How can ADHD lead to overeating?

 
This started with my frustration over my difficulty losing weight. No matter what I do I keep vacillating between eating well and overeating. 
 
As I made my morning smoothie I dumped the frozen fruit in the blender and said to myself, “Thank goodness they sell this in portioned sizes so I don’t overdo it.”
 
Then it hit me, “They were made into portions ahead of time so it was harder for me to overeat.” 
 
Of course meal planning is a helpful way to avoid overeating, but there’s more. 
 
I work with a lot of parents on homework strategies and my mind drew a comparison to “chunking” which is about breaking larger tasks into smaller manageable bites (sound familiar)? “Chunking” is also helpful when cleaning a home or work space. 
 
We tend to think of “chunking” as it relates to organization but not so much when it comes to eating.
 
Why is chunking particularly helpful for people with ADHD or ASD?
 
Why is “chunking” something we often need help with every time we need it?  
 
I’ll answer these questions in a bit.
 
I posted this question to one of the parent groups I belong to,“Does your child with ADHD or ASD have difficulty breaking down large assignments AND also tend to overeat at meals?
 
Some of the reply’s I received include:
 
  1. Yes. My daughter needs large assignments broken down into small tasks. When her medicine has wore off or she hasn’t taken it that day, she overeats.

  2. No because we’ve broken it down into smaller segments with regular activity breaks and praise. We also now have him make his lunches and have him grow and prep dinners and help doing menus so that he has more control thus eliminating the fights.
     
  3. Yes mine does. We have to tell him he has had enough food. He will whine and say he is still hungry this is after having seconds on food. I don’t think he is aware of what it means to be full.
     
  4.  My son has a hard time staying on task when it comes to big assignments. We have to break it down into smaller steps and I have to stay with him to make sure he stays on task as he finds it really hard to concentrate. When it comes to food he eats a LOT and he eats really fast. It’s almost like it’s a race for him.

So what’s this all mean? 

As parents we tend to focus so much on classroom success we forget to explore how executive function issues show up outside the classroom. 


When your brain thinks in an “all or nothing” way, which ADHD & ASD brains do. There are two ways to approach a large task, do all of it or none of it. 

Homework can appear overwhelming because, “I can’t do all that work, it’s too much. So I just won’t do it.”

The option of “chunking” seems elusive because a brain that struggles with that ability won’t seek it as a solution, it isn’t an easier path to the desired outcome. 

When your brain doesn’t chunk well it stays with what it knows, all or nothing

But when someone good at “chunking” helps me create a list or template I can use again and again, its like building a bridge over a steep valley so that two things are connected that previously may have felt miles apart.

Recipes chunk down the process of preparing a meal.
Lists and templates help break down larger projects into less overwhelming and manageable tasks. 

Portion control is about meal planning AND having a specific definition of what it means to be full. 

I used to eat until I felt full, like Thanksgiving full. Now I eat to feel not hungry, big difference. 

Kids with poor self-awareness may not be tuned into their hunger and eat until it hurts because that is a strong and clear signal that they’re no longer hungry.

All or nothing, starving or stuffed. 

So now that I realize my overeating is (at least in part), due to my extreme difficulty with “chunking” things down,

I’m going to ramp up the amount of support I seek in this area so I can experience better results. 
 
How is this helpful for you?
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