Disordered: ADHD and Binge Eating

gluttony, overeating, binge eating

Photo by belozerovkids on Pixabay

In so far as one denies what is, one is possessed by what is not, the compulsions, the fantasies, the terrors that flock to fill the void.

Ursula K. Le Guin

I have a confession to make, my friends. I have a problem with binge eating. I don’t really know when it started. Sometime in my 20’s, I believe. A therapist once told me that when we feel a void inside our soul, we often try to fill it. Oftentimes, she said, we do so with food, sex, drugs, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Once I started doing more research on ADHD, it became clear to me that binge eating and ADHD are directly correlated, for many different reasons. Today I will discuss them and tell my story of binge eating.

ADHD and Disordered Eating

People with ADHD have a deficiency of norepinephrine and dopamine, as well as an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. This can cause:

  • Not being able to realize when you are hungry or when you are full
  • Not being able to follow a meal plan
  • Not accurately judging portion sizes (your eyes are bigger than your belly)
  • Inability to stop the binge while it is happening
  • Continual thoughts of food, weight, or body shape
  • An increased desire to overeat
  • Self-esteem issues because of a lack of impulse control

Overeating is common in people with ADHD due to a lack of impulse control, coupled with poor planning skills. Also, we are on a constant search for dopamine and high caloric food activates dopamine in the brain. We use food to self-soothe; it can alleviate boredom, stress, and the intense emotions that are often a part of being an ADHDer.

Another trap to look out for: Sometimes we forget to eat for hours on end, even all day, and then binge eat to “make up” for it. Also, our medication makes us prone to low appetite. When it wears off in the evening, we can often be consumed by intense hunger that feels as though it can’t be satisfied.

For this variety of reasons, people with ADHD are more prone to binge eating disorder and bulimia.

What Is Binge Eating?

Binge eating is when you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food and feel unable to stop eating. It is often accompanied by feelings of embarrassment, shame, and promises to ourselves to stop.

They symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder include:

  • eating large amounts of food in a short period of time (usually within 2 hours)
  • feeling that your eating behavior is out of your control
  • eating when you’re full or not hungry
  • eating rapidly when binging
  • eating until you are uncomfortable
  • eating alone or in secret
  • feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty, or upset about the binge
  • frequently dieting

I think at this point it is also prudent to point out that binge eating ebbs and flows; it’s not something that is done all of the time. I go through phases where I eat healthy, normal-sized portions of food. I lose weight and feel healthy. Eventually, though, life and stress get unmanageable and I find myself falling back into old patterns.

woman, sweet, donuts
binge eating

Binge Eating and Me

As I said, I can’t remember when I started binge eating, but it seems to have coincided with the arrival of severe Major Depression in my life. I was a very thin person for all of my childhood and teens, but in my 20’s, I started gaining weight. This is also when body dysmorphia started being ever present in my life.

I would gain 30 pounds and then lose 20. My weight has yo-yoed up and down every couple of years for the last two decades of my life. Sometimes I feel miserable in my own skin and sometimes I feel healthy and strong. It didn’t occur to me until a few years ago that this was disordered eating. I thought of anorexia and bulimia when I thought of eating disorders.

We’re taught by society that overeating is a result of laziness and slothfulness. That people who overeat are lesser beings than the rest of society; less deserving of sympathy and respect. That narrative overrides the real true facts: that binge eating disorder is actually the most common eating disorder in the United States.

The first time I brought up my eating habits in therapy was about five years ago. I had gotten to a point where I was binging every night and I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Headed to the kitchen, I’d be thinking, “You aren’t even hungry. You don’t want this food.” Nevertheless, my hunger would persist.

I would spend hours eating non-stop, until I was uncomfortable and in pain. Then I would spiral into a vortex of shame and self-loathing. Now, I’ve dealt with a lot of self-hatred in my life but I have never been more disgusted with myself, had more distaste for myself, than when I was binging. I finally spoke up during therapy and I was given the “hole filling” analogy…she was actually kind of crude about it.

“When we feel a void inside of us, we usually try to fill it by filling one of our holes,” she said, pointing to her mouth, her nose, and then down South. I got the point. I had picked up an extremely unhealthy coping mechanism and my body was paying the price.

Since that time five years ago, I have lost and gained 30-40 pounds at least 3 times. This is hard for me to admit, but…last March, I was at my lowest weight in probably 15 years, coming in at 147 lbs. I was 17 LBS AWAY FROM MY GOAL WEIGHT. I was feeling really great about myself, healthier than I had been in years. Aches and pains went away and I could breathe again.

Then I got on a medication that actually triggered my binging. I gained 22 pounds in 2 months. I realized that it was the medication and promptly stopped taking it, but the damage was done. Last month at the doctor, I was up almost 40 pounds in just 9 months.

fat, man, naked

I’ve noticed lately that I’m back on a downswing. My eating has slowed and I’m more aware of my portions. I have already dropped 10 pounds. Once the weather gets warmer I’ll start hiking again and maybe even get myself a bike.

But the shame remains. The fact that I get healthy and then lose it, over and over, feels like a monumental failure on my part and it fuels the dysmorphia. It makes me hate myself and hate how I look; ever aware of my flaws.

My yo-yo weight loss/gain is so common, that I have “small” clothes and “big” clothes. When I am smaller, the big clothes stay in a suitcase under my bed and vice versa. I got tired of having to buy new clothes every time I went through one of these awful phases, so I worked out a system that saves me money.

I’ve finally brought it up in therapy and I’m trying to learn what my eating triggers are. Am I just bored? Am I emotionally eating? What hole am I trying to fill and how can I mend it? In my experience, awareness is always the first step in getting a handle on things.

In Conclusion

Honestly, my last 2 posts have been tough to write. Body dysmorphia and binge eating are two of the things I am most ashamed of in my life. I’m trying so hard to learn to love myself, no matter what I see in the mirror. In some ways, I do love the parts of me that aren’t superficial.

I feel confident in my abilities as a writer (mostly). I feel completely confident in my role as a creative; it’s one of my favorite things about myself. I’m funny and silly. I’m a kind and loyal friend. I try to help people whenever I can. I’m a cool person, if I do say so myself. This body is just the packaging and I keep trying to remind myself of that.

My worth is not in my clothing size or the number on a scale. People don’t enjoy being around me because my stomach is flat or my teeth are perfectly straight. My friends don’t love me because I have no arm flab or perky boobs. There is more to me than what my body looks like.

As far as binge eating…I’m working on it. As I said, I’ve talked to Dr. W about it and I’m trying to become aware of my triggers. Recent blood work shows that I’m mostly healthy, but I do need to lose a few pounds. I’ll get there. Again. Being on stimulants for my ADHD makes it hard because I’m not hungry during the day, only to find myself STARVING when my meds wear off. So, the struggle continues.

That’s it folks. That me, bearing it all out in the open. If you are dealing with body dysmorphia, binge eating, or any eating disorder, please try to be kind to yourself. Reach out for help. Know that you are worth so much more than you think; you are so much more loved than you know. You are not alone.

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Love and light. Keep fighting the good fight! 

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