Weight Lose vs. ADHD – A Never Ending Battle


It’s New Year’s Day, I wake up early, put on some leggings and an old t-shirt, and head to the gym. I’m really going to do it this year. I’m going to lose weight. I’m feeling confident, I’m feeling motivated – nothing can stop me.

… Flash forward a few months and not only have I lost no weight, but now I’m trapped in an expensive, unforgiving gym membership, whose withdrawals from my bank account serve as monthly reminders of my failed resolution.

Sound familiar? I thought so.

Statistics show that two out of three adults in the United States are considered to be overweight or obese. Maybe those numbers shock you, or maybe, if you’re like me, they don’t. Although, I don’t like the term “overweight” (since it’s an inherent negative) I’ve carried an extra 10-20 pounds for years now, and almost everyone I know is packing a few too many lbs as well.

And like all my friends, my weight loss journey has been a neverending rollercoaster! No matter what I do, I can’t seem to shed the pounds! Like many people, I’ll start a new diet or exercise regimen, drop a few, and then somehow manage to gain it all back in record timing.

The trouble is keeping myself motivated. I will go to the gym three days in a row, then quickly lose momentum and won’t go for months. I’ll carefully plan out my meals in the morning, taking every calorie into consideration, but by mid-day, that sly little voice in my head will have convinced me that “I deserve a donut.”

You know the voice – It’s the same one that says, “No it’s okay, you can skip the gym today. You walked to lunch yesterday, remember?” And the one who that says, “You have to eat a piece of cake. It’s a birthday party – it would be rude not to.” God, doesn’t it feel good to listen to that voice? That voice is a lot nicer than the “diet voice” that’s always nagging you, “No sugar in your coffee!”, and, “Only white wine!” Diet voice is the worst.

Not to mention, diets don’t work for me either. You see, restriction is my worst enemy, and if you tell me I can’t have something, than that something becomes all I think about. All I want. I’ll even go so far as to eat sugary, processed food that I would NEVER put into my body on a normal day, simply because I know I’m not allowed to have it with this new diet. And, on the off chance I’m able to have a few good diet days in a row, I’ll often ruin all my hard work in one, deprivation-driven binge fest! I’m talking pizza for days!

It is impossible for me to stick to anything. And I know I’m not alone.

If you have ADHD and have found weight loss challenging, if not downright unattainable, you’re not the only one. It is clinically proven to be more difficult for individuals with ADHD to lose weight, and to keep the weight off, than it is for someone without ADHD. In other words, your weight loss journey may been frustrating and discouraging, but not all the setbacks are entirely your fault.

ADHD affects a person’s executive functioning, which is involved in self-regulation, organization, prioritization, and planning for the future – all of which are key factors in losing weight. We’ve known for a long time that these hurdles make things like work, school, and social interaction more difficult for people with ADHD, but what we are now just starting to discover, is how it affects our physical bodies, especially in regards to our weight.

In the 1990s, Dr. John Fleming conducted a series of studies in which he examined those who’ve experienced difficulty losing weight. He quickly realized that many of the characteristics demonstrated by those who could not shed the extra pounds, were indicators of a possible mental disorder like ADD or ADHD. Many of these individuals possessed, “clearly disturbed eating habits, with typically no regularly planned meals or snacks, and an inability to follow dietary plans for any useful length of time.” Now I know that sounds familiar.

In a later study, Fleming also discovered links between the rates of obesity and ADHD. In one particular case, Fleming found that more than 25% of people struggling with obesity at one of his test clinics demonstrated symptoms of ADHD, or noted they had experienced symptoms in the past.

So, what can we do about it?

Well, we can work in tandem with our ADHD, instead of trying to work against it. Dr. Fleming suggests setting realistic goals, and emphasizes the importance of “ditching food shame” – something I know I’m guilty of.

For me, working with my ADHD means no elimination diets. I need to be able to eat what I want, when I want. That’s why programs like Weight Watchers, which only restricts calories instead of certain types of food, are perfect for me.

For those of us with ADHD, eating right and exercising regularly will always be an uphill battle, but it doesn’t have to be losing battle. With the right tools, information, and most importantly, the right mindset, you will be able to drop those pounds and make your resolutions reality.