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Terrible Teens: My daughter has an unusual eating disorder

If your teen is a severely picky eater, you might want to learn more about ARFID: Avoidant Restricted Food Intake Disorder.

My daughter has been diagnosed with ARFID, and while it’s different than anorexia and bulimia, it is an eating disorder. She’s restricted food her whole life and we’ve spent the last dozen years either being in denial or trying to seek help for what we didn’t know was wrong with her.

Basically, she feared food.

It’s not as uncommon as you might think, but it oftentimes goes misdiagnosed because many parents simply claim their children are picky eaters. It’s much more serious than that, and left untreated, your child can become anorexic. But unlike anorexia or bulimia, ARFID kids generally don’t have issues with their weight or body image.

Does your teen have strong aversions to food, or does she eat only a limited variety of foods? Our daughter would only eat a few items, many of which included the ‘white’ comfort foods: waffles, breads, cereals, french fries and pizza with no cheese. Apples with the peel cut off, and carrots were the only fruit and vegetable in her diet. Her only protein came from a little bit of peanut butter. Our daughter wouldn’t even eat many basic kid foods like mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled cheese, noodles, chicken nuggets, hot dogs or hamburgers.

We have learned that there are huge sensory issues with ARFID as our daughter continues through an intense therapy program. She has also struggled with anxiety and depression as a result of her eating disorder. ARFID can affect the whole family. It makes social events and dining out very uncomfortable and almost impossible.

Once we had the correct diagnosis, our whole family felt relief. A plan of action was put into place, complete with a nutritionist, intense group therapy for six hours a week for 20 weeks, and an individual therapist, and the hard work began. Now, our daughter is set to graduate from the program in a few weeks. She is no longer afraid to try new foods, she has less anxiety, is no longer depressed and enjoys a wide variety of foods that I never thought would be possible. She marvels at how good food tastes and can’t believe she wasted so many years being fearful of food! She can dine with the family and the stress level in our household has gone way down. She has learned coping skills and now knows how to ask for what she wants, which she was never able to do before.

If you suspect that your picky eater might be suffering from ARFID, talk to your teen’s doctor.

More on eating disorders

Fat-Haters Club: Eating disorders and teens
Is your son at risk for an eating disorder?
Eating disorders on campus: Why you should talk to your teen

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