Girls And Women With ADHD Have Higher Rates of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa And Binge Eating, Here Are Some Reasons Why 15


Girls with ADHD were 2.7 times more likely to develop Anorexia Nervosa a study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics showed. This post will show that girls and women with ADHD have higher rates of Anorexia Nervosa as well as Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder, and explain some of the reasons why.

Anorexia isn’t a “trend” for some models/actresses/singers. Its a serious eating disorder and a mental health condition where people starve themselves /exercise to try and maintain a weight far below what’s normal for their age & weight.

Girls and women with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have higher rates of ALL eating disorders.

  • Women with ADHD had higher rates of past Anorexia and Bulimia, and past and current panic disorder says a study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

People with ADHD also have higher rates of obesity.

26.7 % of severely obese women had Adult ADHD, more than 5 times larger then the regular population a study in the journal Eating Weight Disorders showed. They had problems with impulsivity, distractibility, attention and staying focused. Several other studies have showed the links between obesity and ADHD

A study in the Journal of Abnormal psychology showed the links between eating disorders and ADHD.

ADHD girls compared to non ADHD girls had higher rates of:

  • pathological eating
  • desire to lose weight
  • peer rejection
  • punitive parenting
  • disruptive disorders
  • internalizing disorders
  • externalizing symptoms
  • internalizing symptoms.

ADHD girls compared to non ADHD girls also had lower rates of satisfaction with their appearance. Girls with the combined form of ADHD showed higher levels of pathological eating behaviors than did both girls with inattentive ADHD and comparison girls. Have a look at pieces of a puzzle the link between eating disorders and attention deficit disorder Pieces of a Puzzle: The Link Between Eating Disorders and ADD by Dr. Carolyn Piver Dukarm. She’s a a pediatrician and eating disorders specialist, and her book

focuses on the overlap between eating disorders and ADD and points out how diagnosing and treating both of these disorders can fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle that hold the key to recovery.

Joanna Poppink a LA psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders says

Early in their lives, people with eating disorders have experienced, on a sustained basis, relentless boundary invasion on every level.

As someone who has ADHD, has coached Adults with ADHD for many years, who runs the Vancouver adult ADD support group and is on the board of CHADD Vancouver, I’ve noticed a large number of adults with ADHD have problems with setting and enforcing boundaries. This may have to do with the nature of ADHD.

Compared to non ADDers, people with ADHD are more likely to be easily distracted, forgetful, impulsive, time blind, disorganized, have trouble planning and prioritizing, have trouble learning from past experiences, have higher rates of anxiety etc. All factors that would interfere with setting and maintaining boundaries.

Plus ADHD is 80% genetic, so if a child has ADHD usually one or more parent have it. You can’t teach skills you never learned.

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious disease. Canadian doctors have calculated that women with Anorexia die on average about a quarter of a century earlier than other women. 50% by suicide, the rest succumb to medical problems.

Anorexia Nervosa is basically not recognized as a serious disease by society and government, in my opinion, certainly not compared to heart disease and cancer,” said Dr. Laird Birmingham, the UBC psychiatry professor who led the research.

People with ADHD have higher rates of suicide and ADHD is also not recognized as a serious disease by society and government.

I know one woman who had undiagnosed ADHD and became Anorexic, then later she became Bulimic, then became addicted to alcohol, then drugs, then later developed a Binge Eating disorder. Finally she got diagnosed with ADHD.

What would her life be like if she got properly diagnosed with ADHD at a young age instead of being neglected due to the ignorance of the medical and addiction system? How many others with ADHD have to needlessly suffer like her? How many tax dollars are being needlessly wasted because ADHD isn’t taken seriously?

Why not ask your politicians, media and doctors to start screening girls and women with Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and if they have ADHD, properly treat it?

People with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD have much higher rates of alcohol and drug addictions, depression, anxiety disorders and crime.

Higher rates of Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders are even more reasons why the media, govt & health systems should stop stigmatizing and neglecting ADHD, and start taking it seriously and put resources into diagnosing it and properly treating ADHD in adults & children earlier so we develop less comorbid conditions. Wendy Richardson is a Licensed Marriage, Family Therapist, and Certified Addiction Specialist and the author of the book the link between add and addiction getting the help you deserve The Link Between A.D.D and Addiction: Getting the Help You Deserve and the book when too much isnt enough ending the destructive cycle of adhd and addictive behavior When Too Much Isn’t Enough: Ending the Destructive Cycle of AD/HD and Addictive Behavior. Here are some excerpts from an article she wrote called The link between ADHD and eating disorders.

