Living With an Eating Disorder That Isn't Anorexia or Bulimia
"Stop being so picky!" and "Just try this food, it's no big deal" are words I've heard for almost my entire life, mainly from relatives and friends. During my toddler years, I ate everything my parents fed me, which included stuffed shells, eggs, and tacos. Around the time I was 3-years-old, I stopped being open to trying new foods and no longer ate some of the foods I used to like. My diet mainly consisted of peanut butter sandwiches (with no crust) and chicken nuggets. Over the past few years, my horizons have opened more, but I still don't eat vegetables, foods from other countries, and a majority of other things.
For the longest time, I thought I was alone with having this problem. I knew I wasn't purposely trying to restrict myself from trying new things, but mentally and physically I couldn't bring myself to do it. I've always had anxiety when people present me with new foods and try my hardest to not have the food in my mouth or anywhere near it. A few weeks after I started Buddy Project, I began searching things to find out if anything came close to my eating problem and finally found my answer: Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).
ARFID is an eating disorder that was added to the most recent version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This disorder is characterized by behavior that doesn't fit the criteria of other eating disorders but still causes problems with eating. People with ARFID usually don't consume enough food to give them the sufficient amount of calories and nutrition that they need. Some people with ARFID will not grow as much as expected and might need vitamins or other supplements to help them consume the nutrients they're missing out on.
Whenever I am questioned about my eating habits, I just want to say, "I have an eating disorder." I'm not confident enough to tell everyone those exact words yet, so I usually settle with, "I'm a picky eater." I feel like people won't believe me if I say that, since it isn't anorexia or bulimia. Eating disorders are not just disorders that make you obsess over your weight, they are any disorder that causes your diet to stray from the norm. A majority of people with ARFID do not care about their weight but instead care more about the food going into their mouths.
ARFID involves any of the following things: difficulty digesting certain foods, avoiding certain colors or textures of food, eating only very small portions, having no appetite, or being afraid to eat after a frightening episode of choking or vomiting. It's not "pickiness." Because of their eating habits, people with ARFID might feel anxious around classmates, friends, or family when eating meals or will completely avoid eating around others in fear of being judged. Having ARFID can even lead to other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
If you think you or someone you know is suffering from ARFID—or any other eating disorder—don't be afraid to speak up. Whether it's a parent, physician, or the National Eating Disorders Association Hotline, the first step to recovery is simply asking for help.
By Gabby Frost, 18