ADHD Nutritionist
  • February 9, 2024

ADHD Nutritionist – How Can They Help Me?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and nutrition is a complex topic. Some people believe certain foods can help with symptoms, […]

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and nutrition is a complex topic.

Some people believe certain foods can help with symptoms, others are sceptical.

ADHD may cause difficulty in having a healthy relationship with food. Difficulties with planning, organising and forgetfulness may result in difficulty maintaining a healthy relationship with food and eating.

Having a balanced, varied intake is key in maintaining overall body and mind health.

A dietitian can be pivotal in helping you manage your symptoms alongside fostering a healthy relationship with food.

In this article, we address the links between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and nutrition, and the ways an ADHD Nutritionist can help you.

What is ADHD?

ADHD, or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a common neurodevelopmental disorder, often diagnosed in childhood (1).

Common symptoms may include inattention/difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, or impulsivity (2).

The three subclasses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are:

  • Inattentive symptoms
  • Hyperactive-impulsive symptoms
  • Combined symptoms (3).

Around 1 in every 20 Australians has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with 3 out of 4 children having symptoms continuing into adulthood (4). Commonly, women are underdiagnosed, with higher rates of diagnosis in boys.

These symptoms can often be difficult to manage. It may limit their ability to perform well in school, maintain relationships, hold a regular job, and restrict overall functioning (5).

Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty communicating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble organising plans
  • Losing items
  • Inability to follow instructions: may struggle with following recipes
  • Careless mistakes
  • Getting bored easily
  • Difficulty finishing tasks
  • Symptoms do often persist into adulthood, but with effective treatment and medication, symptom management can greatly improve one’s quality of life.

Why Is Nutrition Important For People With ADHD?

A focus on nutrition is important in neurodivergent people. Those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may experience some difficulty in maintaining balanced and regular eating patterns.

Medications used during treatment also have a common side effect of appetite suppression (6).

Children on these medications often struggle to eat enough, and consequently lose weight. This can cause difficulty in meeting growth milestones (7).

Irrespective to medication, those with this condition may:

  • Forget to eat
  • Have sensory and texture difficulties
  • Have very selective food patterns
  • Overeat at night
    Experience regular binge eating
  • Struggle with planning meals
  • Find themselves eating to help soothe emotions or for a ‘dopamine’ rush
  • Experience boredom eating
  • Find it difficult to prepare meals
  • Struggle with shopping and planning meals in advance

As a result of this, people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may experience difficulties with their relationship with food and body as well as being at increased risk of developing nutritional deficiencies. .

It is helpful to consult a neurodivergent affirming dietitian who can work on the nutritional difficulties that the condition presents, as well as work through any concerns regarding the person’s relationship with food and their body.

Some research also indicates that people with ADHD may experience impulsive eating and the urge to eat for boredom or comfort. (9). For many people, these eating patterns can result in strong feelings of shame and embarrassment.

Working with a neurodivergent-affirming dietitian such as the ADHD nutritionists and dietitians at Imbodi Health, who can provide a safe and non-judgemental place to explore your relationship with food.

How Can an ADHD Nutritionist Help Me?

When working with an neurodivergent dietitian, you may work on areas such as:

  • Developing a healthy relationship with food and your body
  • Reducing obsession around food and eating
  • Making plans to support regular eating
  • Building balanced meals based on your capacity levels
  • Optimising your nutrition to support your energy levels
  • Building skills around shopping and meal planning
  • Supplementation to reduce the risk of or manage deficiencies

There is some proven evidence that specific diet and supplementation of deficiencies can help manage symptoms.

Altered levels of nutrients have been found to impact symptoms. These include:

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin D
  • Polyunsaturated fats

There are conflicting opinions on this, with some scientists believing diet plays a role in symptom management, and others finding that some supplementation has proven benefits, when compared to a placebo group (12). Research overall, is inconclusive.

Your dietitian can provide recommendations of changes that you can make that are sustainable and achievable to maintain.

If you are wanting to work with an ADHD nutritionist, book in a free discovery call with one of the team members at Imbodi Health.

ADHD and Sensory Overload

Another common symptom is sensory overload, which can affect what you eat.

Sensory overload occurs when you are receiving more input from your senses than your brain can process – leading to a state of overwhelm (13).

Particular foods may trigger a sensory overload, leading to avoidance of specific foods. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can result in behavioural changes (14).

Many people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder also experience hypersensitivity, meaning that eating specific foods can cause distress.

Irritation from particular sensory experiences may lead to an avoidance of it, due to overstimulation (15). Overstimulation is a state of being that is caused by too much sensory input (16).

Essentially – too much is happening!

And, you aren’t able to process the stimuli. This can result in feeling overwhelmed, uncomfortable and unfamiliar in your own body.

This can create a fear-based and negative relationship with food, associating eating with the feeling of sensory overload.

This is something that can be worked through with 1:1 support from an ADHD Nutritionist. It is possible to work through these limitations and foster a healthier relationship with food, body and self.

What To Do If You Forget To Eat?

Another common symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is forgetfulness, which can present issues in being able to eat enough each day.

Forgetting to prepare meals, go grocery shopping, store and purchase ingredients can lead to you struggling to eat enough.

