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7 Tips for Living with a Teenager with ARFID
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Advice from a parent on the lesser known eating disorder, ARFID

Written by Amanda, a mother of two in Calgary, Alberta. Her daughter, has ARFID. To connect with her, please email info@healthstandnutrition.com

7 Tips for Living with a Teenager with ARFID

In 2008, when I was expecting my now-teenager, I read all the parenting books available. Those books covered infancy and toddlerhood in detail, but then became quite vague regarding the school-age and teenage years. None of them mentioned avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), or how it would impact our family as a whole. 

Sixteen years later, the resources out there are still pretty scarce. Researching treatments, requesting medical referrals, sourcing therapists and dietitians, cooking separate meals – it’s all added up to a full-time job I never applied for. I’m learning as I go- and I know I’m not alone. 

Here are my tips for other families of teenagers living with ARFID: 

1. Study up

Research on ARFID is emerging, but still tricky to navigate. There are a handful of books, including a fictional novel, called Sad Perfect, written by a mom whose teenage daughter has ARFID.

Join the social media support groups by searching “ARFID” on Facebook – they are primarily based in the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Canada. Some focus on adults with ARFID, some focus on children and their caregivers. An internet search will lead you to various blogs and media articles. There are also ARFID-based TikTok and Instagram profiles to follow. A documentary about ARFID was recently released called “Not Just A Picky Eater” on some streaming platforms. 

Knowledge is power. You may not be an expert on eating disorders, but you’re an expert on your teenager and what is best for your family.  

2. Look at the bigger nutritional picture

Don’t fuss over each snack or meal throughout the day, but rather what is eaten over the entire week. Wednesday can make up for Monday. Friday can balance out Tuesday.

Chances are that your teenager internalizes comments (well-intentioned and otherwise) about their food choices on a daily basis. It’s too demoralizing to keep score. Keep their home a judgment-free zone. 

3. Avoid micro-managing

Teenagers want independence. It’s tempting to pack safe foods for social events or to google a restaurant menu before a dinner party, but teens don’t always want to be coddled or treated differently than their peers. Trust them to take care of their own needs within their own limits. 

4. Think carefully about orthodontic work

If your teenager survives on popcorn and whole apples, getting braces can drastically shorten their list of safe foods. Invisalign might be a better option, as the trays can be removed for meals and snacks. Talk to an orthodontist about the options.

5. Create a new reward system

Celebrations often revolve around food, and that’s emotionally draining for a teenager with ARFID. Bad days don’t need to be soothed with ice cream. A good grade doesn’t have to earn a Frappuccino. Food is my love language, so I know how hard it is to think outside the kitchen when it comes to comforting or celebrating my teenager. Pedicures, Robux and Amazon gift cards go a long way around here.

6. Find a community

ARFID may not be a new eating disorder, but it is newly defined and recognized. Resources are limited, so we parents need to share ideas and experiences and stick together.    

Please comment below or contact info@healthstandnutrition.com to connect with me and other parents who have a child or teenager with ARFID. Let’s share the load and support one another through this. 

7. And here’s the hardest tip of all: Don’t blame yourself

Your teenager doesn’t have ARFID because you ate the wrong things during pregnancy, or because you didn’t make organic baby food from scratch. It’s not because you breastfed for too long, or not long enough. It’s not because you haven’t read all the books about picky eating” or studied gourmet cooking. 

You love your teenager unconditionally and advocate for them relentlessly. Watching them struggle is beyond heartbreaking, and you’ve likely made some of the same mistakes I have. Forgive yourself today, then wake up tomorrow and start again. Take care of yourself so you can continue to be their soft place to land.

ARFID

Amanda is a mother of two in Calgary, Alberta. Her daughter, has ARFID. She is eager to connect with other parents who are going through a similar experience. You can reach Amanda by commenting below or reaching out to us directly so that you can be connected privately.   

Do you or a loved one have an eating disorder or think you might? Take the first step here. Our compassionate eating disorder Dietitians can help

Our Eating Disorder Dietitians on our team can help provide you with the confidential supportive care to meet you where you are at and work with you to progress recovery at a pace you can manage. We’ll guide you to heal your relationship with food and your body.

We also work collaboratively with your physician and therapist to ensure we are helping you move forward with the right type of support needed to assist you.

Want to learn more about eating disorders? Check out these related posts on our blog:

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