TikTokers like Rachel Levin and Elyse Myers are sharing their 'food hyperfixations,' from brioche to meatballs.
While widely relatable, it's a phenomenon pointedly experienced by people with ADHD.
Viral trends reduce stigma, but can increase the risk of misdiagnosis, said Harvard psychologist Dr. Roberto Olivardia.
In a November TikTok video, Rachel Levin — better known to her 14.4 million YouTube subscribers as RCL Beauty — announced a recurring series to show viewers "how to make my current ADHD hyperfixation foods."
The clip, which has 154,000 views, shows Levin preparing an egg sandwich on brioche with diced onions, fried tomatoes, and a generous shmear of sriracha mayo. Levin's past food hyperfixations have included creamy ramen, eggplant parmesan sandwiches, and water with honey and lemon, she told Insider, but there haven't been any new episodes since November.
"I'll probably do more, but I'm still stuck on that one," she said of the egg sandwich. "I haven't left it yet."
Show your hyperfixation foods to this sound so I can copy them when I go to the grocery store next
♬ My Way - Rachel Levin
Levin, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, is one of many TikTokers chronicling her food hyperfixations — a hashtag associated with 5.7 million views on the app. While widely relatable, it's a phenomenon pointedly experienced by people with ADHD, said Dr. Roberto Olivardia, a psychologist and Harvard professor who specializes in ADHD treatment.
Olivardia has observed food hyperfixation in his practice for years, but only became wise to the hashtag after patients began spotting it on TikTok in recent months.
Olivardia says he's of two minds about the trend. While virality can build awareness and reduce stigma, it can also lead to over- and under-diagonsis of ADHD if viewers self-label based on the presence of a single, popular symptom.
"Influencers have a level of credibility that is equated with medical professionals in popular culture — at least among young people — and that's really wrong," he said. "There's a lot of misinformation."
A repulsion that bookends the fixation
Food hyperfixation occurs in ADHD patients for two key reasons.
Because they struggle with executive functioning, including time management and decision-making, eating the same thing every day can lessen the associated "executive energy" required to make decisions about food, Olivardia said.
Hyperfixating can also create a dopamine boost; people with ADHD often choose foods that are pleasing to the senses.
Food hyperfixation is also characterized by a repulsion that bookends the obsession. This is because people with ADHD habituate quickly to stimuli and get bored more easily, leading to an equal-but-opposite response to the initial fixation. In other words, hyperfixation can lead to hyper-burnout on a food.
@elysemyers oatmeal is out, meatballs are in. #adhdthings #ocd #hyperfixation ♬ original sound - Elyse Myers
That's how the TikToker Elyse Myers, who has also been diagnosed with ADHD, described her meatball obsession last March. "I'll eat it every day until I literally can't stand the smell of it," Myers said in the video, which has 23 million views and touts the hashtag #adhdthings, "so I have to pick something else to obsess over."
Myers declined Insider's request for comment.
In addition to ADHD, food hyperfixation is prevalent in patients with autism and OCD, Olivardia said – though the underlying impetus can be completely different.
"For the most part, people with ADHD are sensory-seekers," Olivardia said. On the other hand, "people on the autism spectrum are more sensory-defenders," which is why they can eat the same meal for years, including bland foods that are easier to chew.
Viral symptoms run risks of overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis
As the diagnosis has entered the greater TikTok lexicon, other creators — including Coty Ryan of Beauty of the Foodie — have shared their food hyperfixations, seemingly without any awareness of the term's medical associations.
Ryan told Insider she just became addicted to a specific bagel preparation.
"Sometimes I'll eat something for a few days, and [a commenter] will be like, 'All right, we're sick of the avocado toast — you're hyperfixating on this,'" said Ryan, who had no idea the term was associated with ADHD or autism. "And I'm like, oh my God, they're right."
Olivardia noted that food hyperfixation may occur in people without any neurodivergenices, including those who are simply strapped for time or money.
Levin, for her part, told Insider that she doesn't make a point of regularly posting about her ADHD online — though she doesn't shy away from the conversation either. She said she's always considered it a superpower of sorts.
"The tunnel vision was perfect when I was editing a YouTube video for 20 hours straight," she said. "I just navigate life with it. I don't move against, it's super awesome."
Read the original article on Insider