As we learn more about ADD, we discover that people manifest ADD traits differently. Obsessing on food, exercise, and thinness gives the anorectic a way to focus their chaotic ADD brains. They become over-focused on thoughts and behaviors that related to food.

Frequently these people will only become aware of their high level of activity, distractibility, and impulsiveness after they have been in recovery for anorexia. Self-starvation curtails hyperactivity.

Distractibility and spacey-ness are characteristics of both anorexia and bulimia, whether or not they’re accompanied by ADD. In each case the inability to concentrate or focus results because the brain is not being properly nourished. For people with ADD, however, there is a history of attention difficulties that predates the eating disorder. Their concentration, impulse problems, and activity level may not improve when their eating disorder is treated.

As a matter of fact, their ADD traits can get worse once they are no longer self-medicating with food, or organizing their lives around food and exercise. If you are someone who has struggled with eating disorders, and suspect you may have ADD, it is important to get an evaluation. Both your eating disorders and your ADD must be treated.

It is essential that both ADD and eating disorders are treated. Too many people are struggling with their eating disorders because they have undiagnosed or untreated ADD. When ADD is properly treated, the individual is better able to focus and follow through with treatment for their eating disorders. They also have greater control of their impulses and less of a need to self-medicate their ADD symptoms.

Here are more reasons why girls and women with ADHD are more likely to develop Anorexia Nervosa than non ADHD girls and women.

Evidence suggests that children with ADHD-C in particular have trouble with accurately perceiving and regulating their own emotional states (Maedgen & Carlson, 2000). Eating pathology may be most likely to result for dysregulated girls if they lack supportive parent-child or peer relationships to buffer against stressors.

This pattern is supported by our finding that negative parenting in childhood more strongly predicted pathological eating behaviors for girls with ADHD than for comparison girls. Children with ADHD are at high risk for concurrent problems in parent-child and peer relationships (Asarnow, 1988).

It is well documented that children with ADHD have more conflictual relationships with their parents than do children without ADHD (Johnston & Mash, 2001).

Parents of girls with ADHD also show higher levels of expressed emotion (EE)— composed of critical and overinvolved attitudes parents hold toward offspring—than do parents of comparison girls (Peris & Hinshaw, 2003).

Dopamaine, ADHD and Anorexia Nervosa Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters involved with ADHD, we have lower levels of dopamine than non ADHD people. A study showed Increased Dopamine D2/D3 Receptor Binding After Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa Measured by Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

Several lines of evidence support the possibility that disturbances of dopamine (DA) function could contribute to alterations of weight, feeding, motor activity, and reward in anorexia nervosa (AN). These data lend support for the possibility that decreased intrasynaptic DA concentration or increased D2/D3 receptor density or affinity is associated with AN and might contribute to the characteristic harm avoidance or increased physical activity found in AN.

Most intriguing is the possibility that individuals with AN might have a DA related disturbance of reward mechanisms contributing to altered hedonics of feeding behavior and their ascetic, anhedonic temperament.

Dopamine release fuels anxiety in the brains of Anorexics a study in The International Journal of Eating Disorders showed.

In healthy subjects without an eating disorder, the amphetamine-induced release of dopamine was associated with feelings of extreme pleasure in the brain’s “reward center.” However, in people with anorexia, amphetamine made them feel anxious and activated the part of the brain that worries about consequences.

It’s possible that when people with anorexia nervosa eat, the related release of the neurotransmitter dopamine makes them anxious, rather than experiencing a normal feeling of reward. It is understandable why it is so difficult to get people with anorexia to eat and gain weight, because food generates intensely uncomfortable feelings of anxiety.

If you had or have Anorexia, were you screened for ADHD?

If you know someone that might be interested in this post, please pass it on.


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15 thoughts on “Girls And Women With ADHD Have Higher Rates of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa And Binge Eating, Here Are Some Reasons Why

  • Dominique

    I know this is 2011, but I’m just browsing and if anyone elses comes across this site, they can read my comment for extra info. Anyways, I was diagnosed with anorexia a few years ago, and I was currently diagnosed with ADHD inattentive subtype, about a month ago. It’s crazy because it all totally makes sense, and I was currently failing school, and I’m now on meds, and both of these issues are much better, and more on control!

  • Emily

    All of this is very interesting, but for those of us with ADHD and an Eating Disorder it does little good! I have been to three psychiatrist personally and had my case presented to four others and all of them refuse to treat the ADHD concurrently with the eating disorder. If it wasn’t for my girlfriends support I would be a part of that 50% right now.

