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Family-Owned, Patient-Focused: The Renfrew Center Difference

Podcast Transcript

Episode 20: All About ARFID with a Renfrew Alumna

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

Sam: Hey, I’m Sam!

Ashley: Hi, I’m Ashley and you’re listening to All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. We want to create a space for all bodies to come together authentically and purposefully to discuss various areas that impact us on a cultural and relational level.

Sam: We believe that all bodies and all foods are welcome, we would love for you to join us on this journey. Let’s learn together.

Sam: Hello and welcome back to another episode on All Bodies. All Foods. I am so grateful today, we have a terrific episode for you, a recovery story. I am a big believer that to have hope and to hold onto hope, hearing stories like this can be so helpful to our audience members, whether you’re someone who’s struggling with an eating disorder, or you know someone who might be struggling, this is the episode for you. This is all about ARFID recovery today, and some of you might be wondering what ARFID is? Maybe you’ve never even heard of it. It may be more familiar to you than you realize. ARFID is colloquially known as “picky eating,” but it’s much more complex than that. It’s a mental health diagnosis, and the symptoms of ARFID often interfere with everyday life and can cause severe medical, emotional, and social consequences. According to the DSM-5, ARFID stands for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, and it’s an eating or feeding disturbance. For example, it could be a lack of interest in eating or a lack of interest in food, avoidance of food based on the sensory characteristics of it, concern about the aversive consequences of eating, and it’s manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs. It can be associated with significant weight loss, failure to a achieve expected weight gain and growth, nutritional deficiencies. Sometimes there’s even dependence on supplements or internal feeding, and there can be marked interference with psychosocial functioning. Today, we have Mia here with us, who is a Renfrew Center alum and a social media mental health advocate. Mia is currently a college student majoring in social work, and is passionate about educating people on the signs of ARFID and sharing that recovery is possible. Using her past experience as a launch pad for change, Mia is starting to write and speak about her mental health journey in hopes it will help other people feel less alone and find the help they need. Welcome to the episode, Mia!

Mia: Hi!

Sam: Hello!

Ashley: Hello!

Sam: We are so grateful to have you on today to help people better understand ARFID, to help people know that there’s hope, because you’ve been through it, you know what it’s like.

Mia: Definitely.

Sam: And, yeah, maybe we can just start out, what was your experience with ARFID? And when did you first discover that this is really a lot more than just picky eating?

Mia: Sure, yeah! So, I had no idea what ARFID was. I didn’t know that I had an eating disorder, I didn’t know that my struggles were classified as an eating disorder. For a long time I had a fear surrounding food, that if I ate it, I would go into anaphylactic shock, that I would have an allergic reaction, that I would choke. And it really developed over the course of a couple of years, but it got very intense right before I went into Renfrew and realized, “Wait a second, this actually is a problem.”

Sam: Mhm, mhm. So, you didn’t even realize this was a mental health disorder?

Mia: I didn’t. I genuinely thought, like, when my brain was saying, “This is unsafe,” or “Don’t eat this,” or like, “You don’t even want food,” I had no idea. Like, I thought my brain was protecting myself. So, yeah, I had absolutely no idea what this was.

Sam: Right. Your brain was just telling you, “Food is dangerous. Stay away from it.”

Mia: Right.

Sam: It was trying to protect you.

Mia: Right. And I thought I was doing the right thing, and no one around me noticed it as anything either. They just thought, yeah, picky eating.

Ashley: Gotcha.

Sam: I see. Ok. And when did this— I mean, I’m curious, when did it start? What was your family’s reaction to this? I know there’s probably parents out there listening. I’m curious, like, what was your experience in your family?

Mia: Sure. So, like I said, this kind of built up over a couple of years, but in the fall of 2020, that’s when doctors and loved ones around me were like, “Hey, girl, you need to do something. This isn’t right. This isn’t normal. And you’re honestly in danger. Like, you’re not in a good place and you need to do something to get healthy and make a change in your life.” And it came as a shock for everyone. I think the shock came because there’s such a stigma around eating disorders. And so, my family— I mean, my mom was the first one who was in contact with people and was the one who told me like, “Hey, we’re recommending you for treatment.” And it was— she was shocked as well. Because I wasn’t doing this on purpose, you can say, or like intentionally.

Ashley: Yeah.

Mia: So, she was shocked. My sisters, like, my family, everyone, even my friends, everybody was like, “We had no idea you were struggling with something, no idea it was an eating disorder.” So, it was really a surprise for everybody.

Sam: It was shocking.

