The following is a letter from a teenager whose parents have been insisting that she tries new foods – an experience she describes as unbearable and always ends in tears. With permission, I am sharing this letter so that we as parents can better understand our selective eating children. If you’re a teen, it is hoped that this letter will help your parents better understand how they can provide the support you need.
Dear Mom and Dad:
I know you love me and want what you believe is best for my health and my future. I thank you for that. I want you to know that I want that too. I know my eating worries you, and probably keeps you awake at night fearing for my future health and happiness. Neither you, nor I have any control over what the future will bring. What scares me most is that I will lose your love over the food I cannot eat.
I understand that all the advice and attempts to get me to try new foods is for my own good, however I would appreciate it if you could just accept me the way I am. I know you’re trying to help, but trying to make me eat differently than I am able to is making it harder for me to eat the way you would like me to. I am trying- I really am!! Trying different foods would be so much easier if I knew I didn’t have to earn your love with the food I chew and swallow.
I have searched for information and discovered there are many others who have strong likes and dislikes for food, and there are professionals who specialize in this pattern of eating. It’s called ARFID. Here is some information about it:
Defining Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Change Is Never Easy, but It Is Possible: Reflections on Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder Two Years After Its Introduction in the DSM-5
What Is ARFID?
What I need to be successful with eating is your acceptance and your support. Just accept my eating as it is and stop trying to change me. I am more hesitant to try new foods when others insist. Asking me to try food makes me more anxious about eating that food, and increases the likelihood that I will not like the taste. However, if the willingness to try a new food comes from myself, I am better able to approach that food calmly, and with interest.
I know you’re only trying to help me, and believe that everything you have done, and continue to do, is done with good intentions. I have included some information for you, so you can help me in a way that builds my confidence around food. When every mealtime feels like a conversation that discusses my eating habits, it makes me want to run from the table! I am already very self-conscious about my eating and wish that I could eat like everyone else. How I wish that social eating events were gatherings I could enjoy instead of worrying about the potential to turn into my biggest nightmare.
I hope we can sit down together with this information and have a discussion. I would really like to have a better relationship with food, and I believe that I can with your support. At the moment, I feel like all I can do is disappoint you when I eat. Those times when you have allowed me to eat what I was able to and defended me from the negative comments of others mean the world to me. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I remember those times you made me feel normal more than I remember the times your worries made me feel bad about myself. I hope I can count on your support because I know that I can do anything when you believe in me.