ARFID in my experience

I’m writing this article because I am often prompted to explain my eating disorder, and this will give people in my life better understanding of how it works for me. Maybe it will help others.

In no way is this version of experience representative of everyone’s.

This article discusses my experience with an eating disorder in depth.

ARFID, or, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, (formerly/AKA SED, Selective Eating Disorder) is also called adult picky eating. But it’s more complicated and serious than simply not liking a lot of foods.

For me, it means that if given the option between starving or eating a food that isn’t a Safe Food™ I would rather starve. I have often done this in fact. I often go days, when I eat one meal of the same thing each day, since I only have one safe food at the time, which is too expensive. And it’s seen by some as weird to eat at the same place more than once a day. Some times I have ended up (intentionally or unintentionally) fasting for a couple days. This also happened with pizza for a while when I was homeless last summer and realized that reheated pizza isn’t a safe food once it gets to that point anymore.

My safe foods list often fluctuates in size. I remember the first time I got a piece of scrap construction paper (I’m an artist, or whatever) and a pen and. wrote down a list of safe foods.

I didn’t see myself as having an eating disorder at the time, because none of the listed disorders when I researched seemed to make any sense. Why research and try and find treatment when I’m perfectly fine with accommodating my own avoidance of certain foods?

The first list had 47 dishes on them. Most of them were single items, grapes, apple cinnamon oatmeal, etc. There were probably under 5 things that would qualify as a meal that were on the list.

The list size and what is on it fluctuates.

This depends on a lot of different factors, but for me it largely depends on how well I’m mentally doing otherwise. If I’m really depressed or triggered by something (regardless of its relevance) then my safe foods list will shrink, usually to only one or two things that I can eat. Often my go-to safe foods are pizza (surprisingly there’s a wide variety of toppings I can eat) or McDonald’s chicken nuggets.

This often looks weird and unbelievable to a lot of people who have been taught that all eating disorders revolve around body image. My safe foods are often bizarrely specific, unhealthy, or a snack that I will treat as a meal. (And eat a meal-like quantity of.)

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got body image issues. But it doesn’t affect the fact that I just plain can’t eat peanuts, or steak.

The best summary I can give of my own personal experience is that just some foods are things I don’t consider food. Eating steak to me would be like eating wood. It doesn’t even repulse me, it just doesn’t compute as being edible.

“So you were abused? How does that affect it?”

Growing up I was not permitted to eat in the presence of other people when those other people were my immediate family members. I was told that there was something inherently disgusting about me and the way that I eat, that it’s loud, animalistic, that I “unhinge my jaw”, that I am a pig, that I should just hide from others if I eat.

Since then I’ve only had a few people criticize or police my eating habits, and all of those people have been abusive and I have done my best to burn those bridges.

I rarely disclose that aspect of my abuse to others because people usually go to reassure me that what they said to me is bullshit. That how I eat is no different from others. But I feel uncomfortable with this because I am drawing attention to how I eat.

I still don’t know about direct correlation. What the connection is, what happened there that made my eating habits so bizarre.

What I’ve theorized so far, is that growing up with those abusive words ingrained, it made me concerned that I would die if I didn’t eat those certain things. (My safe foods, with exceptions, have stayed mostly the same over the years.) It also gave me an inability to feel comfortable exploring different foods and trying new things, especially if I didn’t have experience and knowledge on how other people eat them and thus how to train myself to be eating ‘okay’ in the eyes of others.

I’m not sure. I don’t really understand, and I have yet to meet a medical or psych practitioner who heard of ARFID before my teaching them about it.

It only just showed up in the 2011 DSM, after all.