This is slightly old news. But there has been a story circulating about a teenage boy who lost his vision as a result of a restrictive diet. News outlets wrote hadlines like, “British Boy Goes Blind After Eating Only French Fries.” When I heard this on the news on my break at work, I instantly thought, this boy most have ARFID! And researching online, it turns out I was right. ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It’s also been called Selective Eating. In early childhood, it may be referred to as failure to thrive. It’s a lesser known eating disorder, but as demonstrated in this example, has significant health risks. There are many articles about this young man that do mention ARFID, but you probably can’t count on your evening news to include it.
This CNN article makes a lot of excellent points. One researcher acknowledges that since this person had a “healhty” weight and BMI- doctors never suspected diet was the cause of the vision and hearing loss. Yet the article never actually mentions ARFID or eating disorders. CNN also quotes an expert that views this as an “extreme example” and implies that discussing it at length is alarmist. Yes, I realize, blindness isn’t a common result of ARFID/selective eating. But this is still a serious eating disorder that folks should be informed of.
I shouldn’t be surprised. The media had been covering Anorexia and Bulimia since the 80s- and they still can’t do that right most of the time.The main reason the media coverage of this bothers me, is that a lot of people’s knee jerk reaction to the story is to view it as the moral decay of our society, “fast food nations”, and attribute it to stupidity, laziness, western decadence…etc. If the person in the story was fat (he is not) people would be fat shaming him. Public comment sections are always a cesspool. But it isn’t always trolls. There are plenty of “normal people” who sound of about articles about ARFID or products made to accommodate people with ARFID or Autism…like plate dividers that keep food from touching. People harp on and on about “back in my day we ate what was on our plate or we starved!” And the problem is, yes! Many people with ARFID WILL restrict to the point of serious medical issues. Because they have a serious medical condition that requires medical intervention! People with ARFID are often mistaken for people with Anorexia Nervosa. And while there is still a lot of judgment put on people with any ED for “choosing” to starve, binge eat, or use compensatory behaviors, since disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder have been in the public consciousness for far longer, they don’t seem to get the same criticism as ARFID.
And yes, poverty and food insecurity is a problem. But that doesn’t make ARFID less of a problem. And people form all socioeconomic backgrounds experience eating disorders. In some case, poverty and food insecurity causes or exacerbates eating disorders. (I have been working on my review of Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat by Stephanie Covington-Armstrong, which discusses this at length.) There is still a prevailing belief that people in wealthier countries get eating disorders because they have it “too good”, compared to those in developing nations. Poverty in the western certainly looks different in the west than in poorer countries. Illnesses like Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease have been called “disease of affluence” by people who fail to acknowledge that they are more common among in those living at or below the poverty line. And independent of a person’s weight or other health conditions, these people may struggle with eating disorders.
On this blog, I am open about my 12 year on and off struggle with Bulimia. Last year in treatment, I met someone with ARFID. In learning about his ED, I gained a little more insight into my own sensory issues I experience being on the autism spectrum. I struggle with urges to intentionally restrict my food intake as a coping mechanism. In the past, I struggled with restricting food intake as a means of controlling my weight. I have realized nowI also struggle with meal plan compliance, not just due to the “rush” that comes from restricting, but because my sensitivity to certain textures has created aversions to certain foods. While it’s still a problem in the “real world”- especially when food is prepared by others- it was extremely difficult in treatment, because food options in a general psych hospital are limited. ED programs encourage eating a variety, but if they don’t operate independently, they are limited by what the hospital makes available. 100% completion is the rule in treatment, and for good reason. But there were days when all of the main entrees were a sensory trigger, and on one occasion, I almost vomited at the table. I don’t believe myself to have ARFID. While sensory issues can exacerbate my disorder, I don’t believe my aversion to textures has been a cause of nutritional deficiencies, which typically occur when I’m in an active bulimia relapse. But it’s certainly something to be mindful of as I try to follow my meal plan and make a gradual shift towards intuitive eating.
Many folks with ARFID are also on the autism spectrum and/or have ADD/ADHD.
Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk!