I grew up not eating leafy vegetables and certain fruited vegetables (like brinjals), although I love cucumber despite it’s tastelessness. And while growing up, I was made fun of for not touching leafy vegetables on the table, and being selective about the food I eat, and only eat small portions of food. Only several days ago, I was told that I might have (I don’t want to be dramatic, but) Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARIFD), which was in May, recognized as clinical psychiatric disorder by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
I’ve never thought eating habits could be a mental disorder, but apparently, it could.
Typically ARFID is often seen in infants and children, but with growth, the disorder would seem to resolve itself. However, for some children (like me), the food intake disorder persists into adulthood. I still remained inexplainably selective about what I eat.
I tried munching green veggies in every way in adulthood (salads, stir-fried, steamed, mixed, etc) but I couldn’t manage to swallow them, except salad leaves. At one point I fooled people saying I have ‘clorophyllitis‘, a clinical name I made up to explain that I cannot eat leafy vegetables.
Easy signs that might warrant an ARFID diagnosis are as follows:
- difficulty digesting food (I have to eat something heavy before 4PM, or else I’ll be having troubles sleeping at night due to back pain, not sure why is it so)
- avoiding certain colours or textures of food (I got turned off by anything cooked in sambal most of the time, unless it was cooked within my household. I don’t take squishy food either, like squid or oysters, and I have problems with beef although I like lamb)
- eating only very small portions (they know how much rice should I put on my plate. I don’t eat much)
- having no appetite (because sometimes you just don’t want to eat and people don’t understand)
- being afraid to eat after a frightening episode of choking or vomiting (I don’t remember choking or vomiting any food, but I definitely have bad experiences in food I cannot remember)
The DSM-V provides the following diagnostic criteria for ARFID:
A. An eating or feeding disturbance (e.g., apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food; concern about aversive consequences of eating) as manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs associated with one (or more) of the following:
a. Significant weight loss (or failure to achieve expected weight gain or faltering growth in children).
b. Significant nutritional deficiency.
c. Dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements.
d. Marked interference with psychosocial functioning.
B. The disturbance is not better explained by lack of available food or by an associated culturally sanctioned practice.
C. The eating disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and there is no evidence of a disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced.
D. The eating disturbance is not attributable to a concurrent medical condition or not better explained by another mental disorder. When the eating disturbance occurs in the context of another condition or disorder, the severity of the eating disturbance exceeds that routinely associated with the condition or disorder and warrants additional clinical attention.
I don’t know about anyone else who had the same food intake problems as I am, but I know that sometimes, making fun of our eating habits can be a personal form of bullying (although sometimes I try not to care as much). We would feel as if we are missing out on something good, we would always feel some sort of nutrient deficiency, we would feel that we will never be healthy, and we could never do anything to fix these because we just simply couldn’t swallow it. In the end, we would avoid eating with people.
Often times when people made fun of my choice of food, I would remind myself it doesn’t matter what food you take as long as you know how it affects you. People might make fun of you for not eating leafy vegetables, but these people also took fatty unhealthy food that you’d avoid. These people might also avoid the nutritious fruits that you love, and remember that different choices of food doesn’t qualify one to make fun of another.
Be grateful everyday of the food you eat, and value the food that you receive in your body. You don’t have to eat what other people eat, as long as you know that it is best for your body.
For more reading on Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: http://eatingdisorder.org/blog/2013/08/what-is-arfid/