How to Increase Dopamine With ADHD To Lose Weight

Sustainable weight loss is achieved through long-term habit and lifestyle changes. Without seeing drastic results, it can often feel draining and, well, boring. This is especially true for those of us with ADHD who thrive on novelty and are constantly seeking the next dopamine hit. Discover 9 tips to help make the journey more enjoyable!



Do you have ADHD and struggle with losing weight due to impulsive choices or a need for novelty? Those of us with ADHD often struggle to stick to healthy habits as they often don’t cater to our brain’s reward system, not giving us the dopamine hit we crave. Dopamine is a brain chemical that’s all about motivation and reward, and it’s not doing its job right in people with ADHD. Because of this, often regular weight loss tips might not work when dealing with ADHD. In this post, you will find out how to increase dopamine with ADHD and get a better handle on your weight and overall well-being.

LEARN MORE ABOUT MY WEIGHT LOSS JOURNEY! > How I Lost Over 80lbs: Tips For Starting A Weight Loss Journey


Table of Contents

Why People with ADHD Struggle with Weight Loss

Dopamine Dysregulation and Cravings

Dopamine is the brain’s pleasure chemical. If you have ADHD, dopamine dysregulation can be a significant factor affecting your weight loss journey. Dopamine plays an important role in regulating mood, motivation, reward, and pleasure. Moreover, with ADHD, dopamine levels and function are altered, resulting in dysregulation. Dopamine dysregulation can manifest in various ways, one of which is intense cravings, often for more highly processed foods. These are foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt. Often manufactured this way to hit your brain’s pleasure centers just right, keeping you coming back for more.

Current findings link both obesity and ADHD to the dopamine system and implicate dopamine genes in body weight, eating, and ADHD.

Campbell BC, Eisenberg D. Obesity, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and the dopaminergic reward system. Coll Antropol. 2007 Mar;31(1):33-8. PMID: 17600916.

This can create a vicious cycle where the temporary pleasure of eating these foods reinforces the craving, making it harder to resist in the future. And the more you give in to these cravings, the more your brain becomes wired to seek out those same foods. Perpetuating the cycle of overeating and weight gain.

dopamine cravings

Impulsivity and Food Choices

Impulsivity is a trademark of ADHD and when it comes to food, it can lead to a lot of spontaneous decisions. And those quick food choices are often not-so-healthy. How often have you been all set on eating healthy, but then impulsivity kicks in, and suddenly you’re knee-deep in a bag of crisps or ordering an extra-large pizza? We’ve all been there!

Executive Functioning and Planning

Executive functioning is your brain’s personal organiser. It’s responsible for all the behind-the-scenes work that keeps us running smoothly. However, with ADHD, it’s more like having a cluttered desk with papers scattered everywhere and no clear starting point.. Planning, organising, and managing time can often feel overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting.

For example, sitting down to create a structured meal plan for the week sounds like a simple enough task, right? But for someone with ADHD, it can be a constant struggle. The thought of breaking down meals, grocery shopping, and coordinating cooking times can give you a sense of overwhelm. Or have you ever tried meal prepping with the best of intentions, only to open your fridge a few days later to find a whole bunch of forgotten containers? Yeah, issues with executive functioning can do that. Your brain is on its schedule, almost oblivious to the carefully laid-out plans you had in mind.

person holding pen with coffee on table

Emotional Dysregulation and Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a common experience with ADHD because of emotional dysregulation. Emotions can feel like they’re swinging from high to low in the blink of an eye. These intense emotions, whether it’s frustration, overwhelm, or stress, can trigger a strong urge to seek comfort. And often, that comfort comes in the form of food.

The urge to eat in response to emotional distress can become a coping mechanism. A way to numb the overwhelming feelings or find temporary relief from the chaos swirling in your mind.

Continuing on, here are the nine tips on how to increase dopamine for ADHD.