Mia: Yeah, yeah. And it was really hard for me because I thought— I mean, I remember telling my mom, I was like, “I do not have an eating disorder! I’m not—” I would always say, “—Like those people.” Like, I’m not in this— like, I didn’t want to label on me because in my mind, as I said, I wasn’t doing this on purpose.

Ashley: Right.

Mia: So, when she told me I was like, “Yeah right, what do these people know?”

Ashley: Yeah.

Sam: Mhm, right.

Ashley: Mia, I’m curious, so we know that, like, eating disorders impact us in various avenues of our life. Like our family relationships, our work, our school work, our friendships, all of that jazz. Were you noticing things shift prior to, you know, being told you needed to go to treatment or how was AFRID, we know that it was a at this point, but prior to even knowing that, how was that interfering with those different avenues?

Mia: So, there was a time where— which I didn’t notice it until I was farther removed and, like, had a name for what I was struggling with. But looking back now, you know, I highly disliked eating around people. I felt a lot of anxiety. I mean, sharing a meal with somebody, uh uh, there’s no way. That brought on so much anxiety. I didn’t like eating in restaurants, like, public eating was terrifying to me and really brought on the symptoms of ARFID, like the anxiety behind it. And it made things so complicated. So, one of the things I really struggled with was, as I mentioned, I had a fear of anaphylactic shock. So, I would tell people, “I’m allergic to this.” So, say I’d go to somebody’s house, and they’d be like, “We’re having this for dinner,” and I’d be like, “Oh, so sorry, like, I’m allergic to that.” Because I genuinely thought it was an allergic reaction. So, everywhere I went I made it really complicated because I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, I can’t have this, I can’t have that, I can’t have this.” And people would be like, “What?! Like, what can you eat?” And I’d be like, “Oh, don’t worry about me.” So, really interfered with social dynamics a lot.

Sam: Mhm, mhm. You talk about, that it brought on anxiety, did you notice any other emotional experiences that traveled along with ARFID?

Mia: Definitely. Okay so, definitely anxiety, but disgust, not— low interest. And at a time… like, when I entered treatment, a lot of, I wanna say sadness, because I felt really connected to my problem, that it was, like, my problem, my fault. So, sadness, anger at times, and just not interested in food. There was a lot attached to it, like a lot of really strong emotions.

Sam: Mhm. Wow. So, what about where— so were you in school at this time?

Mia: Mhm. So, I was a junior in high school.

Sam: And what— do you think it was impacting school at all? Or, I know everyone’s different, for some folks, you know, that denial I think is really common with eating disorders, and minimization. Especially if someone is doing ok in school. And I was just wondering what your experience was in school and whether or not ARFID impacted that?

Mia: Yeah. So, I think luckily, my peak point when I was really, really struggling with ARFID was right after COVID. So, I wasn’t actually, like, totally in school. I think if I had been in school, it would have impacted me a lot more. But in a way it was a different set of challenges because I was just at home surrounded by, like, food on my schedule. Like, if that makes any sense, I don’t know if that does.

Ashely: No, yeah, it does.

Sam: So, with school, it seemed like maybe that wasn’t going to stand out as much to other people. I think sometimes parents, especially parents, will say, “Well, my kid is doing fine in school, you know, they’re, you know, there’s parts of their lives that they’re really, they seem to be thriving.” And yet the eating disorder is affecting their mental health, their emotional health, their social life. And I think it is important for folks out there who have a loved one who might be struggling to know that sometimes there are areas that maybe aren’t as affected as others, but it doesn’t mean someone isn’t suffering.

Mia: Right. And I think that’s where, like, the denial really played a huge part. Because, yeah, to everyone else, I looked like I had it all together. My grades were fine, my social, like, relationships were pretty good, and I seemed like I had it all together, but on the inside, that’s where it was tormenting me and just ripping me apart. But because I didn’t have a name—like, I had no idea about ARFID. I was not educated about it in school. I think in, like, health class I learned about Anorexia, Bulimia, but I never heard of ARFID. So yeah, on the outside, I’m sure it looked like it was fine, but on the inside that’s where it was a hot mess.

Sam: Right, right.

Ashley: Mia, I’m curious. So, you were saying like it full on felt to you like not an eating disorder? Like, “I’m not doing this intentionally, based on eating disorder stigma, like, this is not where I’m at.”

Mia: Right.

Ashley: Did you have, like, an awareness that something was shifting though? That, like, “I was internally being tormented,” or “Something is not right?” Or maybe, like, the catalyst that sent you to the doctor that even recommended treatment, you know? What was going on internally, I guess.

