I have eating disorders. Two, mainly. ARFID and Binge Eating Disorder [BED] (with occasional visits from the Anorexia and Bulimia fairies). It took me many, many years to acknowledge that I had an eating disorder at all. I thought I just ate too much. I thought it was because I was weak willed or addicted or some other thing. Now I know that the reason I eat too much consistently over time is because of my deeply disordered eating. I’ve posted before (see links above) about what the DSM V has to say about eating disorders. Spoiler: It’s very simplistic and reductionist and not exactly body positive.
In any case, I have been diagnosed with BED for five years or so, although it hasn’t been nearly that long since I accepted the diagnosis. Having BED means I dissociate when I am eating and eat far too much at individual sittings, to the point of becoming sick. It means I prefer calorie dense foods. It means I need to feel full to feel safe and comfortable.
But it turns out, it’s not the point. The first term I heard the term “ARFID” was about a year ago, when I met my current nutritionist, who is an ED specialist. She did my intake interview, and asked if I had ever heard of ARFID. No, I hadn’t. What was it? ARFID–avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder–is a food/eating anxiety disorder. Food makes me anxious and it is hard for me to deal with preparing or eating complex or highly variable foods. I avoid fruits, vegetables, fatty meats, anything that might spoil or be mushy. I’m hypersensitive to the texture and smell of my food. And if a food turns me off once, it can take me a very, very long time to try it again. Classic ARFID anecdote: I once tried, in a diet context, to eat a piece of pineapple in front of a group of friends. I bit down, got one hint of the texture of the stuff, gagged, spit it out, and choke/cough/gagged for about five minutes. Needless to say, breakfast was over.
I am finding ARFID much harder to fight than BED. I believe now that ARFID is the root disorder–at some point in my early childhood I became deeply anxious about food–and that BED is actually a coping mechanism to keep me from starving to death. When I am dissociated I can eat, which, honestly, is a relief after the way the ARFID makes me feel. I eat so much partially because I subconsciously know that my ARFID is going to keep me from eating again until I am famished and I need to “stock up.”
It is probably no surprise that in this most anxious of times, the ARFID is in control again. Over the past 3-4 weeks, there has been incident after incident of me panicking over food, refusing to eat until I am in pain from hunger, and being unable to feed myself or, sometimes, even move until I am hand-fed by my husband. I wept over a bloody egg. I panicked over a bag of vegetables and shoved it in the fridge still in the supermarket bag. I went to bed hungry (a lot of times).
My nutritionist says that many of her ED patients are experience an exacerbated tendency to restrictive food behaviors right now. It’s the anxiety. It’s so hard to care for oneself in general, and when you have an ED (or more than one) it is already harder. I don’t actually know what to do. I’m becoming dependent on my husband, who is learning to spot the signs that I’ve gone into an ARFID state. I ate twice today. I can remember only one day in the past two weeks when I had more than three eating episodes, and most days are either two, or two plus a middle-of-the-night panicked kitchen run by hubby. I’m regressing and I don’t know what to do, how to get out. The feeling of not eating, the knowing that I am not gaining weight even in enforced idleness and surrounded by a food-filled kitchen–it’s enticing. I don’t know how to beat it or even start fighting it.
I will say this, though–if I see one more meme about people getting fat right now and grazing too much, I am going to punch a wall.