WHAT IS ARFID?
Back in Junior School, a teacher once made me eat some rice pudding, having guilt tripped me about ‘children starving in Africa’. A cruel power imbalance was at play; there was something sadistic about that. Yes, I felt bad for the African kids, but I didn’t see how making me spew lumpy, milky puke across the table was going to help them. At home, I was never made to eat anything I didn’t like and was what was then known as a fussy eater. Much later came the more accurate term ‘selective eating disorder’, which has since been replaced by ‘ARFID’, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, a category in DSM-5. There are psychosocial and nutritional implications. It means that the taste, smell or even texture of certain foods can be utterly repugnant, and results in a significantly unhealthy diet.
I’ve tried to expand my food repertoire over the years but with little success. I got halfway through a raw spinach leaf until it became too peppery. I ate some fried halloumi, rejoicing in how it tasted a little like chicken, then about half an hour later became nauseated and hysterical at the thought that there was actually some cheese in my body. The embarrassment that comes with the condition has been a burden. Tea round at a schoolfriend’s house was always a worry. I tended to eat bread on those occasions, as long as it was white and had no grains or seeds in it. As I got older, while friends were ordering interesting things in Indian restaurants, I’d settle on chicken and chips. I tried pasta and its rubberiness disgusted me, as did the devil’s breath whiffs of garlic.
I’ll always be grateful to All About Eve’s erstwhile manager Tony Perrin for whispering to me - at a band-wooing record company meal - that I would probably be able to handle chicken tikka, no sauce. He was right, but I still had to scrape off the coriander. To this day, I’m very, very sensitive to food taste, texture and smell. A couple of weeks ago I ate an iffy potato. It tasted metallic and just bad, almost poisonous, like I could taste the darkness of soil and insects in it. I know from past experience that I will probably not eat another potato for a couple of years, until it feels safe again. So for now, I have to eat McCain’s Smiles, those little mashed potato faces with macabre grins breaking through their crispy exterior. Wish my body luck.
For help with ARFID and/or other eating disorders: