What I Want Others to Know About Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

“Just eat the food. All I am asking you is to try it,” my father badgers me as I stare at my food. I’d consumed my noodles, and there was a bowl of strawberries dangerously close to my plate.

I raise an eyebrow, an internal dialogue going on in my head. Part of me (the part I call Eddie) is telling me I will only get sick and gag if I try to eat the strawberries. I will only get sick the moment that strawberry touches my tongue. The other part of me is saying, “Just taste it, you won’t gag.”

Every single time I’m faced with trying a new food, this internal dialogue runs through my head. I’m hypersensitive to the taste and texture of foods. It is paired with my eating disorder known as selective eating disorder, also known as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. The short version is ARFID. Those who have ARFID can’t just “try new food.” A dialogue, similar to the one I described above, might play through their heads. Imagine going to a restaurant with a five-page menu and finding none of your safe foods. Safe foods are foods people with ARFID feel comfortable with eating because they are familiar with them.

The exact cause of ARFID is unknown. Some believe it is born out of a fear of choking or vomiting. For me, I believe it came from my birth circumstances. Before I was adopted out of Russia at a very young age, the baby food given to me wasn’t good. My parents told me that I was pasty and in general not healthy-looking.

ARFID has only officially been recognized as an eating disorder recently (the DSM-5 addition). It’s not simply “being a really picky eater.” I’m well aware of starving children and am not trying to be “selfish” with my eating choices, so please don’t try to guilt or shame me into eating. I’ll sit there at the dinner table for hours just staring at the food. I’m hungry, but my eating disorder has so much control over me that I simply can’t eat. Picky eaters typically outgrow their picky habits by the time they’re in their twenties. For someone with ARFID, this problem might persist beyond that age range.

From my own experience on social media with groups dedicated to selective eating disorder and ARFID, some people report hypnotherapy works wonders. Some psychologists and psychiatrists also treat this more like an extreme phobia to try to help their patients. It’s possible to get help, but it requires a lot of hard work from the person with ARFID.

I hope people understand that selective eating disorder/ARFID is not just someone being picky. It is a legitimate eating disorder that’s only now getting the attention it deserves from both the media and scientific communities. I also hope someone reading this has a light bulb go off in their head and realizes they, too, are not alone in their eating disorder.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, visit NEDA.org.

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