Your child and Selective Eating Disorder

Selective Eating Disorder.  Now also known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID.  Oh my word, here the definition as per Wikipedia, but I will expand on this further on.  “Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), previously known as selective eating disorder (SED), is a type of eating disorder, as well as feeding disorder, where the consumption of certain foods is limited based on the food’s appearance, smell, taste, texture, brand, presentation, or a past negative experience with the food.”

Sounds like a mouthful, excuse the pun, and is very often mistaken for picky eating.  Parents with young kids know the struggle of getting them to eat their veggies, meat, fish etc.  We have all sat and made rather dire threats or spinning enticing bribes. And picky eating is something all children go through at some stage, but it is also something they grow out of.  However, SED is not a matter of not liking a certain food.  It is much more than this.

Our Story

Just before my daughter turned 3 she fell very sick.  With a temp sky rocketing to 40.1 degrees and then plummeting to 36.5 every couple hours for an entire week, we were extremely concerned.  Doctors could find no infection or viruses.  During that week, out of pure desperation, I bought a famous baby food brand and gave it to her.  At that point she was taking none of my home cooked food that she was eating every single day.  By the second week, she got better and back to her normal healthy self.  Except for the fact that she did not want any other food apart from the store bought baby food.

We thought, as any parent would, that this is now merely a case of picky eating.  However, a couple months later we offered her a small bite of pizza to try.  My child screamed till her face was red with tears streaming down her face.  It was an extremely upsetting experience.  Her reaction to a new type of food was severe.  It was then that I realized something must be horribly wrong.  Some research and off we go to a Behavioural Psychologist.  After sessions with the psychologist, she agreed with the SED and stated that, in her opinion, it may have started due to her school or myself giving her a new type of food right before she fell so sick.  Now she associates any new taste, texture and even smell with being so sick.  And as we say, the rest is history.

And yes folks.  We have tried a point system, the bribe system, the concealing veggies act, the cute smiley face on the plate ‘food art’ and even the ‘if you don’t finish that, there is nothing else to eat’.  And trust me, she would just not eat!  I even tried to put my home cooked food in the bottle that the other store bought baby food comes in, but she would just know it isn’t the same!  Basically, we tried everything and anything you can think of.  Further visits to the psychologist and even hypnotherapy.  Nothing has worked thus far.

Where we are now

Yes, it breaks your heart and you constantly worry.  So you tend to stock up on multi vitamins and iron supplements.  You work yourself into a state about their general health and body development.  And yet, your hands are tied.  So respectfully, please don’t give us advice on the subject if you are not going through the same thing.  There are few people as expert on something like a parent trying to help their child.

And thinking about going out for lunch or supper to a restaurant takes a little bit of extra planning.  You have to know what is on the menu so that your little one can also enjoy the time out.  And if there isn’t anything, will the restaurant be willing to accommodate you and not charge you an arm and a leg?  No, not many do.  So you tend to stick with the places you know.

So by now you probably wonder if she eats junk food.  I know, because many people ask me this.  And the answer is no.  The closest she gets to junk food is a Happy Meal.  And this is as a treat every now and again.  She eats no burgers, pizza, pies, hotdogs or toasted sandwiches.

Neither does she like sweets such as gummy bears, suckers or sours.  She may have a chocolate every now and again but only one or two types will do.  Normal chips in a packet?  Sure.  But again, only one or two types makes it to the list. So in this sense, I must admit that I am happy.  The food she currently eats may not come from every level of the food pyramid, but it is home cooked at least.

On the up side, I try to think out the box a bit.  I realized that she desperately needed to get some protein into her system.  At one point she loved chicken nuggets.  So, I went and bought the vegetarian alternative that looks and tastes just like a real chicken nugget, from the Fry’s range.  And WHOOP, she loved them!  So now, I try and make this for her as often as I can.  And right in the beginning she would only eat unflavoured cooked pasta.  Now I can add a white sauce to it flavoured with cheese powder/sauce.

I know it seems like small victories, but to me it’s as if I solved the world’s greatest mystery.  And every now and again we would try to see if she would like to go on a taste adventure.  Just the simple act of putting it in her mouth (even if she spits it out) is a small step forward.  Why?  Because at one stage, not even that was an option.  So we take it day by day, week by week.  Slowly and at her own pace.

SED is difficult, but there is hope

It is a sad fact that not many people realize how difficult it is to live with a child that has SED.  As a parent you often feel very isolated, frustrated, alone and basically like you are drowning.  And NO, this is not your fault.  You did NOT do anything wrong!  So please, don’t blame yourself.

There is hope!  You will have good days and bad days.  Just, breath.  Stay calm.  Think outside the box.  Keep going and keep trying.  You CAN do this.  And your child will love you all the more for it.

It has been many years and my little lady is now a beautiful pre-teen.  Together she and I take small steps, and we celebrate every single small victory!  Stay strong.  Much love.

If you are unsure and think your child might have SED, here is a useful link to read a bit more about it.

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