Adam’s Story

I have recently finished 16 weeks of sessions at First Steps ED and wanted to share my experience.

In the first session, I was introduced to the specialist support officer who would be dealing with me for the duration of my time with First Steps.

Rebecca was great. Easy to talk to, understanding of what I wanted to gain from the sessions and the right balance between being encouraging but not too pushy.

In the first session, we just explored where I was at. Having previously done CBT through the NHS in 2018, I had a good understanding of what ARFID was and how it impacted my life. I understood the principles of what I needed to do to improve my relationship with food, but the execution was a big issue for me.

In the next session we drew up what I called my food hierarchy sheet. Each column listed my feelings on a bunch of foods. The columns consisted of:

My task thereafter was to bring some food to each session and try them. I started with stuff that I had memories of being able to eat but would never eat now.

Things like apples, bananas, yoghurt & Frosties were in this category for me. The idea was just to reintroduce my taste buds to things that weren’t my everyday safe foods.

When I first did CBT through the NHS, I had successfully navigated the stage of existential dread at the mere thought of eating something. I was aware that this was a psychological issue & I was motivated in droves to overcome my fear now that I am raising my own little humans.

We progressed through the easiest stage over the first couple of weeks of sessions, trying things that I knew I had been able to eat a few years earlier when I did CBT.

Once the trust was established, we moved up a gear and started trying things that I had never eaten, or at least had no memory of eating as an adult.

The sessions always went the same way, which was good for my routine driven mind. We would have a quick chat about what we had been up to over the previous week and then talk about what foods I had brought with me in my bag for this week.

Then it was time to pick the first food we were trying in this session. We would talk about how I felt about the food. The smell, the feel of it in my hand, the texture. Did it evoke any memories or any feelings?

Through the sessions, we tried a bunch of stuff, and I was able to add new safe foods to my diet as a result.

One of the early sessions featured blueberries, Weetabix, and a pear.

The blueberries were surprisingly nice. Much better than I remembered from my CBT. I think the major frustration I have with fruits is the inconsistency between individual pieces. One is perfectly ripe, one is overripe, one is underripe.  I never know quite what to expect and that is difficult for someone with ARFID. But the blueberries, in this instance, were really nice and I gave myself homework to try more. I spent each subsequent session eating an additional blueberry until I was bringing genuine handfuls to each session!

The pear was ok. I remember describing it as a B movie apple. The skin was chewier, and it felt like it stuck to my teeth more.

Finally, the Weetabix. That was awful. I could taste it in my nose and my mouth- I felt like I was chewing a field. I was sick later that day and I could still taste it at that point.

As we went on, we tried different foods each week. It was not a linear line in terms of successes. Some sessions felt great but there were some low points too so to anybody who goes on this journey; Don’t let the things you don’t like put you off. Things will surprise you in positive and negative ways and you have to try and embrace the unpredictability of it all.

Some highlights and lowlights I remember from subsequent sessions include:

Kiwi It was sour but not in a negative way. It reminded me a bit of a raspberry. I found the texture with the seeds to be a little unsettling but not to the point that I couldn’t eat it.

Boiled egg Hated this. It felt like I was eating rubber. Conversely, I tried a fried egg and didn’t mind it, which was an eyeopener. The same food, prepared in a different way, could yield totally different results.

Soup Chicken soup was a real low point. It gave me dog food vibes and I couldn’t stomach it at all. I was stunned I managed to keep the first spoonful down. However, tomato soup was fine. It made its way onto my safe list, giving me my first ever potential start when in posh restaurants!

Raisins Ok, edible. My three-year-old loves them so I am now able to accept the odd snack from her!

One of the most eye-opening sessions followed those ones. I tried rice krispies and cornflakes and found both to be fine. Kinda tasteless but fine to chew and swallow. Suddenly, I could eat breakfast cereals with my kids, a game changer!

In that same session, I tried grapefruit which was surprisingly bitter but thanks to its similarity to an orange, the texture and smell were fine. Not something I am rushing to try again but it was edible and safe enough.

The big loser from that session was a real surprise. I love ham. But I always buy the premium, thick cut sort of ham from the supermarket. I wanted to try a lower tier ham and I went for the wafer-thin stuff. There were holes in it because it was so thin and again, the thought of eating dog food returned. It was the closest I got to being sick at this stage.

As the sessions went on, I found more things I still disliked than things I liked. But I was still finding things that I could eat and that was a huge plus.

Baked beans were vile. Avocado was puzzling- why do so many people like that? Granary bread was not for me, the clash of textures was a nightmare for my brain. 

However, natural yoghurt was fine. The mid-tier ham was ok. It isn’t going to replace the stuff I like the most but now I can eat that if I need to. Mango was fine. Sourdough bread isn’t sour at all- it’s just got a weird name that has always put me off trying it.

Cottage pie is tolerable. Cups of tea with two sugars can be drunk in a social setting. I can eat sesame seed buns from McDonalds all of a sudden. I still have to order the burgers plain but just being able to eat the seeded buns has opened up a new range on that menu, which felt impossible before this process began.

I pushed hard in my final session, trying stuff from the top tier of things I didn’t think would ever be edible for me.  And guess what? I hated everything I tried in that session. Chicken Chow Mein, a sauce that went over a meat and jerk chicken, was beyond my abilities at that point.

But the session before, I tried some bits off the same tier and found that Chicken Korma and Naan Bread were not too bad. I’m not rushing out to go for an Indian but there is something that I can tolerate a very small portion of and it’s up to me to make sure I build on that.

Looking forward, I want to keep trying new things in 2024. That might just be things I tried in the sessions and realised that they wouldn’t make me vomit. I am using First Steps’ befriending service to give myself some accountability in that aspect. Hopefully having a weekly check in will encourage me to keep building on the progress made in these sessions.

If you get the chance to try this format of helping you with your ARFID, I thoroughly recommend it. You will add something to your diet using this method and as you gain confidence, the sky’s the limit!

Contributed by Adam