From food challenges to support systems: how to cope with ARFID
Like most mental health disorders, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is not just a childhood issue, it’s a lifelong battle.
“You’re challenging an ingrained belief on what is and is not their safe foods," said Relevé Counseling therapist, Alex Gonzalez. "It does take time.”
It's important to make intentional decisions to help keep it at bay.
“You’re going to be looking at food challenges and progressively trying to broaden their palette and [help them] become more comfortable with eating different things.”
Food challenges can start small.
“It may start with... just eat two or three green beans.”
For more severe cases, caregivers can take things a step further.
“There are a lot of eating disorder cases where you have to do a bathroom restriction after they eat and watch them to make sure… they’re not spitting it out after the fact or purging it up.”
Alex warns caregivers and life partners not to be too aggressive with challenges.
“If you push too much, you may be taking one step forward, but you may end up taking two, three, or four steps back depending on how hard you push and where their comfort level is.”
“It’s hard, especially if you see your child wasting away, or not functioning, or not being as happy as they would be if they were eating a normal amount of food.”
The key is for everyone to be patient
“Full on cure? No. But, continuing to monitor, challenge, and work through things? Absolutely. You can continue to make improvements.”
It’s possible, even into adulthood, to keep ARFID symptoms under control. But, periods of high stress, like a big project at work or issues in one’s personal life, can make it more difficult. It can be easy to slip back into bad habits in those moments. To avoid that, Alex recommends utilizing a support system.
“Maybe for meal times you go with family, you go see friends to make sure that you’re being accountable to yourself. To make sure that you are challenging yourself and having a support person with you during meal times this way they can help hold you accountable.”