Signs You Have ARFID
ARFID, or “Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder” is defined as “an eating or feeding disturbance that is characterized by a persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs….but is not associated with weight, shape or body image as the primary concern.”
- You may be eating—but not eating enough.
- You may WANT to eat—but not be able to eat (or eat certain foods) because you get constipated, bloated or symptoms when you do.
- You may struggle to maintain a healthy weight—because your body struggles to absorb or digest your food.
- And you may fear food—not because the calories in it, but because how it makes you feel.
The struggle is real.
While most people think of “eating disorders” like anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia or even orthorexia—the obsession with healthy eating, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder NOT often discussed—particularly within the health and wellness community.
I, for one, hate labels and actually tend to call this “phenomenon” or “conundrum” exactly what it is— Fear of How Food Makes You Feel.
Especially for those who may have a history of “gut issues” or other health conditions…THE LAST THING YOU NEED IS ANOTHER “DIAGNOSIS.”
Often times you’ve been told you have an “imbalance” that requires you follow a special protocol, and a special diet as part of your healing protocol—and it’s EASY to get sucked in to the labels, rules and regulations.
Can you relate?
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a gut “issue”—like SIBO, IBS, parasites, GERD, chronic bloating and constipation—or other chronic disease, like anxiety, migraines, diabetes, ADHD, Celiac and other autoimmune conditions, then you are probably NO stranger to the “healing power” of food.
In fact, many holistic or functional medicine doctors and nutritionists turn to diet as the first-line of treatment for modern diseases—
From the AIP (Autoimmune) Protocol, to the GAPS diet, Low-FODMAP diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, the Whole 30, Bulletproof, Keto—and everything in between—there are TONS of diets and food protocols out there with promising results for helping you “cure” your underlying issue (while cutting out the “culprits” and foods that hurt you).
However, what happens when your gut-healing or health-boosting protocol goes OVERBOARD?
When, what was intended to be a healthy and “good thing” for healing your body, turns into a detriment to your health?
—You start fearing food? Obsessing over food or how your gut feels? Or you feel like a prisoner in your own skin—like no matter how hard you try to heal your gut or “eat clean,” something is not working?!
This is the “eating disorder” no one is talking about in the health community—and it has nothing to do with trying to be a certain size, counting calories or weight…
Here are 14 Signs You May Have ARFID (and what to do about it if you relate).
- Lack of Variety
- Fear of How Foods May Make You Feel
- Wrap Your Identity in What You Was
- Know ALL the Protocols & Diets
- Hyper Aware of Your Health & How You Feel
- Get Sick Eating Out
- Nothing Seems to Change How You Feel
- Read Everything on Google about Your Condition & Healing
- Tried Countless Protocols
- Low Energy
- Rarely Feel Hunger or Fullness Cues
- Easily Weepy or Have Pent Up Emotions that Come Out
- Sometimes Try to “Forget It”
- Tend to Be High-Stress or a Perfectionist
14 Signs You May Have ARFID
1. You Lack Variety in Your Diet.
Variety is the bane of your existence. You like the IDEA of variety in your diet, but over time, you’ve found the foods your body can tolerate (and those it can’t). And your diet becomes super narrow to a limited amount of 5 to 10 foods at most that make you feel “ok.” In addition, you tend to eat the same things at the same times most days because you’ve determined that’s the foods that work for you.
2. You THINK About Eating Certain Foods…But Get Scared
You also like the IDEA of eating other healthy foods…and you think about it often. You know healthy eating includes different types of proteins, veggies, fats and some fruits or starches, but based on your previous experiences with trying things outside of your norm, you’ve “learned your lesson.” That time you tried a new version of Collagen protein, bone broth or half an apple instead of your usual banana?You paid for it! Your stomach did not like you. And your negative experiences with NOT FEELING GOOD after you eat has left you wanting to eat different foods…but fearing how you feel if you do.
3. You Are What You Eat: Identity Hijack
You’re “AIP,” or “Paleo,” or “GAPS,” or “keto” and beyond. You begin to identify yourself based on what you eat (or don’t eat) and feel a strong need to stick to a particular protocol for hope in healing.
4. You Could Write a Book (Or Take a Quiz)
You’ve read all the books, or tried all the programs out there to date. You know “clean eating” like the back of your hand, and you know all about Bulletproof, Wahl’s, AIP, GAPS, etc. In fact, you could actually write a book yourself on what foods to eat or not eat (or pass a quiz with 100% on any one of these approaches).
5. You Are in Touch—A Little Too Much
You are constantly checking in with your body, your gut and your health, assessing what caused that headache? Or energy dip? Or constipation episode? Was it what you ate for dinner? Lack of water? Forgetting to take your probiotic? You are always “on guard” and hyper-aware of how you’re feeling—and how food influences how you feel.
6. Eating Out Makes You Feel Sick
Eating out does this to a lot of people, but especially to you since hydrogenated oils and the food preparedness of other hands messes with your gut more easily. You often dread eating out or social situation because you know you’re in to…not feel great.
7. Your Body is Like Clockwork.
No matter what you do, or no matter what you eat, it seems like nothing makes a big difference in how you feel. Even though you are eating “digestible foods,” constipation still strikes every evening at 4 pm, or you feel bloated at the same time most days (with no rhyme or reason why).
