Self Diagnosed ARFID Management Cheat Sheet

I wanted to put something together for those of you trying to navigate life with self diagnosed & self managed Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. I emphasise "self diagnosed" because I suspect that if you have an actually diagnosed ARFID it might suggest your health has been compromised and you are receiving specialist individual advice, which you must continue to follow.

For that matter if you do feel that your health is suffering due to undernourishment, and particularly if you are at a very low body weight, I would suggest you do seek individual advice from a qualified specialist.

In less urgent circumstances though, let's talk about life with ARFID.

As touched on above, the danger with ARFID is with undernourishment and nutrient deficiency. This can happen if you simply do not like and cannot eat enough foods to meet your nutritional requirements, but there's also a danger of it happening because you resist eating the foods that you do enjoy on the basis that other people have convinced you that "you shouldn't just eat that every day" or "that has no nutritional value", or whatever else.

For this reason, the stigma around ARFID is particularly harmful. Those offensive "grow up and eat healthy food like an adult" memes bandied around on social media, for example.

So, let's clear up a few things shall we?

1. All Food Has Nutritional Value.

I get so fed up with pretentious snobs who think their personal preferences dictate whether or not a food has nutritional value. Cereal for example. "You might as well be eating the box that it comes in", they might say.


Obviously some products are more nutritionally sound than others, but even if you're someone out there saying "the only things I really like to eat are cereal, bread, other stuff that goes in the toaster, and potatoes" you'll actually probably be able to meet your nutrient requirements from those alone.

From food we obtain energy, protein, fibre, and micronutrients aka vitamins and minerals. People tend to forget or conveniently ignore that sufficient energy intake is required, without which we become undernourished, underweight, sick and frail. If you look into dietary recommendations for the elderly, for example, the focus is not on "healthy eating" so much as it is on sufficient nourishment (aka caloric intake) to maintain weight and prevent frailty. Similarly with people undergoing treatment for cancer, they also tend to suffer a loss of appetite and a loss of enjoyment or tolerance for many foods... the priority is to provide sufficient energy intake to maintain body weight and avoid undernourishment.

With ARFID the cause is different, but the situation and our priorities are similar.

Obviously there is more to a healthy diet than mere energy provision, but my point here is that you should not skip meals and go hungry because of anyone else's opinion on what your default option of meal would have been.

2. No Foods Have Moral Value & No Specific Diet Makes You A Better Or Worse Person Than Anyone Else.

I mean you'd think this was so obvious as to go without saying, right? But apparently not. Diets are like cults these days, full of ignorant, pretentious snobs.

The reality is... people require nourishment from choices they find appealing, convenient, and affordable. The majority of people even without ARFID will have a terrible time trying to stick to a diet or meal plan that does not meet their energy requirements and is not based on choices that they find enjoyable and convenient. Attaching labels like "clean" or "junk" to foods, and stigmatising affordable, convenient every day choices of meals is harmful and ignorant.

3. Most Of The People Giving You A Hard Time Are Actually Morons With No Clue About Nutrition Or Anything Else.

This is the big one, alright?
Your family and friends may feel that they have reason to be concerned for your well being, because they actually care about you and want what is best for you. That's one thing. But everyone else? Most of these people out there spend their whole lives going on and off fad diets. A couple of times a year there's a new fad diet, and everyone swings between them like "now this is how we're supposed to eat, all of a sudden". When everyone else is following the crowd like lemmings doing whatever some marketing person tells them, and you're just doing your own thing the whole time because you actually have your own identity... how are they going to lecture you about trying more foods when they can't even decide for themselves which ones they should eat?

4. Adopting A Restrictive Diet Is Applauded, But ARFID Is Stigmatised. 

Where is the logic in this?
If someone has a fit appearance and at dinner they won't eat a certain thing everyone else is having because they're on low carb, keto, paleo, or whatever else... they're congratulated for being so disciplined. Similarly when a fatter person goes on an extremely misguided, highly restrictive diet to lose weight.

Don't believe me? Check the next section.

Deliberately restricting your choice of foods and abstaining from ones that you enjoy for no good reason is applauded, but having a limited range of foods to choose from due to ARFID is something you're judged for. I don't get it. Therefore I reject it.

5. But You Can't Be Healthy Eating Like That.

Really though?
In online fitness marketing, people do "stunt diets" for publicity purposes all the time, where they drop a heap of weight while having ice cream and a Mars Bar every day or something, to prove "it's calories in calories out that effects weight, not how clean your diet is". Fair enough. But if you want to impress me, stay in shape indefinitely like I do so you don't have all that weight to lose every couple of years in the first place, right?

But I digress.

Here are some examples of diets that I wouldn't advocate for, but they do prove my point and also the earlier point about voluntary restriction being seen as entirely acceptable.
Now... don't get me wrong. I don't approve of nonsense like a "potato only" diet to lose weight, because there's no reason people can't continue to enjoy a variety of foods of their choosing while successfully pursuing weight loss, as the final two links confirm. But when you eat too many potatoes because they're one of the few things you like due to ARFID, that's the end of the world and unhealthy, right? No. Everyone can shut up.

Also if you look at those final two links, you'll note that the subject's health markers actually did improve while on these "unhealthy" diets.

So, I'm not advocating that you belligerently indulge in the most unconventional diet imaginable just to rub it in people's faces... but what I am saying is that if you try to include some of the more reasonable choices of the foods that do work for you with your ARFID, you can quite likely arrive at a not unhealthy diet. And unlike a lot of these other chumps out there swinging from paleo to low carb to keto to vegan and back again every few months and ultimately getting nowhere, you will actually stick to it and maintain long term success in your fitness and condition goals, assuming that you have any.

Remove And Reject The Stigma

My intention with the above is to make you invulnerable to the harmful effects of the stigma of being a so-called picky eater. Hopefully you'll be able to practice and achieve a not unhealthy diet from the choices of foods that do suit you, and allay the concerns of those who care about you. The other people who's concerns are less about your well being and more with judging &/or controlling you though, they can go fu take a running jump. Right?

Managing Social Situations Where Eating Is Involved.

This is a tough one that causes people with ARFID a lot of anxiety. I suggest a couple of half truths might be useful to get people off your back:

  1. Oh, I ate earlier and spoiled my appetite.
  2. I actually can't eat a lot of things for medical reasons, but I do have a very nutritionally sound diet I've had professional help with. It is not a fad diet you would have heard of, and I don't have anorexia either. I ate before I came out, and I'll eat again when I get home. I'd appreciate it if you didn't try to make me feel self conscious about it while I'm here.
  3. I said I would appreciate it if you didn't try to make me self conscious about it while I am here. Perhaps you didn't hear me the first time. 
With people I'm actually friends with, I will actually have a little bit of a laugh about it all and say "yeah, I can eat this but not that. Don't try to make any sense of it. If it made any sense it wouldn't be a disorder", but the above suggestions might be more suitable for shutting down any nosey strangers who need to mind their own business.

New: Head to the new Healthier Eating For Fussy Eaters page to learn how to make the best choices from the options that are acceptable to you, to arrive at suitable eating habits that will facilitate good health and success in your fitness and condition goals.

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