My son isn't going to Thanksgiving.
I wanted to know how he would explain ARFID to a friend. He said it was like a fight with food. People with ARFID have a small number of safe foods that they can eat without feeling bad. Vomiting is only with certain foods.
3% of the population is affected by avoidant and restrictive food intake disorder. It can happen with anxiety, attention deficit, and neurological issues.
We thought our son was a picky eater when he was young. He didn't like to touch his food at family meals. Power struggles began when one of us told him to try broccoli.
His food preferences changed as he got older. One of ARFID's signature characteristics is that the number of safe foods had to be specific brands from specific stores. We were worried as if it were a question of personal will.
He was at risk for vitamins and supplements which made him gag. It all made me feel like a punishment.
The chocolate zucchini birthday cake was one of the foods that they recommended different ways of sneaking vitamins and minerals into.
You don't know the extent to which human relationships are organized around eating together if you don't have ARFID. The worst holidays are Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When well-intentioned people notice my son eating his safe foods, they default to the way they respond to toddlers who are picky eaters: cajoling, encouraging, talking up new foods.
During food focused holidays, people like my son face a lot of uncomfortable changes when they just want to be left alone. He can either smile and tolerate the interrogations or he can escape the situation. It is associated with shame to have a conversation about food.
My son would join us reluctantly after we insisted, or he would escape and not return.
He said he had ARFID. His brain was communicating with his taste buds in a different way. He worked for a long time on exposing himself.
Exposures get your body accustomed to a food in hopes that it will become safe. The logic is that exposure to new foods will change the way taste buds communicate. It is taking a long time.
He would choose a food challenge each month. He kept a log of his reactions to bites. He picked strawberries during the summer months. I had several when he took a bite. I ate the rest of the beer and was happy with the sweet taste. My son wrote "bitter" and "nasty" in his diary. It wasn't a safe food to eat strawberries.
I was struck by the fact that food gave him no happiness.
I often find myself playing a cognitive game called "What if the 'disorder' demanding 'cure' is just an exception to the usual ways of social being, putting the'sufferer' in the position'." If the problem is other people who insist on social conformity, what should we do?
When he told us he was sitting out this holiday, my son mentioned the persistent complaint about Thanksgiving: it celebrates the genocide of native populations. If you want to enjoy it, you have to unsee a tortured history, a reality ignored in the warm colors and ambient light. The insistence on a single narrative sidestepped other realities. We realize that my son won't be the only one doing something else when we talk about Thanksgiving with friends with marginalized identities.
I wish he would change his mind and join us.
Our family went to Berlin for his graduation when he finished college. Travel abroad has been bad because of the lack of food. We packed a suitcase full of safe foods, including macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and Jelly, and crackers. We still wanted to go out for a meal.
My younger son dislikes restaurants but loves his brother. When he only orders one bland dish, he dreads the wait person. Inevitably, they ask questions like, "Are you sure?" or they talk up other items, or other members of the dinner party launch into correct mode.
We checked the online menu before the dinner to make sure it was safe. My son looked pained when we entered the restaurant and saw the yellow glow on the tables and happy diners. There was a prix fixe. A chef would show us some of his dishes. There was no need to order a meal. We were very happy. My son wouldn't be asked anything.
There will be french fries. The waiter said no. Everyone wants to try them.
He said there are always french fries.
My son was expressionless. He ordered a fancy cocktail and liked it. We had a family meal at a restaurant. He didn't feel like there was anything wrong with him after having the best dinner he had.
I might have said that I loved my children very much, but that is not true. They have been discovered to be complex individuals with their own ways of navigating a difficult, unfair, and sometimes cruel world.
I move closer and closer to a purer form of caring that is the epitome of love. The real joy of parenting is self- discovery.
Some of us are going to have dinner with our friends. My partner and I are in charge of pies and I will bring a new dish for my daughter's girlfriend who is vegan. My son will stay home where he wants to be, away from the attention of others, play video games, and talk to his grandmother who is in a different time zone.
We will miss him but I think he will be fine.
We will go home for dessert with him. Pumpkin pie is a safe food for me because of holiday magic.
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