Do You Tell People You Have ARFID?

Do You Tell People You Have ARFID?

Having an eating disorder is something that comes with its own stigma and often other people’s opinions. So when you have one, do you let other people know?

I only found out that ARFID was what I’d been struggling with my entire life in the last year. But for years before that I’d struggled with what to tell people about the way I approached food.

Want to know more about ARFID? Make sure to have a read of my post ‘What Is ARFID? Everything You Need To Know

Why is it difficult to tell people you have ARFID?

They won’t understand

Judgement and scepticism is a big reason why someone might be worried about informing others of their ARFID. Having an eating disorder like ARFID comes with a big risk of being perceived as ‘picky’ or ‘difficult’. Having those labels attached to us is enough to put anyone off admitting they have ARFID. 

Growing up, I was known in my family as ‘weirdo kid’ because of all the things I didn’t eat and all the things I would constantly eat. It was all said in good nature because we didn’t know any better then. I didn’t mind it around my family because they’d gotten used to the way I would eat and I was comfortable with them. 

But the idea that someone else might find out I was the ‘weirdo kid’ was anxiety inducing. 

It can be really difficult for anybody to admit they’re different and that need for acceptance is a strong one. When it involves something as simple as eating it’s even more intimidating.

It can be stressful admitting you have ARFID

When you tell someone that you struggle with an eating disorder, you’re exposing yourself to them and putting yourself in a very vulnerable position. Especially when we know we might get a negative reaction from them. Nobody wants to be honest with someone, only for them to laugh at you. 

Then you have to think about potentially needing to defend yourself against any negativity. You have to be ready to explain yourself – which can be difficult because ARFID is not an easy thing to understand!

This is another reason why someone with ARFID might find it easier to just say nothing at all about the way they eat or don’t eat.

You can read more about how to deal with ARFID negativity in this post!

Should you tell others you have ARFID?

Telling people about your struggles with food is an entirely personal choice and often dependent on the circumstances. It could depend on who you’re talking to. You might be more comfortable sharing with certain people than a stranger you just met.

I’ve found that in certain situations mentioning it has been unavoidable. I once went to stay at a friend’s grandparents house for a week. It was miles away from home and I had never met them before. My friend knew I was a ‘fussy eater’ and she was great at making sure I had something to eat. 

Her grandparents were so sweet and made me pasta bolognese for every meal. They would ask me if I was sure I didn’t want something else but I would reassure them that it was fine. 

In that particular instance, it was important that I mentioned something about the way I felt around food or I would have gone hungry for a week. Was it embarrassing? Yes. Nobody wants to be known as the weird girl that will only eat pasta bolognese. Thankfully, they were nice about it and I was able to enjoy my time away with my friend.

That being said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping it to yourself. 

There have been occasions when people have asked why I would only eat certain foods. I would say I have a lot of allergies so there’s not a lot of food I can eat. In truth, I do have allergies but they didn’t affect me as dramatically as I would make out. It was just a nice easy way to get around mentioning my ARFID.

The Pros of telling people you have ARFID

Emotional support

By sharing what you’re going through with your eating disorder, you can build a support network around you of people that understand and can support you. This can be so important when your ARFID is getting you down or if you’re in a difficult situation. 

It can be really hard to rely on others for help managing any condition but there’s no shame in having someone there that will have your back. Even though we didn’t know what it was, my family has always been a great support, making sure I had food available that I would eat or helping me manage awkward situations if we were eating out with others.

Want to know the best ways to support someone in your life that’s struggling with ARFID? Check out this post for some great tips!

It can make it easier for yourself

When you tell people you have ARFID, it’s likely they’ll begin to understand and try to support you more. This means they’re more likely to do the little things. Like making sure there are suitable food options for you available at gatherings or not pressuring you about eating a certain food.

It will also make it easier to manage those social situations that can be really difficult when you have ARFID. If you have people there that know that you have an eating disorder, it’ll feel less awkward and there’ll be less pressure to ‘fit in’.

How do you tell people you have ARFID?

Wanting to tell people you have ARFID and actually knowing how to go about that, are very different things. I said earlier that it can be a difficult one to explain and that’s very true. 

ARFID is a disorder that just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even to those of us that have it! Why is my brain telling me that eating that mash potato is dangerous? I have no idea. Why is my brain telling me that I can only eat this specific brand of crisps and absolutely no others? Not a clue. 

But that’s what it does and no matter how illogical we know it is, it’s our reality and that’s just what we have to deal with. 

So how do we explain it to others in a way that they’ll understand?

The best thing I’d say is to prepare. I know this sounds crazy. You’re not rehearsing for a speech after all, but it can be helpful to have some ideas prepared in your mind. So if you do decide to inform someone of your ARFID, you have some talking points to get you through the explanation. 

The important thing is to be as clear and concise as you can – even if it maybe sounds a little clinical. Getting across the important aspects of ARFID is what’s going to help them understand. 

The second thing that will help them understand, is to explain how it directly affects you. Use examples from your specific experiences. That way they can relate better to what you’re saying and hopefully it will help the idea of ARFID click for them as they can relate it to some of the behaviours they might have seen you present.

Why I’m trying to be more honest about having ARFID

Since I discovered that my eating habits had a name, I’ve been doing a lot of research into Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It’s been really helpful knowing that it is a real thing and that there’s other people going through it too.

The things I’ve learned make me wish that I had known about it years ago when it was causing problems in my social life, my family and my own mental health. 

There’s very little awareness when it comes to ARFID and a lot of misconceptions about it. Thankfully, people are becoming more vocal about the eating disorder and are fighting for it to be more widely recognised. And I want to make sure I’m doing my bit. 

So when someone asks me about the food I eat (or the food I don’t eat) I’m actively trying to fight the urge to give my usual excuses. I’m trying not to blame it on my allergies or say “I’m just weird with food”. 

Instead, I’m explaining what is actually going on. I’m trying to say, “I have an eating disorder called ARFID.” Of course, then I usually have to go into detail explaining what exactly that means but that’s a good thing. 

It means more people are learning about ARFID and more people are becoming aware of its existence. It’s also good because usually when I tell people, they’re more understanding of the situation. I get less comments like, “just try some” or, “you need to eat more”. 

Plus, it sounds better than telling people I’m just weird. Because that’s not the case (well, I am a bit weird but not because of my ARFID!). 

The other way I’m trying to speak more about ARFID is through this blog! When I originally had the idea to start the blog it was to focus on my Eczema and find a way to work through that positively. Then I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease and the idea expanded. At the same time as all that, I had just discovered ARFID and it blew my mind. 

I knew I wanted to speak out about what it was like to live with ARFID because it was so often misunderstood. All I could think was that if we had known all those years ago that I wasn’t just a ‘picky eater’ and that I was actually living with an undiagnosed eating disorder, the way we dealt with it would have been better. 

I want to try and reach as many people as I can and make them aware of what ARFID is and why it’s important. It could help so many families that are perhaps struggling with a child that has undiagnosed ARFID. Or even someone that was like me and had lived all their life thinking they were just wired wrong. 

If you’re one of those people that are shouting about ARFID from the rooftops, or you overcompensate when asked about it by going into incredible detail and telling them every little thing you’ve ever learned about ARFID – that’s great. You’re doing a great job.

If you’re one of those people that would prefer to keep it to yourself because it’s nobody else’s damn business – that’s great. You’re also doing a great job. 

At the end of the day, it really is nobody else’s business what we eat, what we don’t eat or the way we choose to approach food. So whether you don’t tell people or if you tell everyone you meet – it’s all great.

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