This may lead to a binge-restrict cycle. This is a cycle where you may unconsciously restrict your diet due to forgetting to eat for a long period of time. When you do remember to eat, this may lead to feelings of impulsivity and bingeing. Eating foods in larger quantities than you anticipate or that don’t align to your health and nutrition goals.

Missing meals and forgetting to eat can also cause low blood sugar (also known as glucose) levels. This can result in fatigue, confusion, difficulty concentrating and restlessness, which can worsen symptoms (17).

A nutritionist or dietitian that is also an ADHD specialist can help you with strategies if you forget to eat.

Strategies To Help With Forgetting To Eat Can Include:

  • Planning meals for the coming week
  • Setting timers and reminders on your phone to eat at a particular time
  • Having a regular grocery shopping day
  • Having access to balanced and nourishing foods at home
  • Taking a supplement/vitamin to meet your micronutrient needs
  • Having ‘on the go’, easy to prepare meals

Eating When On ADHD Medication

A common treatment is stimulant medication. Common medications may include concerta, vyvanse, and ritalin.

Also commonly, a side effect of these medications is poor appetite, and overall disinterest in eating (18).

The effects of the medication tend to wear off by the end of the day, and after not being able to eat enough during the day, you may find yourself starving by night time.

This leads to many people with ADHD binge eating or finding themselves eating past the point of comfort at night.

What To Do If You Struggle with Cooking

A core component of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is difficulty with executive functioning. This can look like struggling to plan and complete tasks, or multitask. As a result, there may be an aversion and disinterest in cooking.

Many people who struggle with executive functioning may feel shame or embarrassment for not being able to these things.

There are a number of ways to manage this, and an online dietitian can also work with you for more specific strategies.

Having convenient, easy to prepare options is a really effective way to ensure you are eating enough.

If you’re in one of those times where you’re hungry, but nothing sounds good, you might want to listen to Episode 45 of the Imbodi Health Podcast Episode “What To Eat When You’re Hungry But Nothing Sounds Good

The ultimate goal is to eat a balanced, varied and adequate diet. But at the end of a long day of struggling with symptoms, sometimes cooking is the absolute last thing you feel inclined to do.

If you struggle with cooking, you may want to:

  • Meal prep at the start of every week
  • Cook in bulk and freeze leftovers
  • Buy convenient, heat and eat meals
  • Choose low-preparation, simple meals such as eggs or baked beans on toast, sandwiches or wraps

When working with a dietitian, we focus on building a routine that works for you, and your unique needs and requirements. Everyone is different.

Where Do I Find An ADHD Nutritionist Near Me?

Kiah Paetz is an ADHD nutritionist, and has ADHD herself. She is the founder of Imbodi Health and is qualified as an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Kiah knows how difficult it is to manage your symptoms and struggle to prioritise your diet.

At Imbodi Health, we’re a telehealth online dietitian clinic, meaning that we see clients no matter where in the world you live. We’re just a click of a button away.

Kiah offers free discovery calls to see if you would be a good fit to work together.

What Foods Are Good or Bad for ADHD?

There is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, despite what the internet tells you!

The overall goal for eating and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorderis to follow a balanced, varied and diverse diet. The research is varied and inconclusive about what diet is best for ADHD, making it important to find something that is simple, stress free and sustainable for you long term.

Elimination of these foods can ultimately lead to a disordered relationship with food, where you may experience feeling out of control around foods that you restrict yourself from.

This is one of the key areas that working with an ADHD Nutritionist can help you with unpacking.

Categorising foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can negatively impact your relationship with foods. Not eating enough can cause other mental health conditions you may struggle with to worsen.

If you’re wanting to learn more about good and bad foods, listen to Episode 6 of The Imbodi Health Podcast “Are There Good Or Bad Foods”.

Advice for Nutrition Supplementation From An ADHD Nutritionist

Some believe that supplementation of minerals and nutrients, when already at sufficient levels, is beneficial to symptom management.

But others find that using probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, or micronutrients, does not impact overall symptom management, and there is limited benefit. (18).

Some researchers believe that melatonin can help with sleeping difficulties as common medications used in treatment can impact sleep(19).

There is lots of research using omega-3 fatty acids. It is found to be helpful in a few studies, but is still less effective than stimulant medication (20).

Overall, the results are inconclusive, and there is evidence either way.

What Will Work For Me?

Each person with ADHD is different. Some may experience great difficulty with food, others not.

  • Finding a routine that works for you (no one else, just you). Is essential.
  • This will look different from person to person, but it could include:
  • Working to create a schedule and meal plan for each day
  • Helping you write a grocery shopping list
  • Recommending supplements based on any deficiencies you may have
  • Helping you organise a meal delivery service
  • Provide recipes of simple, easy to prepare meals

Where To From Here?

The ADHD nutritionists at Imbodi Health are educated in this area, and understand the unique nuances and complexities of each individual.

Nutrition and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is complex. The nature of ADHD can really prevent you from maintaining a healthy relationship with food.

Despite the limitations that may present, it is very possible to challenge behaviours which are preventing you from living your best, balanced and nourishing life.

If you need help with your nutrition for the management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, reach out to the team at Imbodi for a discovery call today!

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