It took me 28 years...
To learn that I have an Eating Disorder, and I wasn't just fundamentally flawed. That other people also struggle with this daily, unrelenting anxiety preventing them from enjoying holidays, going out, and basically any activity that involves food, (which is a lot if you live in the US.)
But before I dive into it - lets start with the basics - "What is ARFID?"
if you ask Google, they will tell you;
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder: People with ARFID are extremely picky eaters and have little interest in eating food. They eat a limited variety of preferred foods, ARFID is often the result of implicit trauma… meaning a trauma that is stored in the body, rather than in the mind. It might result from trauma that occurred when the child was a baby in utero, at birth, infancy, early childhood, or from a medical condition or procedure.'
+ ARFID is reported to be particularly comorbid with psychiatric disorders, including autism, ADHD, and anxiety disorders.
Ultimately, this ED is rarely talked about, not widely studied, and has no known cure or proven treatment. Its not something I'd wish on anyone.
As far as the medical community is concerned - if you have ARFID, well, it sucks to suck. And no one cares to talk about the only eating disorder that's isn't based on body dysmorphia. Aint that a bitch? To finally have a NAME for something I have suffered with my entire life was incredibly validating, only to then learn that there is still nothing I can do about it that I'm not already doing. But its a start, and maybe someone out there will read this blog and know they aren't alone either.
I have been labeled with this negative term as long as I can remember. As a child, I didn't know why my body reacted the way it did to certain textures, overwhelming flavors, or new foods. But I did understand that every time my mom took us to a friends house, she was mortified with my eating habits. I understood that the term Picky Eater wasn't a positive one. I understood that something about me, was different than everyone else. Over the course of my childhood, I tried every method I could think of to hide it, and get through meals without anyone commenting, or without gagging uncontrollably. In fact, I got so used to swallowing my own throw up that I can do it without expression. But eventually, I turned to easier tactics like pretending to fall asleep so I wouldn't have to eat, hiding foods in my napkin, or in my room (where Id dispose of it the next day). Anything to avoid the embarrassment and shame I felt every time I sat at a table, and make myself as small and unnoticeable as possible. Meals became something I had to endure, rather than something to enjoy.
I was born and raised in Kona, Hawaii - a small town mostly known for coffee and fishing and slow island life. Most of my peers love laulau, spam, sushi, kalua pork etc - basically all of Hawaiian cuisine is outside my 'safe foods' list. I have always refused meat + fish of any kind - despite peoples' attempts to sneak them in my meals (a very healthy F-U to those of you that did that btw) - So as a lifelong vegetarian, you can imagine I was already on an uphill battle. I was one of three kids in class that needed to bring lunches from home, because I couldn't stand the smell of the cafeteria foods at school. You could NOT convince me the food making THAT stench, was edible.
Did you know that if you have never eaten meat, the aroma from it actually smells different to you than someone who eats meat regularly? To me, it smells like rotted flesh, whereas to the person likely reading this, you smell the seasonings and flavors your body wants and craves.
Same food - two different reactions.
As you might imagine, I was not exactly popular growing up, besides the home lunches - my lack of fashion sense, hermione hair and horse obsession didn't land me with a lot of friends. So, every invite for a sleepover was always super exciting, but for every bit of anticipation I had there was always a shadow of fear behind it. I never went to a friends house and didn't think about that they might be serving for dinner. Would it be vegetarian? Would it have onions? What if I throw up at the table, what if they can tell...How can I make an excuse to eat as little as possible? Every. single. time I needed to come up with a game plan until I got so used to them, that it felt like a scripted scene. My stomach often hurt or was cramping, I had eaten something earlier, I was nauseous - any excuse you can think of, I have used. If I was there often enough, my friends families would eventually catch on and make a side dish that was Jazmine friendly. And while the gesture is kind, and I did appreciate them, it always felt like someone just put a magnifying glass on me. Like I was an absolute pain in the ass, or something parents point to as a life lesson, generally just mortified every time.
It was like looking my ED in the face and feeling shamed without anyone saying a word.
I cant recall how often I was told I would die young because of my diet, or that I should be dead already - from adults to a ten year old.
I still think about those words - and sometimes wonder if I am like Ellie from The Last Of Us, just a walking miracle that is, but shouldn't be, existing. Ask me for my diet advice and I will tell you I eat plain cheese pizza and chips every day - if looks could kill, I'd be dead from that long before dying of a lack of nutrition.
