Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is defined by the DSM-5 as an eating or feeding disorder characterised by a persistent and disturbed pattern of feeding or eating that leads to a failure to meet nutritional/energy needs.
If I have heard it once I have heard it a hundred times. Some kids are just pickier than others, she’ll eat when she’s hungry, she won’t starve herself. Those comments are like nails on a chalkboard for me and that’s putting it lightly. Truth is, I just want to scream at them, Blair has ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) People with ARFID are not picky eaters. They don’t always eat when they’re hungry and you sure as shit better believe that they would rather starve than eat food that is not considered a ‘safe’ food to them.
About Blair – ARFID
Blair is our 4.5-year-old, blonde hair, brown-eyed beauty. She’s child number 3 out of 4, with 2 older sisters and a younger brother. She was 5 days late, and the only kid I had to be induced with. Our biggest baby, weighing 8 lbs and 9 oz, with a head full of dark hair. I nursed her shortly after birth. Not to toot my own horn, but I had successfully breastfed my other 2 daughters well past their first birthdays. So I was pretty much a pro. Toot, toot!
However, my feelings of grandiose were short-lived. I got this strange feeling about 24 hours after Blair was born. That’s when she spit up for the first time. A mother’s intuition is a force to be reckoned with. It’s amazingly powerful. When we become mothers, that spiritual connection that is born with our children, gives us the ability to hone in on all the intricate aspects of our tiny humans. Call it a sixth sense or a gut feeling, many mothers can feel when something is amiss with their child. Mums just know!
I Shut Down My Gut
The first several months of her little life, my mum radar was tuning up. It wasn’t anything huge or major, but she was spitting up, all-day, every day. She hugged the bottom curve of that growth chart by gaining the bare minimum. However, she was so happy all the time, smiling at everyone and sleeping well too. No one else was concerned about her constant spit up, so I shut down my gut. Temporarily of course.
That sixth sense revved back up after 2 horrible reactions to solid foods at 7 and 9 months old. It was her first introduction to purées and it ended in her throwing up profusely for several hours until all of the food was out of her system. A trip to the emergency room and then her pediatrician’s office left us with the blanket statement, “Not all babies are ready for solid foods before they turn 1”. Again, no one was concerned.
My Mums Intuition Just Knew
By the time Blair was turning 1, she was strictly breastfed. She wouldn’t tolerate any solid foods. She would instantly spit out anything that was put into her mouth. Never swallowing anything other than breastmilk. I took matters into my own hands. I sought out help from an occupational therapist (OT) who specialises in feeding difficulties. She told us early on that we were in for a long journey. Feeding issues are tricky and definitely don’t get cured overnight, but I was hopeful we were on the right path. I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to have someone finally listening to me.
Two years in, we were coming up on Blair’s 3rd birthday. We met with a dietician that was recommended by our OT. That was the first time I heard about ARFID. The OT seemed pretty certain that Blair had this fairly new termed, allusive, eating disorder. Although she had started to swallow and tolerate some solid foods, Blair’s diet was extremely limited and her behaviour towards eating was not pleasant, to say the least. Those are 2 hallmark symptoms of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
What Does ARFID Mean For Blair?
ARFID for Blair means a list of 7-10 foods that she deems safe and will tolerate eating. Safe foods are her preferred choices. She wants them at every meal and snack time. Unsafe foods, she will simply not tolerate to even be on her plate. Sometimes it’s a struggle to even get her to the table despite me presenting her with a plate full of safe foods. Then to add insult to injury, sometimes, she will flat out refuse a safe food if it doesn’t look or feel right.
I know what you’re thinking. Can she physically eat things that are “unsafe” to her? Yes, technically, she can, but she won’t. ARFID isn’t about her physically not being able to eat a certain food. As far as we know, there isn’t anything anatomically wrong with Blair prohibiting her from eating most foods. It’s the anxiety (for whatever reason) surrounding food. It’s the way food makes her feel. ARFID is a phobia. And “unsafe” foods scare the absolute shit out of her.
We Always Have To Be Prepared – ARFID Is Always In The Back Of Our Minds & Will Be For A Long Time To Come
If we go to a restaurant, I pack her preferred foods. If we go to a family gathering, I bring things I know she will eat. When we go on vacation, I literally pack a separate suitcase of her safe foods. I set her up for success, especially in social situations. Anything I can do to help ease her anxiety and have successful mealtime.
ARFID can’t be cured but treatment is possible. Like our OT told us over 2 years ago, feeding difficulties don’t get better over night. Blair is still in feeding therapy, she’s still clinging on to the bottom of the growth curve. More than likely, she will always struggle with ARFID.
Do you know what though? She is also super smart and funny. She has a wild imagination and she loves to play pretend, And seriously, she’s so damn cute. Being a parent is freaking hard. There’s so much controversy over every little thing we do or don’t do. All I can say is that when you become a mom, trust your gut, that bitch knows what’s up.
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