My name is Emma. I’m 20 years old and think I may have an eating disorder. My whole life my diet has been very bland and my favourite foods are things such as crackers and breadsticks with the occasional piece of fruit. Just the thought of having to eat foods such as pizza or lasagne that have more flavour can cause me to have a panic attack. I was wondering if you could assist me as to how to overcome this as I currently feel like food controls my life. Emma
It does sound as though you have a really difficult relationship with food, and if food begins to feels like it’s taking over your life this could definitely be classified as an eating problem. It is not necessarily an eating disorder (which is when you are given a formal diagnosis based on your eating patterns). Eating problems are just as difficult to live with as an eating disorder. And, from what you say, it is possible that you have an eating disorder known as ARFID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder) to give it its full medical name.
You say that when you think about eating something rich and flavourful like pizza you can have a panic attack. So that gives an idea of how terribly difficult and daunting it must be for you to think about changing your eating patterns. However, the fact that you have written to me for some help shows that you know you need to change your relationship with food and are ready to do this.
ARFID is much more than being a fussy or picky eater; it’s when you fear certain food, and are phobic about touching, swallowing or taking in some textures, colours, or types of food and have a very restricted intake as a result. Some people, known as “supertasters”, experience flavours more intensely than most people, while others may have started to limit their eating for psychological reasons, due to unpleasant or traumatic memories which have become linked in their mind to some (or most) foods.
Whichever it is in your case, it seems that this would be a good time to start to get some help and change your eating patterns so you can be more flexible about what, how and when you eat. The idea is that eventually it will be you controlling your food, and not the other way around. It could be a good idea to go and see your GP so that you can check out whether you have any nutritional deficiencies. However, this might feel like a giant leap and the best approach with any eating problem is a very gradual one.
So, slowly, you could start talking to trusted friends or a trained professional about your relationship to food. Try to explore why it is you panic at the thought of more flavourful food: what is the fear here? Once you have started to work that out, you can gradually and in small measures, introduce different foods. Like for example substitute the occasional cheese straw for a breadstick or cracker.
It is really important when bringing in any changes that you do it in small amounts and in a calm environment. You can do this, literally, one mouthful at a time. And with each small mouthful you will be gaining back a little bit more control over your relationship to food.