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What is food aversion?

BY Edikan Umoh

27th Aug 2022 Wellbeing

What is food aversion?

You may not be that fussed about food, but in extreme cases that can translate into food aversion. Here's what to do if you suffer from disordered eating

Food is crucial for our day-to-day functioning—any issue that affects eating will become a major part of our lives. It can’t be glossed over.

We spoke to two people, Bobby Pritchard and David Israel, about their journey of not finding food appealing and experiencing avoidant restrictive food intake disorder.

More commonly known as ARFID, it is a condition where the person avoids food, has restricted intake in terms of overall amount eaten, or both.

David's disinterest in food was a mental health condition that translated to the physical. He had an older sister who was overweight at that time and got bullied a lot. He became afraid to be overweight himself.

“I wasn’t athletic, so the only way I could do that was to limit the amount of food I ate,” he says. “I started forcing myself to stop eating as much as I wanted, and after a while it wasn’t intentional.”

Similarly, Bobby noticed he didn’t care for food when he was around eight years old. “I had always found it a complete inconvenience,” he says. “I understood the need to eat, but that's where the relationship began and ended.”

Mind-body connection

Sue Van Raes, a nutritional therapist, notes that a lot of the nutrients in our food are required as building blocks for the neurotransmitters that help us to feel happy and calm, contributing to a balanced mental health.

An absence of these can lead to our mental health declining.

David says the fact that he had to see a therapist speaks for itself. “I've always felt like an outsider in some sense and this makes it harder not to feel that way,” he says. “I've learned to accept it as part of me and use it as an advantage, anyhow I can.”

"Nutrients in our food are required as building blocks for the neurotransmitters that help us to feel happy and calm"

The eating disorder also affects one’s physical health. For Bobby, eating was only about nutrition. “I have always had a wise head on my shoulders and understood the importance of a balanced diet,” he says, “and being particularly sporty also helped in this regard.”

However, David wasn’t particularly athletic, so the little he ate was only enough to sustain him. Other people of a similar weight would need more bites of food to feel full.

How to treat avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

Avocado, tomato and rocket on toastLearning to cooking simple meals can get you used to eating certain ingredients

Sue suggests exposure therapy to treat ARFID.

“If we expose ourselves to some of the foods, it might cause a bit of anxiety or a little bit of sensory overload. But if we're doing that in microdoses, we'll have better luck than throwing ourselves into it full force," she says. 

"You get yourself used to certain smells and textures of food. And you make sure that you're taking your time, being gentle with yourself and giving yourself the space to process, to have the experience in a safe environment where some of the other emotions might be less activated.”

Bobby’s route to finding enjoyment from food was barbecue. “My early experience with barbecue food laid the groundwork for what has blossomed into a healthy obsession,” he says.

"Get yourself used to certain smells and textures of food"

“I learned how to barbecue from my father and I used to barbecue mainly in the summer—it has progressed into an all-year-round passion. I love to experiment, test, and try new flavours and techniques.

"Above all, I love to have family gatherings where we can all experience the wonders of barbecue. I would say that barbecue gave me a relationship with food—and I have never looked back!”

Sue concurs. “In my practice, a lot of my clients who are recovering from various disordered eating experiences start developing a healthier relationship with food through doing more hands-on work in the kitchen. It's like a therapeutic way to engage with our food.”

Finally, Sue suggests starting small on your journey to enjoying food. “Start with simple ingredients, and fewer of them as well, so that there isn't too much going on on your palate.

"There's space to explore, but nothing should be rushed. Use less spice, fewer ingredients, and less aquired textures or strong smells. Keep things fairly simple and build from there.”

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