ARFID: Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

The food anxiety has gotten a lot better. Whereas I previously refused to try anything new for nearly four years out of fear of an anaphylactic  reaction or deleterious digestive problems and joint pain (and probably somewhat due to my tight grip on routine), for the past month, I’ve been tackling this crippling phobia head-on and have made quite a bit of progress. Not only has this progress manifested in a more varied, nutritious diet, but the improvement in my willingness to be brave and start legitimately working toward conquering this anxiety.

I do have avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFD), but unlike the anorexia that nearly swallowed me as a child and adolescent, this is a disordered eating pattern based, for me at least, on substantiated allergies and the reasonable fears that go along with the potential for such severe repercussions, rather than solely a mental health disorder. However, this distinction does little toward allaying my intensely deep disappointment that I still have disordered eating behaviors. The self-critic in me is especially depressed about this because one of my biggest triumphs and things I’m most proud of in my whole life was “defeating” my eight-year stretch of severe anorexia. Research supports that eating disorders are notoriously challenging beasts to wrangle to defeat. Particularly because I was so young when mine began, the eight-year landslide into a clinically-dire level represented such a significant portion of my brief life (50%) by the time I started an honest effort toward recovering. I had no idea how to eat, how to view my body, how to think about eating and my body, etc. because I had been just a kid when I started deliberately, and significantly, restricting. Eight years later, while the disease spiraled into a more and more grave problem, I had no ability to understand a healthy relationship with food and my body. That probably added tens of thousands of feet to the height of the recovery mountain I needed to climb. Therefore, I think beating it was a major personal triumph. The bumpy road was one of the hardest things I’ve ever traversed. I learned so much about myself, maladaptive thinking and behaviors, changing my life, overcoming massive adversities, and the value and fragility of my life that I wanted to capture my story in my memoir to hopefully help other people battling the same formidable affliction.

Now, I feel like a fraud and a failure. Yes, I can honestly say I defeated anorexia; I don’t restrict any food or caloric intake with the goal of depriving myself, losing weight, or altering my body image. Even my body dysmorphia is better. Somehow though, despite the fact that these are still major, life-saving accomplishments, I can’t help but feel so devastated in the fact that I still have eating issues, even if they are quite different and stem from medical issues. I truly feel like an eating-disorder-recovery failure rather than the success story that used to characterize my self-appraisal and self-image.

The only way I can spin this in a more positive direction and stay genuine in my thoughts and feelings is to remind myself that I’m wholeheartedly working on the ARFID and committed to beating the modifiable anxiety/phobia component. (I’ll never be able to eat with reckless abandon because I’m physiologically saddled with such an array of true allergies.) Using my own history as a guide, it’s reasonable to believe I can overcome this disorder, though I hope it’s a bit more final or definitive than was apparently the case with my anorexia recovery. My confidence is bolstered by the drastic progress I’ve made in my food-related mindset, flexibility, and willingness to take the risk to try new foods over the past month. In fact, I’ve astounded myself with my unrelenting pursuit to both diversify my diet and squelch the psychological component of my feeding disorder. Even though I’ve been hammered with a string of very adverse reactions to certain foods I’ve tried in the past month, my determination to plow onward and not retreat to my safe little bubble of comfort foods has been unwavering. As badly as I feel about myself for still having eating issues and not truly being “eating disorder free,” I should feel a near paralleled boost in my self-esteem due to the hard effort I’ve been sinking into this and my bravery to continue when things go poorly. For someone with medical anxiety and chronic health issues as it is, tolerating scary and debilitating reactions with grace, acceptance, and a continued pledge to keep pressing forward is a huge achievement. I can’t change the past nor the factors that have led me to this place, but the future can be shaped by my efforts and hard work.

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