Article feature from April 2022. Original article posted on ADHD Online.
Studies show that someone with ADHD is 30 percent more likely to develop binge eating disorder, or BED. A growing body of evidence is showing that some of the distinct functional abnormalities that characterize ADHD are also found in individuals with BED. Here are details on how the two can be related, and about treatments.
What is binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder involves recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food within a relatively short period of time. These binges are associated with distinct emotions — a profound sense of lack of control during the binge and feelings of shame, distress or self-disgust immediately afterward. Unlike some other eating disorders, BED is not accompanied by inappropriate compensatory behaviors like purging or over-exercising.
ADHD and BED are alike
Nearly all psychiatric illnesses, including ADHD and BED, arise from a combination of factors involving body, brain and mind.
“Eating disorders develop as a result of biological, social and psychological factors,” says registered dietitian Katherine Metzelaar, founder of Bravespace Nutrition. “So, it is very common for eating disorders to intersect with other mental disorders.”
Psychiatrist James Greenblatt, chief medical officer at Walden Behavioral Care in Waltham, Mass. agrees. “There appears to be significant ‘overlap’ in terms of involved neural circuitry,” says Greenblatt, who authored Finally Focused and Integrative Medicine for Binge Eating. “Both [ADHD and BED] demonstrate abnormalities in reward and response inhibition, in addition to emotional processing and regulation.”
Lack of dopamine is a big factor
Dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain (also known as a neurotransmitter), is involved in the regulation of emotional responses. One of the main responses is motivation and reward. Dopamine plays a key role in helping a person feel calm and focused.
Greenblatt explains that both ADHD and eating disorders like BED involve insufficient levels of dopamine. People who lack dopamine are biologically driven to engage in excessive or unnatural reward behaviors to satisfy the demands of their under-stimulated neural reward circuits.