“You’re just a fussy eater”, “Stop being awkward”, these are two phrases that I have had to listen to over and over again for most of my life. It’s only recently that I discovered that I actually suffer from something called Selective Eating Disorder (SED) now known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), yet my entire life I have just been told that I am being rude.
Do you have any idea what it’s like to go for a fancy meal with clients and not be able to eat anything on the menu out of fear of not being able to swallow it and being sick? Or, when I was young and I would go round a friends house and their parents would make me a huge dinner and I couldn’t even bring myself to try it?
Yes, that might appear rude but not out of choice. I would love to be one of these people that can eat anything and gets excited by food but it makes me feel anxious and trust me if there was anything I could do to make it magically go away, I would.
According to the NEDA, “ARFID is similar to anorexia in that both disorders involve limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve any distress about body shape or size, or fears of fatness.” While I do have concerns about my weight, it doesn’t trigger my anxiety around food.
AFIRD is a sensory issue with certain foods, for some, it might just be the look of mushrooms or the texture of olives but for people like me, it’s pretty much any food. After spending around 16 years avoiding most foods and pretty much only eating chicken it started to create a severe nutrition deficiency which meant I kept getting ill and my blood cells would struggle to fight it off.
I knew that I needed to start doing something about it or I was going to end up with something seriously wrong with me.
As much as I love chicken (breast only with skin off), I always wished I could find the same amount of enjoyment from other foods but every time I would go to try something new, even something I really wanted to try, I would go into panic mode and my mouth (and gag reflexes) started to work out of sync with my brain.
Take bacon, for example, I hadn’t eaten a single slice of bacon for 22 years of my life. When I was a child, even the smell of it made me want to be sick. After trying it last year, I had to force-feed myself even though I liked it. The next time it came to eating it, I was dreading it, but I knew if I wanted to get over the anxious feeling I had to keep it in my diet. After going through this process about 20 times I am now finally a regular eater of bacon (as long as all the fat has been cut off with meat scissors).
Sushi is another one, I like the look of it. It smells delicious and everyone goes on about how amazing it is and I’m not bothered about the raw fish. Yet every time I get it to my mouth, it’s like I physically cannot open it. It’s like my mouth is saying no but my brain is saying go on. I once managed a tiny bit of vegetable sushi and even though I liked the taste of it, for the life of me I couldn’t swallow it and started to gag.
It’s easy to say ‘blame the parents’ but my parents did what they could to encourage me to eat different foods but no one actually understood that it was something I struggled to control, most people just saw it as being awkward or something I would just grow out of. It wasn’t until I started having therapy for it, people started recognising that I wasn’t actually choosing to be this way.
Over the last few months alone I have been trying very hard to overcome my battle with food, to the point that my Mum nearly fell of her chair when I told her that I now eat spinach and I am slowly getting there. I know it’s not as bad as other disorders or issues people face but for many years I’ve let my fear of food get in the way of everything from going out with friends, going on dates when I was single and I even once turned down the chance to go to China with school because I was too nervous over the food.
So next time you’re cooking dinner for someone and they have a list of strict requirements, or you’re out at a meal and you see an adult eating chicken nuggets, chips and beans (a personal fave of mine). Don’t judge. They would probably love to be tucking into that big juicy steak or chicken chow mein but it’s not that easy for some of us!