Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Many children who become particular about their eating habits, choosing only a very narrow range of foods, it can be labeled fussy eating. ARFID or Avoidant|Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is not fussy eating It's a phobia. ARFID can also be called Selective Eating Disorder or SED. Generally this develops in a child and can progress into adult years.
ARFID or SED can be a negative response to food textures, colours, smell or taste. Eating these foods is impossible for the sufferer. It can cause them to gag or vomit. Like any phobia the response does not make sense to the sufferer, it is not something they choose, it's an automatic response. Any parent with a child with this disorder understands the frustration and concern as your child refuses everything but chicken nuggets. You worry about the long term health consequences for your child. No child wants to have ARFID and will often feel ashamed.
Hypnotherapy works particularly well with phobias and ARFID is treatable and fixable. Generally the phobia will have kicked in for one of two reasons:
As a baby or young child there was a negative experience with eating, choking for example. It is unlikely there is memory of this but it is driving their unconscious decisions. ARFID is their protective mechanism to keep them safe. Having food go down the wrong way as an adult is something we all navigate, but as a baby or toddler it can feel as if they might die.
There may have been a situation where the child felt out of control, such as moving house, a divorce or changing schools. As a result they have learnt to control something that is in control....food.
Most kids do not want ARFID or SED, it's annoying for them to have to explain why they are eating a bag of chips rather than joining in the school camp food. It limits their social events and brings unwanted attention. While part of them doesn't want this disorder another 'safety' part cannot let it go.
Hypnotherapy allows the therapist to work with the child's unconscious to bring about change. We work with the part of them that has locked down to protect the child. Hypnotherapy is a little more gentle than exposure therapy or CBT for ARFID. It gets to the core of the problem and is safe and often enjoyable for the child. They are not going to suddenly find all foods delicious but the hypnotherapy will open them up to feeling safe experimenting with foods they have previously been unable to consider. It can bring about normalised eating.
During the process of hypnosis we also use a gentle but powerful style of exposure therapy. This uses the power of the imagination to immerse them in eating their 'unsafe' foods. It's a great way of triggering their symptoms in a gentle, controlled way and having them manage the anxiety. It de-sensitizes them to the intense feelings. The unconscious cannot differentiate between real and the imagination so it's a good way of building neural pathways to start eating new foods.
It is important the child is not put under undue pressure and feels relaxed during this process of healing. I can work with children from eight years old. Generally it takes 4 sessions to see results.