1. Dopamine-boosting foods and Nutrients

Certain foods have been found to support dopamine production and regulation in the brain. For example, amino acids like tyrosine and phenylalanine are essential building blocks for dopamine synthesis. And, vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, magnesium, and iron contribute to the conversion of these amino acids into dopamine, as well as the overall function of dopamine receptors. By incorporating these dopamine-boosting foods into your diet, you can help maintain good dopamine levels, which may positively impact mood, motivation, and weight management.

Tips for Including Dopamine-Boosting Foods in Your Diet

  • Include lean protein in your meals, like chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, and dairy. These are rich in amino acids like tyrosine and phenylalanine.
  • Aim to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, like bananas, avocados, berries, leafy greens, and vegetables like broccoli. These contain vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, magnesium, and iron.
  • Incorporate whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and healthy fats from sources like nuts, oils, and fatty fish into your meals. These foods provide nutrients like vitamin B6, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

These will all contribute to dopamine synthesis and function.

cooked food on white ceramic plate


2. High-intensity interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval Training (HIIT) has become popular for burning calories in a shorter amount of time. These workouts alternate between periods of intense exercise and brief rest or recovery periods and for people with ADHD, HIIT has advantages beyond just physical fitness. HIIT workouts are dynamic and provide a variety of stimuli, which is helpful if you struggle with attention and focus.

The structured but diverse nature of HIIT workouts can help you stay motivated and reduce boredom. Also, the short duration of HIIT sessions makes them manageable if you have a low tolerance for prolonged exercise.

HIIT has also been shown to have a positive impact on dopamine regulation and cognitive function. The intense bursts of activity during HIIT workouts stimulate the release of dopamine. Increasing your sense of reward, motivation, and pleasure.

3. Novelty and Variety in Exercise

When it comes to exercise, routine can quickly get boring and repetitive, this is especially true for those of us with ADHD as we thrive on novelty and stimulation. Doing the same repetitive workouts day after day can lead to boredom, decreased motivation, and ultimately, disinterest in physical activity altogether. So learning how to increase dopamine production during and after exercise is a great way to activate our reward system and make exercise more fun.

how to increase dopamine

Introducing new and fun physical activities not only keeps workouts fresh and engaging but also taps into the constant need for stimulation that is characteristic of ADHD. Novelty and variety in exercise can spark interest, boost motivation, and help you stay committed to your weight loss goals.

Tips for Incorporating New and Fun Exercises

  • Try a New Sport or Activity: Step outside your comfort zone and try different sports or activities that you’re interested in. Whether it’s rock climbing, dance classes, or paddleboarding, experimenting with new activities caters to our need for novelty.
  • Mix Up Your Routine: Instead of sticking to the same workout routine day in and day out, mix things up by incorporating different types of exercise. Alternate between cardio, strength training, flexibility exercises, and outdoor activities to keep your workouts varied and fun.
  • Take Advantage of Nature: Go for a hike in nature, try mountain biking on scenic trails, or take up kayaking. Being surrounded by natural beauty adds a new sense of intrigue to a workout.
  • Find Active Hobbies: Incorporate physical activity into your hobbies and downtime. Find activities that get you moving and engaged while also providing enjoyment and fulfillment.


4. Mindful Movement Practices

a person standing on a yoga mat on the floor

Mindful movement, like yoga, is a holistic approach to exercise that integrates physical activity with mindfulness and meditation. It has a lot of benefits for mental and physical health, including regulating dopamine levels and improving focus. The slow, deliberate movements and focused attention required in yoga stimulate the release of dopamine. This can help enhance your mood, increase energy levels, and improve concentration. This makes it easier to engage in regular physical activity and stick to your weight loss goals.

5. Structured Meal Timing

Eating meals at consistent times throughout the day helps regulate dopamine release. Regular meal timing will also support stable blood sugar levels, which will help prevent fluctuations in energy levels and cravings for unhealthy foods. Maintaining a structured meal schedule will help manage your appetite, and reduce impulsive eating.

