“Hi. I’m Anna and I have an eating disorder.
Oof. That’s scary to write. Scary to say out loud for the world to hear. But there it is, and I’m not going to go back and delete it.
I’m a grown-ass woman. I am an amazing mom. I’m college educated, a home owner, a critter keeper, a caring friend, a loving daughter, and a great sister. I have traveled all over the world. I’ve climbed mountains in China and river rafted in Thailand. I can cook a full Thanksgiving dinner from scratch and start a campfire from twigs. I can sew a quilt, give CPR, grow my own grapes, use a table saw, and crochet my own scarf.
But you know what I can’t do? I can’t eat the ear of corn that is sitting on the plate in front of me.
Or the bowl of soup, the plate of pasta, or the salad.
I can’t eat 90% of the food in my house right now without running to the bathroom to vomit. Even just writing this now has me reaching for the Zofran because I’m thinking about all this food.
What Is ARFID?
I have an anxiety-induced eating disorder called ARFID. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. Those of you who have Autistic children are probably familiar with this because it’s the same thing many of our kids struggle with. It’s when picky eating turns clinical. When the foods you eat aren’t in your control. Somewhere in your brain is some controller that says which foods are okay to eat and which ones aren’t. Only sometimes that controller short circuits and a food that has been safe for three weeks suddenly turns into a food that must be avoided at all costs. Or, it says you are happy to eat as many chicken nuggets as your belly can contain, but they must be from Wendy’s, they must be room temperature, and they must be dipped in a 50/50 mixture of ketchup and bbq sauce. If anything in that ritual is changed, then you cannot eat a single bite. Not will not, can not. You would literally rather starve to death then let that food pass over your lips. The point is, something in your brain decides that some foods are safe while others aren’t. It isn’t always a logical decision or an intentional one, it just happens, although there are some times you can see a natural progression that makes sense.
For example, as a young child, I have very vivid memories of throwing up tabbouleh. I haven’t been able to eat tabbouleh for 25 years as a result. Logical progression. Others make absolutely no sense at all. Example — I LOVE grapes, grape juice, grape jelly, grape-flavored gum, everything grapey. I even grow my own grapes because I love them so much. And yet, not 30 minutes ago, I had to have a friend come pick up an almost full container of grape juice off my front porch because I knew if I drank another drop of it, I would throw up. Yesterday, I happily drank a full glass of grape juice and today, I can’t even stand the thought of it existing in my fridge.
Nine months ago, I lost the ability to eat chicken. It wasn’t that I ate bad chicken and it set me off. I didn’t get food poisoning or eat something gross. I just woke up one day knowing full well if I tried to eat a bite of chicken, I would puke.
And then I lost all poultry. Then beef. Lunchmeat. Then day by day, I lost the ability to eat vegetables. Baked goods. Yogurt. Cheese.
The day I couldn’t eat strawberries, I cried.
I had a friend come clean out my fridge and take it all home to her kids because knowing those foods were in there was more than I could handle.
It went up and down. Some days I could eat actual meals and I celebrated them. Look at me! Eating a sandwich! And then other days, I lived exclusively off of white cheddar popcorn and clementines. The day I discovered I could drink Ensure was a big deal. Until they began limiting the quantities you could buy, so I found myself driving to three different stores to get enough for the next week, which introduced a whole new thing for me to be anxious about. Right now, I can drink strawberry and vanilla Ensure and fruit punch flavored Juicy Juice. Raspberries but only if they come from Costco. Sometimes I can eat a brown sugar PopTart or a handful of Cheez-Its. A small bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats is a victory for me. That’s it. That’s all I can eat right now.
Eating Disorders Can Impact Anyone
So far, only my best friends and my immediate family know about this. It’s embarrassing to be a grown-ass woman with an eating disorder that is so overwhelming that even thinking about the idea of a food makes me anxious and sick. You don’t look at me and my body shape and associate it with someone whose eating is this restricted. (I’ll give my PCOS some of the blame for that one.)
I spent months telling myself it wasn’t an eating disorder. Eating disorders were for teenagers, were about body image, and began intentionally. They didn’t sneak up on you one day and gradually worsen. They certainly didn’t happen randomly to women in their thirties who are supposed to have it all together.
But guess what? They do.
And before you know it, you’re laying on the floor of your bathroom, alternating between sobbing and dry heaving, calling a friend and asking her to break isolation, put her kids and herself in danger of the Coronavirus, and come get the lentils out of the fridge. Wash the pot the lentils were cooked in, the spoon they were mixed with, the bowl they touched. Not just get them out of the fridge, but out of the house, out of a three-mile vicinity. Put them in her car and drive them home to her trash can. Take a picture of the fridge showing me they were gone, so as I lay on the bathroom floor I could stare at it like some kind of electronic lifeline.
And that’s when you have to admit to yourself this is more than just picky eating. This is an eating disorder and you are not in control of it.
Working To Heal
I have a wonderful GP and an excellent therapist and we are working on this as a team. Pairing medications with therapy, while also recognizing that for me this is anxiety-driven and we are in the middle of an international pandemic, so escaping anxiety is pretty much impossible.
One of the things my therapist has suggested is journaling. She has also suggested opening up about what I’m struggling with. I have an amazing support system but I tend to minimize or gloss over how hard things are, because this sh*t is embarrassing! So to kill two birds with one stone, I’m sharing what I’m going through on my blog. I’m not looking for advice, suggestions, books to read, medications to try, or podcasts to listen to. I don’t want to hear about how your cousin sells a juice cleanse and if I just remove the toxins from my colon I’ll feel better, or if I find the right combination of essential oils it’ll open up my chakras and eating a salad won’t be so scary. I just want to sit here at my nice, safe dining room table, and share about something that’s hard for me.
I have four of the best friends in the world who drop everything to come pick up food off my front porch because the smell and thought of it in my house makes me gag. Who listen to me cry and yell about it. Who put on gloves and a mask just so they can come over to hold my hand and help me feel less alone through this. I truly would not be able to make it through each day without them and will be forever grateful they are in my life. I love you all and I’m thankful for you.
I have a sister who talks me through a food-induced panic attack over the phone, helping me find a way to steady myself, even though she is many miles away. A brother in law who helps me remember to breathe. Parents who make excuses for me when I can’t participate in family events and never make me feel bad about it. A brother and sister in law whose offer to drop everything and care for my son gives me strength. Unending support and love, no matter what. I love you all and I’m grateful for you.
I hope that by sharing my story, I somehow lighten the load for someone else. Maybe reading about what I’m going through helps you with what you have on your plate. This was hard to write. The one thing that makes it a little easier is thinking maybe someone else is going through the same thing but hasn’t asked for help yet. Maybe me opening up about this gives someone else the courage to do the same. Even if it doesn’t, I’m proud of myself for being able to open up and speak my truth.
Hi. I’m Anna and I have an eating disorder.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Anna Wersan. You can follow their journey here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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