For the majority of people, cooking dinner exists on a spectrum from chore to pure joy depending on what you find fun. Not so for the ADHD brain where, in a flash, chopping turns to chaos and mixing erupts into mayhem. Which makes implementing a diet a challenge of Olympic proportions. Here’s a typical day in the life of Doris the ADHD Dieter who really wants to lose weight.
Doris the ADHD Dieter
Doris raced in from work stressed, grumpy and hungry. She dumped her bag in the hallway, threw her keys on the cupboard and tossed her overcoat on the hook, ignoring the fact it fell on the floor as she made off in search of food.
With blood sugar tanking, hunger pangs gripping, Doris finally came to a standstill. She yanked open the fridge door and, with a sinking heart, eyed the boring options on offer. Today was supposed to be a new beginning: day one of the new, sensational, failproof, ultimate weight-loss diet. This time, Doris was going to get skinny once and for all. That is, until she was faced with the daily struggle of what to cook for dinner.
While still staring into the fridge, Doris the ADHD Dieter started mindlessly crunching her way through a bag of chips. Out of the corner of her eye, yesterday’s half-finished red wine caught her attention and she thought why not?
Finally deciding on spaghetti bolognese for dinner, Doris set to work. She turned on the stove, heated the frypan and tossed in the chopped onions. Next, she reached for the minced meat, only to discover it was still frozen because she’d forgotten to take it out of the freezer that morning. As the onions started to burn, Doris tossed the minced meat into the microwave, then spun around to turn off the frypan. She reached for the bottle of tomato sauce from the overhead cupboard, but her hand missed, knocking the bottle off the shelf instead. She watched helplessly as it shattered on the terracotta floor.
Red sauce and broken glass were everywhere. Doris looked on in despair, by now completely overwhelmed and edging towards a meltdown. She began the arduous task of cleaning up the mess, which wasn’t easy thanks to the shards of glass lurking everywhere.
An hour had passed since Doris got home. She was now exhausted and extremely hungry. She looked at the unappetizing meat in the microwave, the burnt onion coagulating in the pan and felt distraught. She was too tired to cope anymore. Poor Doris, her executive function failed her, and she did what she always did: she grabbed another wine, the bag of chips, plonked herself down in front of the TV and zoned out.
Needless to say, day one of the diet had already been blown.
How could Doris do this differently? Let’s look at diet through an ADHD lens.
Commitment to losing weight when you have ADHD means a commitment to organisation above all. This means having a meal plan, preparing what you need up front, and ensuring you are emotionally stable enough to deal with cooking. If you haven’t set yourself up for success, then executive dysfunction can take over.
For example, Doris knows she gets ravenously hungry at the end of a workday, so she must make sure she eats something late afternoon to maintain stable blood sugar levels. If she doesn’t, she will become ratty and manic. In this state, she will not be able to think straight, which is exactly what happened above. So, get real, and factor these re-fueling pit stops into your diet plan for the ADHD brain.
Another tip is the mental transition from work to home. Doris came back in her usual frazzled state, and needed to pause, breathe deeply and practice mindfulness. Then, with proper focus, take off her coat in a calm, mindful way. With that calm mindset in place, she won’t start spilling tomato all over the floor.
Another crucial aspect from the ADHD dieter is planning in advance. Making decisions is already difficult for the ADHD brain, but at the end of a workday, the cognitive load is too much. The decision of what to eat should be made the night before, or in the morning, when she is fresh. Then the only thing she needs to think about is executing her plan.
Impulsivity is one of the key ADHD traits. You see it, you want it. Doris impulsively reaches for chips without thinking. She sees wine and grabs it. It’s important to be aware of what she is doing in the moment, to take a moment to pause and re-engage her brain. It’s like inserting a gap between the impulse and the action to slow things down.
The lack of planning is now obvious in what happens next. Doris decided on spaghetti but hadn’t defrosted the meat. She started cooking the onions before gathering all the ingredients. Because she is hungry, her concentration levels are low, so she didn’t focus properly when she reached for the tomato sauce. Thereby adding yet another disaster to an already fraught situation.
Train yourself to make a meal plan and make it in advance. List all the steps you must carry out in the process and complete the ones you can way ahead of time. This will help you know what you need up front and what you’ll need in the moment.
The end result of not planning for her diet is that Doris collapsed and reverted back to her usual habits. The wine and chips were comforting at first, but later when she had recovered, she would start beating herself up for failing to achieve her new weight-loss goals.
Cooking and food preparation is difficult for those with ADHD, and especially those who don’t love cooking.
Remember, to stick to your diet successfully, you must:
- Practice mindfulness and pull your attention into the present moment.
- Give yourself 5 – 10 minutes to mentally transition from work mode into home mode.
- Make a step-by-step meal plan when you are not hungry and when your energy levels are high.
- Never get too hungry. If you need a snack before you start cooking dinner, then do it.
- Get all your ingredients on the bench before you start cooking.
- Keep an eye on your impulsivity, and if you notice yourself reaching for the wine, pull back.
Never was a phrase more apt for dieting with ADHD: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. So, give yourself the best chance of success by preparing in advance!
Would you like some guidance and support to get you through a successful weight-loss regime?
Why not take a look at my Scattered to Focused ADHD Support Group page.