The Three Legs Of The ADHD Table

adhd foundations exercise nutrition sleep Jan 21, 2023

ADHD condition of the brain that can be thought of as a fundamental way the brain is "wired".  The brain's wiring is much more complicated that the type of wiring that connects a wall switch to a light bulb. The brains wiring is a complex relationship between neurons and neurochemicals.  This "wiring", and particularly the "wiring" that produces ADHD symptoms, can be influenced positively or negatively by what we do.  

Specifically, there are three things that have a particularly profound impact on your ADHD.  I call these three things the three legs of the ADHD table, because when these three things are attended to, and are really dialed in, they form a solid basis for your ADHD symptoms to be at their baseline minimum. 

And a quick spoiler alert: there is actually another leg to this table… I’ll talk about it last.

The cool thing about the legs to this ADHD table is that, at least to a certain degree, we can substantially influence if not completely control the state of these three table legs!  That’s right.  You have the ability to significantly, if not completely control the degree to which your ADHD symptoms will be minimized to their baseline minimum, or amplified to their frustratingly, infuriatingly worst levels.  And, the really amazing thing about this is that stabilizing these three table legs has absolutely NO negative impact on your ADHD superpowers like creativity, or out-of-the box thinking, the way that ADHD medications do in some people.

So, here are the three legs of the ADHD table:

  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep

Each one of these three areas of your life has a profound impact on your ADHD symptoms, because each one of these things has a significant impact on brain chemistry. 

And here is the great part: each of these three are areas that most people have substantial, if not complete control over.  Most of us are fully able to make decisions and take actions that will either strengthen these legs of the table helping to minimize our ADHD symptoms, or make the table legs weaker and consequently amplifying our ADHD symptoms.

Now, I will absolutely acknowledge that there are many people with ADHD who have special circumstances that place one or more of these areas of their life out of their control.  For example people struggling with sleep disorders don’t have complete control over their sleep.  Likewise people with physical or medical limitations that preclude exercise, or with medical issues related to diet and nutrition, don’t have complete control over how these areas of their life play out from day to day.

But even for these people I would say that any efforts they can put into controlling these three legs of the ADHD table will help their symptoms.

I will be writing about each of these areas in detail separately, but if you are looking for some immediately actionable tips, here is a list of one tip for each of the three areas.

  1. Sleep - prioritize your sleep and work on sleep hygiene. Get seven to eight hours of sleep each night and create a dark, disturbance-free environment to sleep in.  And NO screens before bedtime!
  2. Exercise - get exercise every. single. day.  Movement is great and everyone should move at a minimum (walking 5-10K steps a day is a great way to start moving), but movement is not the same as exercise in my mind.  Exercise for ADHD means cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart rate in the 75-85% of your max heart rate for 15-20+ minutes each day.  Running, biking, swimming, rowing, interval training... that's what I think of as ADHD-specific exercise. (And as you have been told a million times before - if you don't currently exercise regularly, have a discussion with your doctor about it to determine where a safe place to start is).
  3. Nutrition - Stop eating sugar.  Read food labels.  If it has sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, or any of the 100 other names for "sugar" in it, DON'T EAT IT.  And stop drinking soda - sugary or "diet" sodas with artificial sweeteners in them.  Drink sparkling water if you like carbonation.  Avoiding sugar (and artificial sweeteners) is probably the number one thing you can do to help your ADHD nutrition-wise. 

Okay, now for the "secret" fourth leg of the table... stress.  There is a lot of stress in your life that you can control, and a lot of stress that you unnecessarily bring on yourself.   Eliminating self-inflicted stress (for example, taking on yet another project or commitment when your plate is already full), and managing the stress you are feeling has a profound impact on your ADHD. 

I'll cover stress in another post. But here is a quick tip to help you avoid creating additional stress in your life:  Stop saying "yes".  Spend an entire day (or several) practicing saying "no" to all new requests for your time and energy.  You can be polite about it, but you may be surprised at how many times your ADHD brain reflexively wants to say "yes" to every new opportunity, regardless of how over committed you already are.


Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

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