8. You’ve Read All the Articles on Google.
The top 2 to 3 pages of Google have articles highlighted purple, because you’ve already clicked on most boards, posts and message forums about the topics you are constantly thinking about—SIBO, IBS, bloating and constipation cures, Celiac, etc.
9. You’re Constantly Looking for the Next Fix or Best Protocol.
Along with Google searching your answers, you are desperate to find something that just works! You’re willing to try new things, but often doubt if anything will actually help. You Google search resources as well—or practitioners—who may have the cure to help you.
10. You Lack Energy.
Simply put, you’re not eating enough—because you’re unable to eat enough.
11. You Rarely Feel “Cues”
You lack an appetite often or eat more often because it’s “time,” as opposed to hunger. OR, the opposite, you feel insatiably hungry, but never satisfied. Your “hunger” and “fullness” cues are just off…
12. You’re a Ball of Emotion
Eating is a big part of life and fellowship with others but unfortunately, it’s something you don’t enjoy much of any more because you feel so inflamed or uncomfortable in your own skin. Often times this leads to unexplained emotions—like weepiness or feeling low as you continue to struggle most days with not feeling on top of your “A-Game.”
13. You Sometimes Say “Screw It”
You try to pretend that you don’t feel symptomatic when you eat certain things. Or you try to forget that you struggle with how you feel…sometimes to the point of trying to just “be normal” and eating things you know don’t make you feel well…with the hope that it won’t affect you. Bring on the pizza slice or almond butter and apple…only to be hit with the harsh reality that your gut “still” can’t handle it.
14. You Tend to Be a “High Stress” Person or Perfectionist
You are a Type-A go-getter, and typically the hardest…on yourself. You want things to be done right, and you push yourself more than anyone else. Not just when it comes to food, but when it comes to work, your relationships, your goals, what you want to accomplish, etc. You have a high threshold for pressure and stress—so much so that you forget what “being stressed” feels like.
If 4 or more of these sound familiar, it may be worth checking in—with your own heart, your head, and your gut—and assessing your own relationship with your body and food—right now.
WHAT TO DO ABOU IT
Labels aside, ARFID or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is a silent “eating disorder,” many people are not talking about in the health, wellness or functional medicine community.
Primarily because the main goal of treatment is to help you feel better physically.
However, as with any other dietary change or lifestyle change, your mindset plays an equally important role—if not more—in how you approach food, feel in your own skin and even health treatment outcomes.
One of my favorite studies supporting this so-called “Placebo” or “mindset” effect is a study (Moseley et al, 2002) of knee-replacement patients—half of who underwent surgery to correct their knee replacement, the other half who did not.
Neither group knew if they had the surgery or not (all were put to sleep). ALL participants participated in traditional physical therapy rehab after the “surgery. AND the non-surgery patients and surgery patients alike EQUALLY recovered in the same amount of time from the surgery.
The clincher? The mindset is powerful!
The same can be said for “healing your gut” or other chronic disease.
While there IS certainly a time, place and necessity for honoring your body with foods that make it feel good, there is ALSO room to explore just how powerful your mindset is currently influencing your health dilemmas, gut issue or ongoing “situation.”
Here’s a simple exercise you can do today to begin challenging the ARFID tendencies you may be experiencing—and start reversing the tide of the struggle.
Step 1: Power of the Pause: Take a Big Breath.
For starters…just breathe.
Seriously. Pause and take 10 long seconds to breathe in, in, in, in, in, in…through your nose….and another 10 long seconds out, out, out, out, out…through your mouth.
This practice alone improves digestion two-fold as digestion MUST OCCUR in “rest and digest” mode.
Step 2: Reflect on When ARFID Started
Reflect for a moment on your diet currently, and your own dietary or food “timeline” over the past 5-10 years. How has it changed? What foods did you eat at one time that you no longer eat—or can eat? Map this out if you need to on a piece of paper. Recognize the key turning points or themes you notice around the time that ARFID like symptoms started happening more. Were you exposed to new diet dogmas or beliefs that transformed your own? Worked with a moody doctor? Had a bad reaction to a food that set you over the edge? Piece together when more fears around foods started happening.
Step 3: Assess Current ARFID: Food Log
Keep a 1 day food log today, and simply note how you feel around meals. What patterns are common day in and day out as you tend to eat the same things? What other factors—outside food—may be contributing to your symptoms? (Such as stressors, lack of sleep or enough water, overexercise, under-exercise, etc.).
In addition, did you know that lack of variety can actually make ARFID symptoms worse—not better. Where are some potential areas you see could benefit from mixing it up—even if that means yellow squash instead of green zucchini summer squash one day, or tuna instead of chicken salad for lunch?
Step 4: Don’t Go it Alone
These first few steps are only scratching a surface to figuring out what may be going on—internally (mentally and emotionally) for you and your relationship with food. While gut symptoms and discomfort are real, sometimes we actually perpetuate our own issues with our continued fixation, hyper-vigilance to rules, or own fears we’ve created.
The good news?
To understand your “why,” and help you dial in a healthy mindset and continued body healing journey, you don’t have to go it alone.
Contact me at Thrive Wellness & Recovery today if you’re interested in booking an initial appointment to understand more about your own relationship with food and your body, and learn more about my 5-step Thrive process for helping you heal—inside and out.