A is for ARFID
Until my late teens, I stayed within my safe foods consisting mostly of breads, junk food, potatoes, pasta and pizza. Once I had learned I liked caesar salad when I was 15 - that was all I ordered at restaurants for years. By 18 - I worked my way up to trying cream cheese for the first time, and shortly after, Pesto made it on my safe list as well. When I was getting to know my husband Cash a year later, he proudly told me of his accomplished cooking career - and I felt that familiar sting of panic. 'Oh great, he's gonna dump my ass' definitely crossed my mind. After all, I had been told early on that my eating issue was going to 'keep me from getting married'- who would want to eat pasta every day with me for a lifetime?
There are a few foods that are absolutely never approved by cooperate, and one of them is soup. I like my liquids in cups, and my solids dry on my plate. Soup just doesn't fit in either category, and it's one of the foods that I have a hard time masking my distaste for. Cash, being who he is, wanted to make a gesture - and show off - by making me a surprise meal from scratch. Which is basically my worst nightmare. He proudly dishes up a healthy plating of some kind of tofu / miso soup and sets it in front of me.
Mentally, Im doing gymnastics; dont fuckin do it. you better swallow at least half of it---- do not fuck this up.
He watches me take a tiny sip or two and gulp it down with the face of someone who thinks they are pulling off a fake smile - but isn't at ALL. I tell him I liked it, to which he replied 'you hate it and its okay" - or something along those lines.
No one has ever given me permission to not like something before.
This man was marriage material, and would become instrumental in my progress of adding more food to my diet.
This gesture seems small, but it was momentous for me. It told me in that moment, that this person was a safe place, that he saw this undesirable, uncompatible, frustrating quirk of mine and understood how to hold space for it.
More of that energy is needed in the world.
There are little holidays that don't involve a special meal, from Cinco de mayo, 4th of July BBQs, to the dreaded Thanksgiving Dinner. I never thought I would grow into the adult that mopes around during Thanksgiving, but the older I get, the less I want to participate. The more I detest the idea of sitting at a table filled with massive amounts of food that make me want to gag, while being scrutinized over how much, and what, is on my plate. Give me a bag of chips, and a joint - and I'd be just as happy as yall who spent hundreds of dollars + days of cooking, for this one holiday that - by the way - celebrates genocide. I get real judgey at the store around the holidays, watching the public fill their carts with meat and gravy and fatty foods, 9half of which will get tossed] and leaving the shelves empty. The very holiday that celebrates giving, I see more taking and hoarding in preparation for, [and soon thereafter with Black Friday. ]Meanwhile over half the world starves and battles over resources, as we gleefully gorge ourselves and over glorify the comfort foods we grew up on. Im sorry, but stuffing CANNOT be that great. I guess i wouldn't know though, since i've never cared to try the soggy bread crumbs myself.
I know what you're thinking "But its about spending time with family and friends"
and sure , that's great, I don't hate a party. In fact, I still attend and have a good time despite my deep seated resentment, because my husband deserves to enjoy holidays even if I have to find a way to get through it - thank god for alcohol.
But I never understood why we needed to create an excuse to spend time with friends anyway. Even if I manage to find a way out of going to a Friends/Thanksgiving party - and feeling shame for not bringing a home cooked meal, I trade it for feeling like the asshole who hates joy and declines the invite. Its a lose / lose situation for me and that is vastly why I ask not to be invited at all. Not because I don't value quality time or a thoughtful meal - but because it is just mentally and emotionally taxing.
I can almost guarantee that a lot of us ARFID adults are the same ones who were forced to sit at the table until we ate enough food to satisfy our frustrated parents. Told to eat what was made or starve - and that, ladies and gentleman, is how you train a child to develop an ED. Because I can tell you, I'd rather starve than choke down chunks of food and vomit, that I'm now so comfortable eating as little as possible, really one meal a day is perfectly fine. I can go hungry for a few days no problem. I get 'horrified looks from everyone in the room' when I tell people I am not a foodie, and I will order fries at every taco tuesday I'm invited to.
Its really fascinating once you start to think about how food is so intricately woven into our society and culture.
Once you find yourself removed from it all, you begin to see it as a phenomenon.
Like you are the only sane person able to see the nonsense of it all - and everyone else are the weird ones.
