Practical Tips for Eating Well When You Have ADHD
How to Eat Well and Honour Practical Hunger
Whether we realize it or not, our brains are responsible for making tons of decisions around food each day. This not only includes what to eat or when to eat, but also the planning and coordination of preparing healthy nutritious meals. While this process may seem intuitive for some, it is common for individuals living with ADHD to struggle as it requires executive functioning- the cognitive skills required for prioritizing, planning and completing tasks.
If you have ADHD and have struggled to get a handle on your eating habits, don’t worry as all hope is not lost! In the blog post learn the best diet for ADHD to feel and perform your best, ADHD tips to honour your hunger if you’re forgetting to eat as well as ADHD meal planning and preparation strategies to set you up for success!
What is the best diet for ADHD?
While there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to healthy eating for ADHD, there are a few helpful nutrition strategies to help keep your body nourished and your brain focused:
Aim for balance and variety at meals
Fill your plate with a grain/starch, a protein and a fruit/vegetable at each meal as often as possible
Increase your intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for proper functioning of the central nervous system, which includes your brain! Research has shown that both adults and children with ADHD tend to have lower blood levels of Omega-3’s, leading to behavioural and learning challenges. Food sources include fish, flax seeds, walnuts and canola oil to name a few
Limit your intake of sugar and ultra-processed carbohydrates
While dessert foods and candies can certainly be part of a healthful and soulful diet, individuals living with ADHD can be more sensitive to blood sugar spikes caused by these higher-sugar foods
For a deeper dive on the best foods for ADHD, check out this article on Nutrition for ADHD for more information.
Forgetting to Eat with ADHD – When to Eat and Honoring Practical Hunger
While forgetting to eat can happen to anyone, individuals who have ADHD often have a much harder time sensing and attending to their hunger cues. For those who also have ADHD medications in the mix, eating enough can be even more challenging due to the appetite-suppressing effects of these stimulant drugs. For these reasons, it is common for people with ADHD to find themselves stuck in a binge/restrict pattern of eating, where they unintentionally restrict food during the day only to find themselves feeling ravenous later.
If this sounds familiar to you, you may want to try honoring practical hunger!
Practical hunger moves away from relying on intuitive hunger cues to decide when and how much to eat. Instead, it involves eating even in the absence of hunger knowing that going too long without food will eventually lead to your hunger catching up to you later.
Wondering about how you can start honoring practical hunger if you have ADHD and forget to eat often? Give these actionable strategies a try:
Try scheduling your meals and snacks every 3-5 hours
- Regularly scheduled food intake can help support your energy levels and focus throughout the day.
- Having a schedule can help you plan your eating around other activities that are happening during the day. How often you eat may depend on whether you prefer smaller more frequent meals or eating larger meals that are more spread out.
- Consider setting an alarm on your phone or use another alert system to remind yourself when it is time to eat. This can be especially helpful if you tend to hyperfocus on activities that are challenging to pull away from.
Plan what you are going to eat at your meals and snacks
- Instead of eating crackers out of the box, be intentional about your snack and make it balanced! Try pairing a grain/starch with a protein to get the most energy and satisfaction from your snack. Some ideas include crackers and cheese, Greek yogurt and fruit, or veggies and hummus.
Keep your food visible
- It can be helpful to keep your food in sight to help remind you to eat. For example, you may want to keep a snack at your desk to avoid getting too distracted while working. It can also help make your snack more accessible, increasing the likelihood that you will eat it.
How to Eat Well with ADHD: Meal Planning and Preparation
To help you be successful with meal planning and preparation, try some of these tips:
Organize your kitchen in a way that makes sense to you
- There are no right or wrongs when it comes to organizing your kitchen. However, it may be helpful to keep similar cooking utensils/appliances in the same area to make them easier to access when you need them (e.g. baking supplies).
- Use labels on stored items in the fridge/freezer to help remind you what’s there. Maybe you’re like me and have forgotten about the soup you batch cooked a few months ago that would make for a quick and easy meal.
Keep a standard list of grocery staples and simply add any extras you might need that week
- This can make list building less time consuming and can help prevent you from forgetting any essential items during your next shop.
Prepare any ingredients/food items in bulk and break these tasks into chunks
- For example, spending only 15-20 minutes pre-washing and chopping veggies can make meal prep seem less daunting while ensuring you have veggies that are ready to eat for meals and snacks all week! They can also be easy additions to other meals such as soups or stir-frys.
Batch cook meals and freeze extras to limit the amount of time spent in the kitchen
- Store and label individual portions of leftovers in your freezer for a quick and easy meal when you’re short on time.
Don’t be afraid of using convenience foods
- Food items that are pre-chopped, pre-cooked, canned or frozen can make for easy and nutritious meals. Foods such as pre-cooked rotisserie chickens, salad kits, frozen/canned fruit and veggies and canned soups are just a few examples
- You may also want to consider trying out a food/meal delivery service which can alleviate you from some of the planning as recipes are usually pre-planned and pre-portioned for you. This may also allow you to try out new foods, recipes or cuisines that you’ve never tried before.
When you have ADHD, it is still possible to eat well in order to feel and perform your best! If you are struggling, we are here to help, keep reading below to learn more!
Looking for nutrition support in managing ADHD symptoms and other conditions?
Have additional questions about finding a nutrition plan that’s right for you? Our team of Dietitians at Health Stand Nutrition are here to help!
Our Registered Dietitian / Online Nutritionist team has supported people with nutrition education and practical meal-planning ideas since 2000. We can work with you to simplify an eating plan that helps you take charge of your eating and feel your best.
Book a session with myself or any of the capable and compassionate Registered Dietitians on our team – we’re here for you!
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Jamie Lee Kwong
Disordered Eating, Pediatrics, Family Meal Planning & Chronic Disease
Jamie will greet you with a warm and approachable smile that has a way of putting you at ease. You can count on her to be adaptive and collaborative in coming up with right-fit solutions that meet your health, mental health and family needs. She also specializes in Mental Health, Anti-inflammatory Eating, and Arthritis.