ADHD Non-MEDS: Mindfulness, Exercise, Diet, and Sleep

Many with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are looking for solutions that don’t involve medications. Some time ago, I had the opportunity to talk about this subject with ADHD coach Brett Thornhill who also has ADHD and can speak from both personal and professional experience.

We know that, for some people, treating ADHD with medication is not the answer for whatever reason, maybe adverse side effects or allergies or just personal preference. In any case, Brett began looking for other strategies to manage ADHD and came upon the idea of a non-medication model. He identified the four best non-medicine solutions out there. With a bit of irony, he created an acronym for his non-medication model, which is MEDS: Mindfulness, Exercise, Diet, and Sleep.

In our discussion, we talked about the benefits of MEDS and why so many are not taking advantage of their benefits as much as they could. We also talked about strategies to help you utilize MEDS more successfully to get you moving forward. Watch our video to learn more.

Video Transcript:

Jeff Copper: Welcome everybody to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, ADHD and Attention Coach, Jeff Copper. We’re here today with Brett Thornhill with a fantastic insight and context for those out there in the ADHD world. Brett, welcome to the show.

Brett Thornhill: Thanks very much Jeff. I appreciate you having me.

Jeff Copper: You’re a very creative and clever guy, which is the cool part about working in the ADHD community because there’s a lot of people there that are real clever and creative. And you came up with this concept MEDS, not medication, but the other MEDS. Can you just walk us through what that is and then we’ll talk about the components?

Brett Thornhill: Yeah, absolutely. So, for a variety of reasons, sometimes personal reasons, people choose not to treat their ADHD with medications. Sometimes medication doesn’t work, it tends to be not effective on roughly about 20% of the population. There may be adverse side effects, whatever. So I started thinking about, okay, so other strategies for teaching, for other strategies for managing ADHD, what could they include? And the more I thought about them, the more I thought, okay, so there’s another kind of MEDS here. And I created an acronym called the non-medication MEDS model. And MEDS stands for mindfulness, exercise, diet and sleep, which are for incredibly crucial elements of any ADHD management strategy.

Jeff Copper: It’s funny because, as you say that, you begin to go out there and look at all the books and all the buzzwords around, and almost anything that’s non stimulant medication, in one sense falls back into that. I mean coaching, there’s a little bit of, it’s not a mindfulness practice, but it’s actually pausing and thinking about what you do. And exercise, I’ve interviewed Dr. John Ratey before. That’s probably the single greatest thing that a person can do. Sleep is actually really, really important. And diet is really, really important as well, because if the biological mind isn’t fueled correctly then it’s not going to work properly. So, I just think it’s interesting how it all falls into place real nice and neatly into that MEDS formula.

Brett Thornhill: Absolutely, there’s no doubt about it. And, even for someone who is able to take traditional stimulant medication, these elements can still play a crucial role in their management strategy because they will enhance, they will add to the effectiveness of the medication. They can sometimes replace the medication when it may not be convenient to take the medication, or, it’s a great supplement regardless. And to be honest with you, whether you have ADHD or not, these are four very important elements to leading a productive and happy life, I think, so.

Jeff Copper: Oh, absolutely. I mean, when I reflect back on all the experts in everything that I’ve read, almost everything falls in that. And again, the experts agree across the board, these things are spectacular. The one thing about these things is it’s there, and you said you can do it even if you’re taking stimulant medications, these things are important. And it’s interesting to me, because those that are on, they kind of work together a little bit because stimulants, as I’ve described, people, they don’t tell you what to pay attention to and they don’t get you organized. They enable you to sustain focus longer on something that you would struggle with. And each one of these things, I think, is really powerful. But meditation or mindfulness, if you will, is, you need a sustain focus. Sometimes it can be boring, or exercise can be boring, and sleep can be boring, et cetera.

So, it’s one of those things, that is a challenge for those with ADHD to execute these things because it requires a level of self-regulation and attention. It’s good for you, but I think it’s interesting because these, if you take the medications can help you sustain focus and facilitate those a little bit longer. But still, if you focus hard on it, you don’t necessarily have to take the medications for that to work. So, I like that as a demarcation is, it’s a tried and true recipe, but it does take a little bit of effort and discipline to adhere to it because it’s not necessarily the most exciting stuff. You got any thoughts on that?

Brett Thornhill: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and I think, that’s where the idea of progress not perfection comes in. I mean, when I deal with my clients and we talk about these four elements, mindfulness, exercise, diet and sleep, I think what I stress to them more than anything else is that you’re not striving here to be a world class athlete. You’re not even striving to be a fantastic athlete. You’re striving to get some exercise. Walking is exercise. You can walk your dog. You can walk with your spouse. You can walk with your kids.

So, I think it’s a matter of degrees here, and as long as people understand that, if you make any progress along either one of these, or if you start to improve your level of mindfulness, if you start to exercise even just a small bit every day, if you start to pay attention to your diet and you start to reduce or eliminate eventually simple carbs and increase your protein, if you pay attention to your sleep and your sleep hygiene, and really kind of think about it, this is where some of these can crossover.

If you can be mindful of your sleep. So if you can practice metacognition when it comes to your sleep, and your sleep habits and your sleep hygiene, all of these things together, any improvement in any of these areas can make a significant difference. And if they’re practiced on an ongoing basis you will get better at them. So what I do tell people is, think of this as some sort of an endeavor that you would practice, whether it be public speaking, a sport a skill of any type. And if you take that mindset, and you celebrate and you acknowledge the small gains that you make in these areas, I think we can all improve here.

Jeff Copper: Yep. You put that so very well and so articulately in the way that you use your creativity to kind of boil it all down to this really simple formula, which I really think, the whole purpose of this is to share this with the world, you had come up with it. It’s a great idea and it’s a great context to kind of put anything in. So with that, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you coming on the show.

Brett Thornhill: Thanks very much. Again, thanks very much for having me. It’s always a pleasure, Jeff. And anytime I can lend a hand or I can offer any sort of insight, I’m happy to do so. It’s always great to talk to you.

Jeff Copper: I certainly appreciate it. Everyone out there, if you would, please subscribe to our channel by hitting the button below. Weekly, we release tips like this one on Attention Talk Video. Also, please make comments. We learn a lot and we’re very inspired on our content with that. So, with that, I hope you enjoyed this edition. Take care.


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