive Eating,

About the Author

Patricia Tomasi

Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog:

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