"What do you want to eat"
Oh lord - if you ever had that age old argument with your partner on where to go for dinner - imagine it 1000x worse for someone with ARFID paired with a chef. I cant say "You pick, I don't care etc" because the fact is, I DO care. But I also don't want to draw attention to my ED and be the person to suggest the same three restaurants in town. To force my husband to only go to bars and Italian places for all of eternity when he used to cook for celebrities and say things like 'Amuse Bouche" while serving gelatin squares in tiny portions on big square plates. The fact is, even if we do go to our familiar local pub, if they even make a slight change to the menu - I will notice and it will be a make or break for me. I have legitimately ruined date night because they stopped serving hand cut fries and went to frozen, or started cutting them thicker than I like, or god forBID - only serve waffle fries. Who even likes waffle fries anyway?
No place is safe unless its consistent, which unfortunately, if you live in Hawaii can be few and far between.
There have been days where I sit and order just a drink while he eats - which is perfectly normal and not at all uncomfortable in public.
Or days we each eat completely different dinners and meals altogether because I cannot budge.
If you are reading this and thinking to yourself that I sound like a pill - listen, I am. But I am also really funny, so, there are redeeming qualities, okay?
One of the ways we have combatted my ARFID when it comes to going out - besides therapy - is finding common foods that I do like for each type of food genre. Until I met my husband, I couldn't have walked into a thai place and found something I would order. Five years ago indian food would have been out of the question, and now I crave it (specifically Paneer tiki masala) but the point being, there's progress. We order one new item (often foods Cash thinks I would like knowing my palate) and I would, for the sake of my relationship, try the thing- not a tiny bite but genuinely try it. I can now confidently enjoy at least one Thai, Japanese, Indian, Mexican + Italian dish. Which means, when we are out with friends, I no longer have to have a panic attack when someone picks a spot to eat.
I don't have to order food I didn't want to-go, and then throw it out the next day just to pretend to look normal - or at least not as often.
I know there will be at least one something for me - which while limited, feels like a 10,000 weight has been lifted.
Since I have never eaten meat. I've never fully understood the hype around things like bacon and chicken wings, but if its anything close to the deliciousness of my main food group - french fries - then I get it. I have often wondered to myself which mats I might like, if I didn't suffer from ARFID and those would probably be the things I tried first. One rare occasion my stomach growls to the smell of cooking bacon, and I have to remind myself that my body would not know what to do with that food, or how to break it down - I would get so sick. Sometimes I tell people I am allergic just so they stop pestering me about my diet and askin 'hOw WiLL yOu gEt EnOuGh PrOtInE' - worry about your own B12 levels, Karen, thanks.
One day, Cash was working on a dish in the kitchen, and I noticed he was using cauliflower - something up until that point, I hadn't tried and wouldn't normally be willing to. But I also noticed he had the deep fryer going, so - how bad can it be?
I let my mind release its grip on what he was making while casually getting plates ready and cleaning up to prepare for a relaxed evening. Once we sit down, Cash places the food in front of me and to my delight and surprise, it was deep fried, vegetarian wings!
I cannot tell you how meaningful it felt, to experience this one common dish for the first time. I recall telling him 'OMG its like Im NORMAL" For the first time ever, I felt like a part of the majority. And now, I almost always have a head of cauliflower in my fridge because its my favorite vegetable.
One thing I recall being told often as a kid was that it was absolutely not okay to ask for a restaurant to adjust an item to fit your dietary restrictions. That if you did, the bill would be higher or worse - the chef will spit in my food. Honestly, this is why I love the sharing of information and awareness of restrictions that we have today. Because now, as an adult, I rarely think about holding back my request to hold the mushrooms, or the chicken, or whatever. Especially since I am in the habit of looking up every restaurants menu days before we go and figure out what I am going to order. But that doesn't mean I haven't still had issues with this, most commonly, when I travel.
One area that remains to be heavily centered to the side of meat eaters is on airlines. I recently read a headline about a vegan passenger who'd asked for a vegan breakfast as his meal of choice on a long ($1500) flight, and they were handed a banana. The common theme I read in the comments made me sick - one of them read something like "They deserve to starve" "Your choices have consequences" "Lets starve all the vegans out!" " I wouldn't have given them anything - they don't deserve special treatment!" I saw such immense hatred for someones basic diet choice.
