Understanding Binge Eating and ADHD

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Research shows that people struggling with an eating disorder, especially bulimia nervosa or binge eating, are more likely to have comorbid ADHD. While those studies haven’t confirmed that ADHD causes those eating disorders, the data suggests that it can put someone at a higher risk of developing disordered eating habits.

Here are some factors that explain the link between ADHD and binge eating, why ADHD can make overcoming binge eating disorder more difficult, and some strategies you can use to start recovering from disordered eating.  

The Connection Between ADHD and Binge Eating

ADHD impacts diet and eating habits in a lot of ways.

  • For example, impulsivity, a common symptom of ADHD, has been linked to overeating. In a 2017 systematic review, researchers found that ADHD patients with high levels of impulsivity were more likely to show signs of bulimia nervosa or overeating.
  • Executive dysfunction can also turn planning and eating meals into an arduous task—with so many steps and decisions involved, you may become paralyzed by the task and end up not eating for hours.
  • You might also go hours without eating when you enter a state of hyperfixation, because your laser focus tunes out absolutely everything else, including your growling stomach.
  • Finally, even if you’re in treatment, the stimulant medication you take to manage your symptoms also happens to be an appetite suppressant making it harder to stomach food.

Whether from paralysis, hyperfixation, or medication, by the time you manage to get something to eat, you’re often so hungry that you scarf down vast portions of food.

Complications of ADHD and Binge Eating

By the time someone with ADHD decides they want to stop binge eating, ADHD symptoms can make it especially difficult to do so. That same impulsivity and executive dysfunction that caused cycles of starving and binging make it difficult to stick to a meal plan or build healthier eating habits.

Meanwhile, poor attentional control makes it feel almost impossible to stop thinking about food. The harder you try to focus on something else, the more fixated your brain seems to become on food, pushing you to indulge the desire to binge so that you can get rid of the thoughts.

Diagnosis of ADHD and Binge Eating

While eating large portions doesn’t automatically mean you have binge eating disorder, people with ADHD who struggle with eating can often develop disordered eating habits in the process. That’s because living with ADHD can feel like you have no control over what you do or when you do it, including when and what you eat.

That feeling like you have no control as you eat so much food, sometimes to the point that you feel uncomfortable or painfully full, can become so distressing that what started as a consequence of your ADHD symptoms escalates into binge eating disorder all its own.

Some symptoms that might point to binge eating disorder include:

  • Weight fluctuations, including weight gain
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, disgust, or embarrassment
  • Eating for emotional comfort
  • Secretive eating or hiding of food
  • Anxiety or depression symptoms
  • Low self-esteem
  • Distorted body image

Finally, to distinguish binge eating disorder from other eating disorders, there should be a lack of compensatory behaviors, meaning you don’t use laxatives, fasting, self-induced vomiting, or other tactics to purge the food. If you have strategies to compensate for eating, you might fit the criteria for bulimia nervosa or other types of disordered eating.

Treatment of ADHD and Binge Eating

As helpless as you might feel about eating, recovery is possible. Therapy and medication can help you establish healthier eating habits and reduce binge eating.


Coincidentally, one of the first-line medications for treating binge eating is one of the same stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD: lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse). In addition to helping treat some of the underlying ADHD symptoms that led to the disorder, the stimulant seems to help reduce the number of binge eating episodes.

If you already take stimulant medication for your ADHD and still struggle with binge eating disorder, your healthcare provider might recommend one of the following:

  • Topiramate (Topamax). This anticonvulsant is meant to treat seizures, but it can also suppress appetite, helping reduce the urge to binge.
  • Antidepressants. While it’s unclear why, studies have found that antidepressants, specifically SSRIs, can reduce binge eating episodes. It may be related to the medication's ability to treat some underlying depression or emotional distress that could trigger an episode.


In addition to medication, therapy can be extremely helpful, especially for people struggling with both ADHD and binge eating. Some of the most commonly used approaches include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help patients develop strategies for managing their ADHD while also helping to identify triggers and work on the thoughts associated with unwanted behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy. This approach was developed specifically for people who experience emotions intensely and struggle with emotional regulation—something that characterizes both ADHD and binge eating disorders. The goal is to help patients develop the skills to better regulate their emotional response, including the tendency to binge eat as a form of self-soothing.
  • Behavioral weight loss programs. Standard weight-loss programs can be very triggering for people with binge eating disorder since they aren’t designed with disordered eating in mind. On the other hand, behavioral weight loss programs incorporate CBT with medically-supervised nutrition plans to help you develop a more balanced diet and exercise habits while also addressing your binge triggers.

Coping With ADHD and Binge Eating

Recovering from an eating disorder is hard enough on its own. When you’re also dealing with ADHD, it can feel like nothing you do works, and none of the advice acknowledges the ADHD symptoms at the root of your binge eating.

Lifestyle Changes

While professional help is usually the best way to treat binge eating disorder, there are some self-care steps you can take to address the underlying ADHD symptoms that are contributing to your binge episodes.

  • Avoid dieting, unless medically supervised. Strict diets can end up triggering binge episodes, especially for people with ADHD who already struggle to stick to normal routines.
  • Stock nutritious snacks and low-effort meals. With ADHD, you often gravitate toward the option with the fewest steps. That usually means heavily processed snacks or microwavable food that's low in nutrients and, therefore, not as filling, making you prone to binging. Chop up carrots, broccoli, apples, and other fruits and veggies (or buy them precut), and make sure they are the first thing you see when you open the fridge. When you have the executive function, meal prep some nutritious lunches and dinners like a big pot of chili or a batch of breakfast burritos loaded with eggs and veggies. Divide it up into separate Tupperware and refrigerate or freeze it so that you have nutrient-dense, low-effort options.
  • Set timers. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, set timers on your phone to go off every day. When a timer goes off, get up and grab one of your low-effort meals. If you’re struggling to do that, grab a generous handful of a nourishing snack you keep at your desk. 

ADHD Support Groups

Support groups can help you connect with people who know what you’re going through because they’ve gone through it themselves. They’re a great place to get advice and encouragement from people who understand your experience.

Binge Eating Support Groups

Just as an ADHD support group can give you advice and encouragement to manage your ADHD symptoms, a binge eating support group can help you address your binge eating disorder.

As you figure out what strategies and treatment options make the most sense for you, it may help to address both the disordered eating and the ADHD symptoms that might be contributing to it or making your recovery harder at the same time. If possible, try to find healthcare providers that understand how your ADHD and binge eating are linked so they can help you develop an ADHD-friendly treatment plan.

A Word From Verywell

However you choose to approach your recovery, remember to practice self-compassion and forgiveness. Both ADHD and eating disorders often come with excessive self-criticism and low self-esteem, and those only work against you when you’re trying to work toward something better.

If you can’t show compassion and forgiveness to yourself, explore the support group options listed above. There are people in this world who know what you’re going through, who have felt exactly as hopeless and worthless as you might be feeling right now, and they made it through to the other side. You can get there, too.

If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Kaiser Permanente. Topiramate for binge eating disorder.

  3. McElroy S, Guerdjikova AI, Mori N, O’Melia A. Pharmacological management of binge eating disorder: current and emerging treatment options. TCRM. doi:10.2147/TCRM.S25574.

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By Rachael Green
Rachael is a New York-based writer and freelance writer for Verywell Mind, where she leverages her decades of personal experience with and research on mental illness—particularly ADHD and depression—to help readers better understand how their mind works and how to manage their mental health.