Managing this is harder with ADHD, as we often forget to eat until we’re ravenous and then overeat. Or cooking a healthy meal feels like too much effort. To help with this try some of the below tips:

fruit sandwich on a blue ceramic plate

Tips to Help Stick to a Meal Plan

  • Set Reminders: Use alarms to remind you to eat at regular times during the day. This can help prevent forgetting to eat until you’re overly hungry.
  • Prep Meals in Advance: Prep ingredients or cook meals in advance when you have the time and energy. This way, healthy options are readily available when hunger strikes, reducing the temptation to reach for convenient but less healthy choices.
  • Batch Cooking: Try batch cooking large quantities of meals and storing them in individual portions in the fridge or freezer. This means that you’ll have healthy meals ready to reheat whenever you need them, reducing the effort needed for meal prep on busy days.
  • Keep Healthy Snacks Handy: Stock up on nutritious, grab-and-go snacks like fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, or pre-cut veggies. Having healthy snacks readily available can help curb hunger between meals and prevent impulsive snacking.
  • Simplify Meal Planning: Focus on simple, quick, and easy-to-prepare meals that don’t require too many ingredients and preparation time. Look for recipes that you can make in 30 minutes or less, or find meal kits to simplify the cooking process.


6. Goal Setting and Dopamine Rewards

Setting achievable goals and rewarding yourself for achieving milestones is important for anyone on a health and fitness journey. But with ADHD, it’s even more important as it can have a huge impact on dopamine levels and motivation. The brain’s reward system calls dopamine the ‘reward neurotransmitter’ because it plays a central role, reinforcing behaviors that lead to pleasurable outcomes.

how to increase dopamine

When you set goals and experience success, whether big or small, your brain releases dopamine, creating a sense of satisfaction, pleasure, and motivation. By rewarding yourself for achieving goals, you create a positive feedback loop that reinforces desired behaviors and increases motivation to continue working towards your goals.

Break larger goals down into smaller, more manageable steps or milestones. This makes them less overwhelming and allows you to celebrate progress along the way, keeping motivation high. Choose rewards that are meaningful to you and aligned with your weight loss goals. These could include non-food rewards like a new workout outfit, a mini shopping spree, a day off, or just something that’s fun to you that you don’t get to do much.


7. Sleep Hygiene

When sleep-deprived, your body dysregulates dopamine levels. Leading to more cravings for high-calorie foods, decreased motivation for physical activity, and disrupted appetite regulation. Not getting enough sleep can also impair cognitive function and decision-making, making it harder to resist temptations and stick to healthy habits.

woman laying on bed


8. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation trains your brain to become more attuned to the present moment, reducing rumination and improving attention control. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to regulate your emotions, manage stress more effectively, and have a greater sense of well-being.

To start with, introduce short meditation sessions into your daily routine, starting with just a few minutes and gradually increasing the duration over time. Even short periods of mindfulness can have significant benefits for dopamine regulation and focus.

If sitting still for even a few minutes sounds tortuous, try a walking meditation or active meditation like yoga.

9. Social Support

how to increase dopamine

Studies have shown that social interactions and positive relationships can boost dopamine levels, improving your mood and motivation. When it comes to weight loss, a good support system will provide the encouragement and accountability you need to stay on track. Whether it’s a workout buddy cheering you on at the gym or a friend you celebrate small wins with, social connections can reinforce positive behaviors and make the journey toward weight loss feel less daunting.

How to Increase Dopamine With ADHD To Lose Weight: Conclusion

Managing weight with ADHD needs a more tailored approach that addresses the unique challenges associated with the condition. From dopamine dysregulation to executive dysfunction, there are a lot of factors that can impact weight loss with ADHD.

While following these tips on how to increase dopamine, remember to be patient and compassionate with yourself along the way. Weight loss can be a slow process, and it’s hard for anyone to stick to something long-term, especially if you have ADHD.

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