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How Forgetting to Eat Could Be a Sign of ADHD

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When I tell people that I’m diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they usually nod in understanding despite the fact that they most likely have no idea what that means. ADHD is a common disorder, yet most of the people around me still have the misconception that the diagnosis just means, “That girl can’t pay attention well.” It actually means so much more.

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What many people don’t know is that while ADHD might technically be defined as an attention disorder, many times, that’s not how symptoms show up. For many, they show up by being annoyingly fidgety, too impulsive or not understanding social cues. Most people don’t know about hyper focus, which is when an individual pays a little too much attention to one task. They don’t know just how easily distractible we are. And, I’ve found that a lot of people don’t know that forgetting to eat is a symptom of my disorder.

In recent days, it has come to my attention that neurotypical people remember to eat. They get hungry and they just…get food. It sounds so logical and simple. However, for many of us in ADHD-land, that process doesn’t exist for a multitude of reasons.

For example, if I’m in the middle of a task and get hyper focused, I’ve lost contact with my bodily sensations. I don’t know if I’m thirsty, I don’t know if I’m hungry, and, to be honest, I don’t even know if I have to go to the bathroom until it’s an emergency. During hyper focus episodes I am completely engrossed in whatever task my mind has decided to finally commit to– even if it’s entirely useless. That means that I often will forget to eat until I break out of the hyper focus or someone pulls me out and tells me it’s time to move onto another task.

Then, another example involves my complete inability to commit to most tasks due to distracting stimuli around me. By distracting, I don’t mean something with bright lights or glitter. It could be anything. Maybe I’m on my way to get lunch, but then I notice I left my coat out. So, I go to hang up my coat. Then, I see my shoes and remember I need to take my dogs out, so I do that. I’ll then get inside and completely forget I have to eat because I got distracted from my goal, so I’ll sit down to return to my work or hobbies.

After a few minutes of this, I might remember, “Oh, shoot! I was about to get something to eat.” Sometimes, I’ll even get to the fridge. But anything could deter me, even when I’m that far in. If I get a text? I’m gone. I need to reply to the text immediately or I’ll forget someone texted me and never reply, which would make me a bad friend. As I’m replying to the text, naturally, I’ll see all of the other notifications on my phone and get engrossed in one of those apps. Before I know it, I’m back in my office or on my couch forgetting to eat again.

This symptom is so common for us ADHD-ers, yet no one I talk to ever seems to know about it. Just to be clear, it’s not that I don’t want to eat. I actually have quite the appetite. The world is just so distracting that food doesn’t become a priority. Then, before I know it, it’s 5:00 p.m. and I realize I’ve lived off of caffeine and my morning meds all day, as I ponder why I’m so irritable and where that excruciating headache came from.

When I say the neurotypical mind amazes me, I truly do mean that the neurotypical mind amazes me. I love who I am and how my own mind works, but when I hear that most people can remember to eat without having a rigid schedule or husband nagging them to do so is baffling. Like, neurotypical people can go to the fridge and not get completely and utterly derailed by a coat that’s not hung up or the text they just got. They can say, “I’ll do it later,” and actually do it later. The entire thought process is mind-blowing to me.

I have to wonder if my inability to carry out tasks like “eating” are just as baffling to neurotypical people as their thought processes are to me. Either way, I’ve accepted that it’s a part of who I am. I have to remember that my schedules are in place for a reason and my husband lovingly nags me out of care. I’ve accepted that side quests often become my main story, and if I’m not careful I will lose an entire day’s goal due to the distractions around me. It’s just another “quirk” that comes with living with ADHD that I have to cope with. Luckily, I’m learning how to do that pretty well.

Lead image courtesy of Getty Images

Originally published: April 1, 2021
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