If you (or your child) have Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), you may have struggled with how to help others in your life understand this little-known disorder and how profoundly it affects you. ARFID can make eating uncomfortable in social situations if you or a child have ARFID. You may experience people trying to force you (or them) to eat specific foods, experience humiliation, or be tempted to avoid social eating situations altogether.
What is ARFID?
ARFID is an eating disorder that can affect people of all ages. People with ARFID struggle to eat enough in volume or variety, for reasons other than worries about shape and weight. People with ARFID may be very sensitive to different tastes and textures, may have low appetites, and/or may be afraid of the consequences of eating.
Disclosing ARFID to Others
As with any disorder or problem, it’s important to remember that you have the right to share as much or as little information with others in your life as you wish. There may be some people or situations in which you feel more comfortable disclosing information. Conversely, you may determine that in some situations or with certain people it’s better or safer to say nothing about having ARFID.
In larger social situations, sometimes it’s best to grab a plate, put something on it, and try to blend in and look like you are eating something. In smaller settings, it’s common to experience people who insist you eat their food (hello, guilt-inducing grandmother!). If someone really tries to make you eat something, this is inappropriate. You have every right to decline and give whatever reason feels best: “I’m allergic,” “I’m unable to eat that,” “I’ve already eaten,” “I’m not feeling well” (although in the age of COVID, that may cause alarm), or “I have ARFID, an eating disorder that makes it hard for me to eat X.”
Handling Comments from Others and Restaurants
If people comment on your eating or lack thereof—and remember, it’s none of their business—you can politely say, you prefer not to discuss it, that you have an allergy or intolerance, or that you have ARFID. When you do the latter, be prepared to offer a sentence explaining what this means. In the event that people make fun of your food choices or the way your order, you may choose to advocate for yourself and let them know that you have a disorder and that it does not help the situation when people make fun of you.
If you are at a restaurant, are “special ordering”, and are feeling self-conscious about doing so, it’s important to remember that you are entitled to order food that you can eat and that in most cases, wait staff want to be helpful and won’t judge you. You may feel like all eyes are on you. However, remember that most people do not focus on what others are eating.
Getting Support for ARFID
If you have people in your life with whom you eat frequently, you may want to share with them more about your ARFID and the ways they can support you. For example, they may be willing to let you pick the restaurant based on what you feel most comfortable eating. Or they may be willing to let you try a bite of their food if you feel open to it. Or maybe they would be willing to share a few different things so you have more options to choose from.
Some people may continue to be unsympathetic. Hopefully, you will find people in your life who will be supportive. Remember that having ARFID is nothing to be ashamed of.
Learn more about ARFID in children.
Learn more about ARFID in adults.
Get Help for ARFID in California
We provide individual, family, and group therapy for people with ARFID in person in Los Angeles and virtually throughout the state of California. Contact us to learn more about our ARFID therapy and groups.
Also, check out the ARFID Collaborative for additional resources