57: ADHD-Friendly Weight Management Strategies with Jennifer Watts

Mar 18, 2024

Weight loss coach Jennifer Watts often felt defeated by traditional diet plans. Each attempt ended in what felt like failure, creating a cycle of frustration and self-doubt. It wasn’t until Jennifer finally received her ADHD diagnosis, that she could truly understand the reasons behind her weight challenges.

Jennifer’s diagnosis allowed her to transform her approach to weight loss, and discover the strategies that resonated with her unique neurodiversity. Her breakthrough was so profound that she decided to share it with other women facing similar struggles, launching Jennifer Watts Coaching – a place for women with ADHD to find personalized coaching and strategies for weight loss and self-growth. 

Today, I’m sharing some of her practical insights for navigating the mental load of managing weight with ADHD. We look at the power of small, manageable changes, the importance of ditching self-judgment, and the two best ways to get started on your journey to weight management with ADHD.

An ADHD-Friendly Approach to Weight Management

For Jennifer, the ADHD diagnosis shed light on a multitude of internal battles she had been facing throughout her whole life. Initially diagnosed with anxiety and depression in her teens, Jennifer's ADHD remained undetected until her early 40s. She describes how ADHD can often feel like a more internalized hyperactivity with women. She struggled with a constant stream of thoughts, a poor working memory, and a distorted self-concept - all of which created huge barriers when it came to weight management. 

Finally understanding that her brain operates differently allowed Jennifer to embrace self-compassion and explore new approaches to weight management, including:

  • Dropping Self-Judgment: Understanding the neurological differences underlying her struggles allowed her to let go of the pressure to conform to traditional weight loss methods that weren't effective for her.
  • Getting Granular with Planning: Instead of setting big goals, Jennifer focused on breaking down her approach into manageable pieces. From planning her meals to visual reminders, she found success in focusing on the smallest details that kept her on track. Visual cues, like colored sticky notes, helped to remind her of her goals and plans.
  • Autonomy: Demand avoidance can occur more frequently for people with ADHD. Recognizing this allowed Jennifer to incorporate her own desires and strengths into her weight management strategy. And by aligning her choices with her preferences and autonomy, she found a sustainable path forward.
  • Intentional Grocery Shopping: By selecting foods that she enjoyed and were conducive to her health goals, Jennifer set herself up for success without feeling restricted or deprived.

Getting Curious About Habits and Preferences

People with ADHD can often spend years masking because they tried so hard to fit in and be just like everybody else. And so it takes a lot of intention and curiosity to be able to peel the layers off and uncover your genuine likes, dislikes, and behavioral patterns. And when doing this, it's so important to observe without judgment. It's okay if things are different and you're not following some strict set of protocols.

Jennifer shared how people with ADHD can often get hyper focused in what they're doing, get distracted, and therefore not pay attention to their bodily cues. They may also have more difficulty picking up on hunger and satiety compared to a neurotypical person, and so they have to be more intentional about that and use tools like alarms to remind themselves to check in with how they’re feeling.

People underestimate how helpful those little alarms and reminders can be. But if you’re frequently going a long time without eating, you’re going to end up in a state of hunger where you're not going to want to prepare a balanced meal - you're just going to eat what's there. And that can have a huge impact on your long term health.

Common ADHD Patterns in Weight Management

When it comes to weight management, there are some common struggles that people with ADHD tend to face. Jennifer shared some of the biggest challenges to be aware of:

  • Self-judgment and frustration: Many individuals with ADHD experience feelings of inadequacy and frustration when traditional weight loss methods fail to produce lasting results. This self-judgment can create a cycle of negative emotions and behaviors that hinder progress.
  • Inconsistency in sticking to new programs: Clients often report difficulty maintaining consistency with new diets or exercise routines. Despite initial motivation, they may struggle to sustain their efforts over time, leading to feelings of failure and discouragement.
  • Irregular eating patterns: ADHD-related impulsivity and forgetfulness can contribute to erratic eating habits, such as skipping meals or forgetting to eat until late in the day. This pattern of undereating followed by overeating can disrupt hunger cues and make it challenging to establish a balanced eating routine.
  • Difficulty with planning and follow-through: Planning meals and adhering to structured routines can be challenging for individuals with ADHD. They may have good intentions but struggle to follow through due to executive functioning difficulties, such as poor time management and organization skills.
  • Impulsivity and impulsive eating behaviors: Impulsivity is a hallmark symptom of ADHD and can manifest in impulsive eating behaviors, such as mindless snacking or overindulging in high-calorie foods. These impulsive behaviors can sabotage weight loss efforts and contribute to feelings of guilt and shame.
  • Sensory sensitivities influencing food choices: Many individuals with ADHD have sensory sensitivities that affect their food preferences and eating behaviors. They may be sensitive to certain textures, flavors, or smells, leading to selective eating patterns and avoidance of certain foods.

How to Get Started

While many people already have a sense of what they struggle with, they’re often unsure about the best place to start. What works for one person may not work for another person and so it’s important to build habits that work around your daily routine, responsibilities, and preferences. Jennifer recommends prioritizing these key areas:

  1. Breakfast and Hydration

Making sure that breakfast includes protein is such a simple but impactful change. Similarly, staying hydrated throughout the day is essential. It's easy to forget to drink water, leading to dehydration and overeating later on. But by emphasizing these small adjustments, you can lay a solid foundation for long-term success.

  1. Avoiding the Comparison Trap

In today's age of social media, it's easy to compare ourselves to others, especially regarding health and fitness. However, each person's journey is unique, influenced by genetics, lifestyle, and various factors. Comparing ourselves to someone else's highlight reel only adds unnecessary pressure. Instead, focus on progress over perfection and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.

  1. Understanding the Mental Load

Living with ADHD or other neurodiverse conditions adds an extra layer of complexity. The mental load can be overwhelming, leaving many people mentally exhausted by simple tasks. Recognizing and respecting these challenges is crucial. Planning and simplifying daily routines can help alleviate decision fatigue and create space for other activities. By acknowledging and addressing your unique needs, you can navigate your health journey with confidence.

Top Tips for Lasting Success

In Jennifer’s experience, two game-changing tips consistently lead to success for people with ADHD striving for lasting change in their health journey. While they may seem simple, their impact is profound.

  1. Journaling

Journaling is often met with resistance as people assume it needs to be an elaborate, time-consuming task. But that’s not the case - even dedicating just one minute in the evening to self-reflection can have an enormous impact. By reflecting on what worked and what didn't work throughout the day allows you to recognize patterns, make informed choices, and celebrate victories, no matter how small. 

  1. Prioritize Protein with Breakfast

Having protein for breakfast may seem simple, but can make a huge difference, especially for those with ADHD. Protein helps build neurotransmitters and keeps energy levels steady. By prioritizing protein in the morning, you kickstart your day on the right foot, making it easier to handle other food choices later on.

Jennifer’s experience highlights a crucial message for people on a weight management journey with ADHD: there's nothing wrong with you. ADHD is not a life sentence of limitations, but an opportunity to adapt and thrive in your own way. By understanding your neurological differences, embracing your uniqueness, and finding what works for you, you can achieve greater satisfaction, calmness, and success. You don't have to conform to arbitrary diet rules - you have the power to chart your own path to wellness.  


Connect with Jennifer:

Follow her on Instagram

Visit her website

Listen to Jennifer’s podcast: Losing Weight With ADHD