How to Improve the Appetite of Your ADHD Child

How to Improve the Appetite of Your ADHD ChildDo you have a child who has recently been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, for which his or her doctor has prescribed stimulant medication as part of an overall treatment plan?  Have you noticed some troublesome or unwanted side effects since your child has been taking the medication, including a loss of appetite?  An ADHD child’s poor appetite can be both frustrating and concerning for parents.  On the one hand, you want your child to continue receiving the benefits provided by the ADHD medication, but you also want your child to eat well and have proper nutrition.  The good news is there are several steps you can take to help ensure that your child continues to receive the medication he or she needs and the resultant benefits of that medication, without experiencing too much appetite loss or nutritional deficiency.

About ADHD Medication and Appetite Loss

There are certain classes of medication for ADHD that are commonly termed stimulants.  Some of these drugs include the very popular Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Adderall, which is an amphetamine-based medication.  According to doctors, in certain cases these stimulant medications can cause some undesirable side effects, including sleep difficulties, anxiety and appetite suppression.

Appetite suppression as a side effect of ADHD medication occurs in approximately 10% to 30% of cases, and according to studies, the presence of this side effect will usually depend on how often the stimulant medication is administered and the strength of the dose.  Appetite suppression is not usually cause for great concern, but if a child’s loss of appetite persists for more than 2 weeks, or if a child loses 5-7 pounds in any given month, parents are advised to contact the child’s doctor who will either change the medication or adjust the current dosage.

Coping with Appetite Suppression in ADHD Children

Appetite suppression as the result of ADHD medication tends to be mild in most cases, and because of this, adjustments to your child’s diet is usually more beneficial than changes to his or her medication.  One recommendation for parents is to ditch the normal schedule of three large meals each day, and instead serve five to six smaller meals throughout the day—meals that are packed with all the essential nutrients children need.  Some of the other guidelines for children with mild appetite suppression include:

  • Opt for Whole Foods.  All the research pertaining to the proper diet for an ADHD child stresses that children should be eating plenty of whole foods, especially when their appetite is mildly suppressed and they’re eating less.  Fresh meats, fruits and vegetables are great whole food sources and should be part of every ADHD child’s diet.  Conversely, processed foods with lots of sugar, salt and artificial coloring should be avoided.
  • Iron-Rich Foods Are Good.  Iron deficiency has been frequently documented as one of the factors that can worsen symptoms in an ADHD child, which is why iron-rich foods, such as meat, eggs and fortified cereal, should be staples in any diet for an ADHD child.
  • Choose Foods Rich in Omeg-3 Fatty Acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids are very beneficial for brain health and proper nerve function.  Foods such as salmon, flax seeds and walnuts are a great source of these healthy fats and will ultimately help to improve your ADHD child’s focus and concentration.

While mild appetite suppression is fairly normal in ADHD children, as a parent you still need to ensure that your child is getting the required nutrients and proper nutrition.  This can easily be accomplished by serving smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, and including whole, and iron-rich foods that have proven both healthy and beneficial in the management of problem ADHD symptoms and behavior.