Last night, Amber Scott appeared on ABC’s documentary show 20/20 and explained her dysfunctional relationship with food to the viewing public.
ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) is one of the new additions to the DSM, and still has that unique strange affliction stigma attached to it. Even among the medical and psychiatric community, it is poorly understood. Amber did a great job explaining how difficult it is to get past the sensory qualities of food, and illustrates the potential for long term issues with food when children and parents are not properly supported with feeding.
Unfortunately, 20/20 made it a priority to zero in on the one food Amber feels most comfortable with, dismissing a very real fear of unfamiliar food as an “addiction” to French fries. It looks like the selective eating community shall endure that pungent stigma smell for a little while longer.
Amber is very generous with clues. Around 1:10 she mentions a traumatizing childhood experience with peas; at 2:28 she discusses how a limited diet is a living nightmare; at 4:20; she mentions the devastating fear of not being accepted; at 5:08 she describes sensory sensitivity and how food feels in her mouth. From 5:26 through to 8:24, we watch Amber’s agonizing distress over a bowl of plain white rice.
The host says “what happens next is shocking”. She obviously hasn’t been paying attention.
Up until this point, you hear both Amber and a nutritional therapist describe how the selective eater perceives food. It isn’t edible. It looks like bugs. Amber asks a valid question – what is that mechanism that tells us eating french fries or pasta is food and a stick or rocks is not? White rice is, as far as Amber is concerned, the same as a bowl of rocks.
This is a very common perception of food among selective eaters. One very expressive nine year old explains eating as “being in a dungeon with a wall of spikes about to close in.” This same child has also said “it’s like diving into a pool full of sharks. No matter how much I want to swim, I just can’t because of the sharks.”
With that in mind, witnessing Amber’s reaction to a few grains of rice really isn’t all that shocking. It’s actually very understandable. I wouldn’t do as well as she did in a pool full of sharks. The fact that she got a grain of rice into her mouth is nothing short of amazing.
Kinda makes you want to jump right in… 10, 15, maybe 20 times, doesn’t it? I want you to reconsider the concept of forced exposure and that children need to taste a food multiple times before they will accept it. Amber tried a single grain of rice and as the video clearly states at 7:28, “Amber declares she won’t be trying a new food any time soon.” There is a valuable lesson to take away from Amber’s experience with rice – the importance of not pressuring (in this case, insisting) a child (or adult) has to taste food they aren’t ready to eat. Her struggle with a few grains of rice is palpable, and her display of panic and fear is very real. Tactics that insist someone (usually the child) eats as another (often the parent) demands only reinforces how ‘dangerous’ new and unfamiliar food can be.
At 8:00 listen to the shame and guilt Amber has endured, despite both her own and her physician’s statements that she is in perfect health.
As Amber so eloquently states at 9:06, “It’s a very old fashioned kind of mentality to tell your children you’ll eat what I made or you’ll starve.” It does sound very peculiar to insist someone jumps into a pool full of sharks or they will be denied dessert, or sent to bed hungry. If we want children to grow up eating as well as we hope they will, wouldn’t it be more useful to make eating a joy instead of an ultimatum?