Per the old Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times,” it may be that the most interesting of times are those when people do not want to hear the truth — as in the present, or so it would seem.
I did not intend to write a follow-up to my recent column on Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), but the feedback has been some of the most reactionary I’ve received in 44 years of writing this column. Ergo, a follow-up.
Several parents of kids diagnosed with ARFID pointed out that it’s a legitimate mental health diagnosis. Right, and like all mental health diagnoses, that means nothing. A diagnosis of brain cancer — a MEDICAL diagnosis — refers to a malignant tumor. A diagnosis of arteriosclerosis — a medical diagnosis — refers to thickening and hardening of arterial walls. Both conditions are objectively demonstrable and verifiable, as is the case with all medical diagnoses.
Ah, but a mental health diagnosis refers to nothing other than a set of behaviors. The behaviors can certainly be verified — as in, “my child refuses to eat anything but junk food” — but no underlying, physiological cause has ever been proven for any mental health diagnosis. They don’t refer to conditions that some people “have,” although that is what mental health professionals want you to believe. Without any tangible evidence, they claim that their diagnoses reflect such things as biochemical imbalances and brain differences. The FACT is that no one has ever proven that a mental health diagnosis represents something someone “has.”
ARFID, like all mental health diagnoses, is a construct, a fabrication. The problem — as reflected in the feedback in question — is that parents would much rather believe their picky eaters “have” something that’s causing their tongues to reject normal food, than believe they created the problem by catering and enabling. One explanation absolves the parent of responsibility; the other does not. Which is more palatable, pun intended? Bingo!
One parent wrote that her child “started controlling his eating at six months.” How, pray tell, does a 6-month-old “control” his eating without parents who cooperate?
My daughter, when we introduced pureed foods, initially spit most of them out. She attempted, in other words, to control her eating. Most infants do. On a taste scale of 1 to 10, they want 9 and 10 only. We simply scooped up the rejected food and put it back in her mouth. She’d spit it out again. We calmly repeated the sequence until she figured out that’s all she was getting. Or, the designated feeder would simply walk away, occupy him- or herself for a while, and then try again. Eventually, Amy stopped attempting to control what we fed her. How does a person of any age accustom themselves to eating something that may initially taste somewhat, uh, “different”? They eat it, that’s what, and in short order, it no longer tastes different at all.
I can envision how our experience with Amy might have devolved into a full-blown battle of wills and eventually, as another reader put it, “dictate the entire life of our family.” We simply resolved not to allow either of our children to “dictate” anything to us.
Per the Chinese adage again: Picky eating does not have to become “interesting.” It can be, and should be, nipped in the bud.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.