This post contains non-explicit discussion of diet, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. If any of these topics are triggering for you, please either stop reading, or proceed with caution. Make the choice that is best for your well-being.
I wrote about the first couple days here.
It's now been roughly a month since I started seeing a dietitian about my ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) and improving my overall diet.
And I feel much better.
While the first week was difficult and I saw my anxiety reach levels not seen in years, I managed, and found the next week to be much, much easier. First, because of my experience with therapy the last 2+years, and because I finally started meal planning.
Learning to Feel
I remember going to bet on the second night and feeling absolutely exhausted and upset. And while I lay in bed letting those emotions flow through me I realized that I had felt like this before when I was struggling with depression. What was once a wall of negative emotion I could do nothing but wallow in, was now something I could understand and process. I was feeling overwhelmed, with so many new things to consider in regards to my meals. I was feeling anxious about facing food and cooking again. I was feeling stressed after an entire day spent overwhelmed and anxious each time I had to decide what to eat for my next meal.
It may seem basic to some, but until recently I was unable to recognize or pull apart these different emotions and symptoms. Just like it had taken me until the age of twelve to learn to recognize the physical feeling of hunger, it had taken me until the age of 20 to learn to recognize the physical feeling of anxiety. It had taken me until the age of 25 or 26 to learn to recognize the difference between overwhelm or stress, and hating myself.
That night, I didn't ruminate. I acknowledge my feelings, and made a plan for the next day. I knew what I needed to do.
Planning Away the Anxiety
The next day, after breakfast, I finally gave meal planning a go.
Part of me already knew that meal planning would be helpful. I figured that at the very least, it would reduce how often I had to deal with that anxiety of choosing what to eat. I could just get it over with once and then take a break for a few days.
It was way better than that.
I felt nervous as I sat down with a family member to plan the next few days, but I was determined to give it a try. By the time we got to day two, I realized I wasn't feeling anywhere near the level of anxiety I was used to when deciding my next meal. Deciding ahead of time seemed to create a kind of temporal buffer between me and that meal which meant I felt a lot less pressure and could think through my choices calmly and rationally.
We planned about three days in advance before I ran out of options (including variations of similar meals). It was clear that my next step would be increasing the variety of meals on my "menu," but for now my focus was meal planning and abolishing this chunk of anxiety.
Work in Progress
These days, meal planning is my crutch. I rely on it heavily to avoid that anxiety around deciding what to eat in the moment. Toward the end of the week, I start feeling just a little more anxious as we approach "uncharted territory", but it's nowhere near the anxiety I felt the first two days.
I still have a very limited list of fruits and vegetables I can eat, but my confidence is already many times higher than it was at the start of this process.
I would guess that about 80% of my meals include three major food groups, which means I'm consistently getting enough protein in my diet, and getting way more nutrients than I was before.
I tried and loved a sesame oil stir fry recipe my mother recommended and it's now one of my favorite dishes. For the first time ever, I eagerly look forward to eating dish of mostly vegetables.
I'll take the slow progress over the complete stagnation of the last decade.
There's power in understanding why.
When I was just "a picky eater," our choices were basically 'leave it alone' or 'force change'. But with the understanding and acceptance of ARFID and anxiety as major factors, I've been able to approach my diet in a very different way.
- Worst case scenario for me is that something tastes bad and I spit it out. (Fortunately I don't have any food allergies or choking risks that would complicate this further.)
- Some foods will taste better cooked a different way, so I shouldn't give up on them right away. Some foods will cause GI problems at first, but I can get used to.
- But at the same time, there are foods I will genuinely dislike for their flavor or texture. I'm allowed to dislike foods like anyone else.
- The only thing that isn't allowed is avoiding food based solely on unfounded anxiety. Doing that is only feeding the anxiety and doing nothing for me.