A month or so ago, I was standing in the kitchen next to my ARFID son. I was asking him what he wanted to eat. He had some hesitation as he answered me. At that moment, it occurred to me that he feels bad about what he eats. Furthermore, he feels bad because we (parents, practitioners, peers, society, etc.) are always commenting on it in a negative way. I recognized what his body language was saying to me and I immediately said to him, "All food is food. You eat food. You are growing and there is nothing wrong with you, so your food is not bad. Your food is good. All we are doing is simply wanting to ADD to what you eat, not take anything away or tell you that what you eat is bad. We are just wanting to ADD and expand, so that you have more choices."
In the beginning, I called the foods that my son eats his "Safe" or "Preferred" foods. I still have some of that thinking in my past blog posts. That's what I called it. I didn't have another name for it and it made it easy for me to explain to people. It never occurred to me that calling my son's foods "Safe" or "Preferred" indirectly implied that all other foods were "Unsafe" or "Non-preferred". I was putting negative labels on foods that were not negative.
The negative labeling, combined with everyone implying that what my son eats is not good, only makes the ARFID situation worse. It is not helpful in any way to think or speak this way, even if we are not trying to. A better approach is to call what my son eats simply "what he eats". I don't like to eat all foods. I have foods that I like and don't like. Granted, I don't have ARFID, but I do have certain foods that I prefer and I don't call my foods that I eat my "Preferred" foods. Everyone has foods they like and don't like and we don't label them in the way we label our ARFID child's foods. I believe that it is helpful to just quit the labeling of it all together. Keep from implying anything negative and focus on the positive.
I also believe that it is helpful to tell our ARFID loved ones that what they eat is just fine. The goal is not to make them feel bad about that. They have no choice in the matter. So, why not focus on adding to what they eat, instead of focusing on stopping them from eating the unhealthy foods and getting them to eat healthy foods.
As an ARFID parent, all I really care about is my son trying something new...and then another something new...and so on. At this point, nutrition is second to simply trying something he has never tried before. I would be THRILLED if my son tried a yellow Starburst, because he will only eat the red ones. That would be huge for him. It has nothing to do with nutrition at this point, but simply releasing the fear of the unknown and new foods.
Ever since that day in the kitchen, I have changed my perspective. I make sure to imply positivity and make sure my son knows that he should not feel bad about what he eats. Eventually, we will be past all of this and I want to be able to look back and see it as a positive progression for him.
Stay positive everyone!
I am an ARFID Mom. I am the mother of a 12 year old boy with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). I have become the "expert" on my son's feeding issues. I am here to share what I've learned.