NEUROMATURATION – ADHD and the Secrets of the “Freshman 15”

We’ve all heard about them… the dreaded “freshman 15!”   Good old dorm food where the only choices that taste good to you seem to be those with high fat and carbohydrate content.  A huge stash of of high calorie snacks only an arm’s reach away in your dorm room.  Late night delivery pizza or runs to the sub shop with your new found friends.  Beer!

It all adds up pretty quickly and many a parent has been shocked at semester break to see that their kid’s cheeks are a little bit fuller and their jeans a bit tighter.

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While most students face the challenge of avoiding the “freshman 15”, the task can be particularly daunting for the college student with ADHD.  They struggle to get up and out of bed in the morning, often at the last minute, skipping breakfast and making it to class just in the nick of time.  Lunch can also be a catch as catch can experience…something always gets in the way… too little time between classes, last minute cramming for a test, frisbee with friends, flirting with that cute guy from English class.  The brain interprets these  day long fasts as starvation and in response it slows down the metabolic rate so that even if they eat the normal number of calories for dinner (which rarely happens) all the extra calories are sent to the fat cells to prepare for starvation again tomorrow.  This is how eating less can actually contribute to weight gain!

ADHD individuals notoriously make poor food choices, eat impulsively and fail to exert portion control, and choose high calorie drinks when they are thirsty.  These unhealthy eating habits are even more likely to occur when Mom is no longer around to set limits and nag!  These concerns are magnified when the student moves out of the dorm and into an apartment.  Many don’t have much of an idea of how to prepare healthy meals so they don’t go grocery shopping with a meal plan in mind and instead rely on prepared food or frozen dinners that are often calorically dense!

Despite the best intentions, it’s hard to get to the fitness center for a workout and structured sports are gone for most.  Some colleges still mandate a physical education course or two for graduation but many don’t.  Free time is usually spent hanging out with friends playing video games and eating chips.

As the stresses mount during the semester,  many ADHD students turn to food as a self medicating coping strategy to either enhance their focus or to reduce their anxiety or depression.  One candy bar may do the trick for 20 minutes but then there is the crash and a need to “dose up” again!

This is all laid on a backdrop of an increasing awareness we have that ADHD is a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic.  While it may seem counterintuitive, we now know that “hyperactive” kids are at high risk for being overweight as adults.  Studies have shown that more than 40% of adults participating in weight management clinics have unrecognized or untreated ADHD!  In our experience, leaving home and heading off to college is the first step down the road to a lifetime struggle weight management.

For many, the slow steady progression toward obesity and all its challenges and risks begins with the “freshmen 15″…we all know that once it’s on it’s really hard to get off!

It doesn’t have to be this way…with a comprehensive success plan including a structured schedule for study time, a healthy daily routine for eating, exercise, sleep, and relaxation, targeted accommodations, and compliance with a proper medication regimen along with ongoing support from an experienced professional, ADHD students can experience success in the classroom AND in the other spheres of life!

Confidence@College means taking advantage of enriching experiences and relationships in order to acquire the tools, skills, and the habits to succeed at work, at home, and in health for a lifetime.  Call us today and set up a Discovery session so we can begin helping your child chart a personalized course for life success!

P.S.  If you’re not a college student but a parent with ADHD (or who thinks you may be) who can relate to these issues and struggles with weight management, there is help for you, too.  Contact the Being Well Center and ask about getting involved with our TRANSforming U Program.  Let us help you become a healthier U!

ATTENTION-The sleepy, under-aroused college student

When we think about ADD/ADHD in a college student, we can easily imagine how impulsivity, distractibility, short attention span, problems with following through with directions, poor organizational skills, weak task/time management and procrastination, can wreak havoc on her success.  What may not come to mind, however, is one of the most common attentional weaknesses that contribute to college failure – low arousal level.

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So what is low arousal level anyway?

Well, at a very basic level, we must maintain a certain level of alertness in order to pay attention and regulate our behavior.  Arousal level refers to how awake and alert we are at any point in time.  Based upon our clinical experience with thousands of patients, we have found that many individuals with ADD/ADHD have a low arousal level; they are not alert and sufficiently awake to pay optimal attention.  This statement can be confusing to some people who presume that because some individuals with ADD/ADHD are “hyperactive” that they are hyperaroused when, in reality, the opposite is probably true!

A student with low arousal level can demonstrate a wide range of behaviors.  She may become fatigued during mundane activities (like listening to lecture or completing a 60-page reading assignment), yawn excessively, have a glazed look in her eyes, or actually fall asleep at her desk.  Commonly, ADD/ADHD students blame these behaviors on the task, the subject matter or the professor . . . “too boring.”  On the other hand, some ADD/ADHD students who are under-aroused demonstrate “hyperactivity” ranging from leg bouncing, wiggling in the chair, fidgeting, aimlessly playing with materials, and stretching or actually getting out of their seat and wandering around.  Our clinical experience suggests that these “hyperactive behaviors” are actually unconscious attempts by the ADD/ADHD student to self-stimulate herself in order to increase or sustain her arousal in a learning (or should we say “boring”) situation.

Other conditions or co-morbidities can magnify an ADD/ADHD student’s struggle with alertness or arousal including sleep deprivation, obstructive sleep apnea, iron deficiency anemia, poor nutritional habits (like skipping meals, pigging out, or self medicating with carbohydrates), depression and certain temperamental extremes (such as low frustration tolerance or short persistence) to name a few.  All of these conditions are very common in students with ADD/ADHD.  Sometimes these conditions even mimic ADD/ADHD in students who don’t have the diagnosis.

Commonly, low arousal can signal the possible need for medication treatment in a student with ADD/ADHD.  In those students already taking medication, it can indicate the need to refine the dosage level (generally it means there is a need for more) or dosage regimen (adding medication dosage(s) to provide all-day coverage into the evening when most students study and read those “boring” text books!)

At the very least, the tendency toward low arousal suggests the need to establish and maintain healthy daily routines for sleeping, eating, exercise and relaxation.

It should be obvious that unmanaged low arousal can be a major risk factor for college failure.  Dealing with it means getting a comprehensive evaluation to determine all the possible contributors and then developing a targeted, individual treatment plan to address each contributing factor.  That’s what we do at the BWC!  Contact us today so we can help your child “wake up” and start experiencing the success he or she is capable of!

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