  • Pete Quily Post author

    That’s too bad Emily. I’ve heard hundreds of stories of people with ADHD being refused to be examined for a possible diagnosis of ADHD, often because of ignorance of ADHD by medical professionals, the lack of training of them on ADHD, and people with ADHD and their families being unwilling to demand to the media, politicians and health bureaucrats to stop discriminating against people with ADHD and train medical professionals on ADHD, especially in adults. I.e., you can’t have ADHD, you’ve done well at school/in business/you’ve got a high IQ, you’re a woman etc. Or they think that ADHD doesn’t exist. Show those people this page

    If you’re in the Vancouver BC area, I’ve got a list of people known to diagnose and treat adhd , if you’re outside this area, contact your nearest ADHD support group and ask them for some names of people who’ve been trained to diagnose and treat ADHD.

  • Mary

    I was diagnosed with combined type ADHD as an adult. I had Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder. After I started ADHD medication and cognitive behavioral therapies, I am finally cured. Years of insecurity, self-esteem issues, feeling like a failure in school..to finally be treated and to feel some normalcy is nice

  • Emily

    I want to share that I have been receiving concurrent treatment of my ADHD and Eating Disorder for the last year and the symptoms from both are less of an issue in my day to day life.

  • Laura

    My daughter has had anorexia since she was 13. She is now 16 and has been in the hospital recovering from anorexia for the last month.
    I am now just starting to see some signs of ADD. She has always been a great student but Sophomore year of high school poses new challenges for her and I really see her struggling with her classes. ADD runs on our family but since she has had such great grades and didn’t at all think of testing her until I started reading the link between anorexia and ADD.
    I am disappointed that not one single health care or mental health professional ever test her. Of course, this was revealed in all of intake interviews. She has seen countless psychologists, therapists, nurses, nutritionists, physicians. Very frustrating and very unbelievable…

  • Pete Quily Post author

    That’s great Emily, hope you let others know of the connection between the two so they can get help too.

  • Pete Quily Post author

    Hi Laura, I have ADHD and made the dean’s honours list in school. There are Phd’s with ADHD. Many ADDers do have trouble in school and we have higher rates of school problems and dropouts but some of us do well at school, and other crash often at transition phases. Sadly few medical professionals are properly trained on ADHD and the stigma against ADHD is so strong, few people with ADHD or their family members call out the stigma or demand resources so we get properly diagnosed and treated. Hopefully you can help educate some other medical professionals so others children with ADHD don’t get neglected by ignorance.

  • anon

    Thank you for posting this article. I am now in my 50s and am awaiting medical assessment for ADHD. I had anorexia in my teens and have suffered from anxiety throughout my life – at times very severely. It was only when I began an administrative job in a clinic where children were being assessed for behavioural problems that I realised I probably had ADHD. I found that I shared most of the behavioural traits these children were presenting with. However, I think I was partially still in denial, as it was not until I had subsequently, impulsively, walked out of four jobs within a period of less than two years that the penny finally dropped. The hyperactive/impulsive traits are the ones that have impacted on my life most disastrously. I wish that I could have been referred for diagnosis years ago, as it would have helped me understand why I react as I do in certain situations and why I can’t seem to ‘put on the brakes’. None of the medical professionals I saw ever suggested that my problems might be connected with ADHD. Knowing what you are dealing with is the first step toward developing strategies for management. I hope that the links between these conditions are further investigated by professionals so that more girls can receive the help and support they need as early as possible. I agree that there is a lot of stigma around ADHD and a lack of training for professionals. Some ignorant people even deny that it actually exists, which is insulting and distressing for those affected and finding their lives blighted by actions they cannot control. This is a very real condition and without a diagnosis or support toward managing behaviour, it can wreck lives.

  • Kelly

    I was diagnosed with anorexia back in the 1990,s at the time all my doctors where looking to see if I was abused in someway they kept looking for abuse so often that I felt guilty that it didn’t happen to me.

    Back then no one thought about ADHD which I was later diagnosed with. It’s too bad that I didn’t know the things I know today.

    My life could have gone so much different.

    I try to educate people as much I can about women and ADHD and the missing link about my anorexia has been answered.

  • Dana

    I would like to know how you treat ADD and ADHD if you have a 13 ear old with Anorexia – recovery and worried about meds changing appetite etc? Meds being a stimulant.

    She seems to have ADD and Mild depression. She also has anxiety and 1 year in full recovery of anorexia but not fully weight restored to her goal to get her period.
    Please advise.

  • Pete Quily Post author

    Hi Dana, you’re asking for medical advice and I’m an adult ADHD coach, not a physician. Suggest asking someone who knows both ADHD and anorexia. Find your closest ADHD support group and ask them for names and same with your closest eating disorders support group.

    Here’s my list of ADHD support groups by country