Can we keep in mind that what someone eats is literally none of your business, and does not warrant being treated with any less value as a person, than you. Just because someone chooses not to eat meat or dairy. doesn't automatically mean the yare judging you for doing so, or even care. I have been to countless bbqs, events, cafeterias, etc where meat was the main dishes and never once told someone they should change their diet to accommodate me or my morals. I haven't witnessed any vegan or alternative dierter shame meat eaters in the almost 30 years Ive been alive
(yes, I know yall are out there - and you're making life harder for us).
But, I HAVE been scoffed at and gotten snide remarks from meat eaters as soon as they learn I'm a vegetarian. As if my very existence is a threat to their entire personality. Man, I just want to eat this bagel in peace and not starve during every plane ride I've ever been on, is that too much to ask?
How hard can it possibly be, to offer a cheese sandwich, side salad, or bagel on a 7 hour flight? Hawaiian Airlines I'm specifically talking to you. It is absolutely ridiculous that I am expected to accept that almost 50% of the population is vegan/vegetarian/GF at this point, and yet, you STILL haven't figured out how to accommodate passengers that are paying you almost 2 grand. There is no way a bagel is more expensive to provide than a pork sandwich. But I had the pleasure of fucking around - and finding out- the last time I flew with yall.
When I flew to Berlin I was worried I would have a hard time finding food that I would enjoy. I packed my carry full with lots of snacks to make sure I would be able to eat as I traveled. But I was so pleasantly shocked when Turkish Air places a tray of vegetable Penne pasta, fruit, a side salad and chocolate in front of me. I told my flight attendant how happy that made me considering my last experience, and you know what they said? "We serve vegetarian because this way, everyone can be accomodated."
Everyone. Imagine that.
It is easy, for a meat eater to skip meat on one or two meals and still have the option to have filling, whole foods to eat. Yall wont starve. However, reverse the roles and it's quite the opposite. Most of us have good reasons not to partake in consuming meat (that have nothing to do with you) and usually, doing so would result in a negative physical reaction. Yet we are the ones punished and ridiculed and forced to make alternative plans. I would never tell someone they are a lesser person, and deserve to starve, because they eat meat. But somehow, its perfectly acceptable to tell me that.
We are the ones suffering in silence. I long for a day that travel shifts for us in this way, where diets aren't somehow political. In fact, there were so many options for me in Europe, its a main reason I want to expat someday. I never once felt judged for my choices, no side glances, no special treatment necessary.
To feel as free as yall do on a daily basis - is something I literally dream about.
I am not here to tell you how to treat your ARFID - or to diagnose you.
I am just sharing a brief glimpse of my personal journey with it, and recognize how this bleeds into so many intricacies of my life. I have looked into psychiatry, 12 step programs, and even hypnotherapy. Nothing is a proven cure. Every time I've been asked what I'd do with three wishes from a genie - Not having ARFID is always the first one. I would do anything not to have this disorder - except eat.
The only way I have been able to battle this ED is trough taking charge of my own cooking. Some of you who follow me on the gram remember a time where most of my content was cooking related. I know that if I make the dish, I will like it, and if I make it enough times to perfect the recipe - I might even impress my chef husband. So that's where I am right now, I have 3 main dishes that I feel very good about, which give my body some form of nutrients on top of the daily vitamins I just started taking. I hope in a year from now, I can say there are five dishes, maybe make up to ten dishes and so on until I beat this disorder.
To the person reading this who never heard of ARFID - or who may identify with it - hello. We exist.
We are not trying to insult our friends and family, we know we are difficult, and we are trying our best every day to combat ourselves. As annoying as it is for you to deal with, its 100x more embarrassing and traumatic for us to live with - especially as adults.
and on the positive side - Hey, I am a cheap date, I'd rather go to eat bar food and hang out comfortably, than sit and stress over a 5 course meal of foods I am not familiar with, and which costs more than a utility bill.
I don't have to workout in order to enjoy my favorite foods - because Im almost always below my daily suggested calorie intake.
I live free and uninhibited by the dysmorphia that causes more dangerous ED's - so I can hold space for those that do.
I am learning new ways to counteract my food-isms to enjoy a fulfilling life and diet, even if its only in baby steps and have accepted that I likely will always be in recovery.
My whole life has been spent trying to hide this piece of myself, to spare others of dealing with it. To avoid embarrassment. But I am finally moving on from that mindset - Weather or not someone likes me is no longer my burden to bear.
I am not the only one living this way, and knowing that in itself, has healed a tiny bit of me.
You are not alone, nothing is wrong with you, and lastly - there is support for us.
Thank you for coming to my TedTalk.