Is ADHD Behind “Freshman 15” Weight Gain?

ADHD and college weight gain | The Being Well Center

image via Flickr, COD Newsroom

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.

Healthy eating is harder with ADHD

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!

Students with ADHD notoriously make poor food choices

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.

Food as a self-medicating coping strategy

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.

A lifetime battle against obesity can begin at college

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!

ADHD and Weight Gain at College | The Being Well Center


Worried that your child is struggling with weight issues and Attention Deficit Disorder?  We can help you find answers.  Call our office today (724.443.4120) to talk to someone who cares, or download our College Success Screener to take the first step in identifying college problems.

If you’re an adult with ADHD 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!

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