Mia: So, I think I knew deep down that something wasn’t right, because years past I love food. Like, my family is a family who, I think, connected over food. Like, you know, family dinners at my grandparents. And I used to find excitement around, you know, special meals, and I was an athlete so I understood the importance of nutrition. So, I think I knew something wasn’t right.

Ashley: Gotcha.

Mia: But when you are so far into a place that says, “You are doing the right thing…”

Ashley: Yeah.

Mia: I think it really wasn’t until somebody gave me a wakeup call. I don’t know that I would have, if somebody else hadn’t stepped in, I’m not sure I would have ever come around to that, if that makes sense? Like, I knew the fear wasn’t normal because sure, I have siblings, I have lots of close friends who I knew didn’t have a quote unquote “problem with food.” And I was seeing that.

Ashley: Gotcha.

Mia: So, I knew something wasn’t, like, normal, but I don’t know that I knew or really believed, I guess would be the better word, that it was, like, a problem. Or something that needed help and treatment.

Sam: Right.

Ashley: I think that’s so helpful for our listeners to hear because especially, like, you were mentioning you were a junior in high school, and, you know, when I do presentations sometimes I talk about eating disorder myths, and one of the myths is that an adolescent might be doing this to quote unquote “punish their parent,” right? And like, the reality is, it is often— it begins so innocently, like you were saying, and so unintentionally, and you really don’t know that it’s affecting you negatively that much until you are, like, in the trenches, right?

Mia: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I know when I first entered treatment I told my mom, like, the day I went to Renfrew, I told her, “I don’t have an eating disorder, but I’ll go.” I mean, I was, that “Nothing’s wrong with me,” like…

Ashley: And yet, something compelled you to give it a go.

Mia: Right. Yeah.

Sam: Mia, do you remember what was going through your head that first day of treatment? I mean, you’re having this thought like, “I don’t have an eating disorder.” I imagine maybe even thinking like, “I don’t belong here.” What kind of experiences were you having that day?

Mia: I remember my whole Renfrew experience very vividly, which is odd because it was such, like, a mental fog time, but it was just so transforming. I think it’ll stick with me always. I remember walking in, and I had the thought that you just mentioned, “I don’t belong here.” I was like, “I am not one of these people.” But there was something in me where I just thought, “I’ll give it a go,” which I think now in hindsight, it was that voice inside where it’s like, “We’re not as good as we could be, you really are struggling.” Like, the self-compassion piece. But I remember, you know, walking in, seeing what the treatment center looked like, seeing the people around, and I just thought, “I am not struggling like this person. I am not struggling like that person. You know, this isn’t gonna do anything because I don’t have a problem.” And, you know, it was a heavy day because I had no idea what I was getting into. I truthfully did it, like, for my mom, for my family. “Sure I’ll go, there’s nothing wrong with me.” Definitely kept that tagline for a while until I was in treatment and had that wake-up call, for sure.

Sam: I think that’s so common, you know, so many folks go into treatment and they’re, you know, they’re thinking, “I’m just doing this for so and so,” you know, “I’m just gonna— this is not for me.” And sometimes there’s like this guilt or maybe shame that there’s not that internal motivation, and at the same time, it’s ok to do it for someone else at first. And maybe things shift eventually where you start to realize, “Oh, there’s something in it for me in recovery.”

Mia: Right! No, I felt this really big sense of guilt because, for the beginning of treatment, I genuinely thought I was like, this is gonna sound odd, like abusing the system. I was like, “There’s people out there who are sicker than I am. I am using a spot in treatment that somebody else could desperately need.” Right? And I didn’t realize that I was the one who was in desperate need! And I needed to be there, I needed to change my life up. So, yeah, that guilt, I relate to that 100%. Like, so much.

Ashley: Mia, I can’t tell you how many times probably Sam and I have both heard that. Like, “I’m not sick enough. I’m taking up somebody else’s space.” That guilt just plagues, you know, you initially. I’m curious, like, what was it like when you felt that shift? When like— or maybe can you describe, like, the light bulb moment when you were like, “Oh, ok”

Mia: Yeah. So, it’s so funny, I just passed my two-year anniversary from recovery. Or to starting recovery.

Ashley: Congrats!

Sam: Yay!

Mia: Thank you! And so, I pulled out my journals that I picked at Renfrew, and there was one day, and I literally wrote, I was like, “Oh, so I do have an eating disorder.” I was like, “This morning, I found it out.” Like, “found out,” even though obviously everybody’s telling me, I’m in treatment, which you don’t just walk into— like, there’s things that lead up to it, you know.

Ashley: Sure.

Mia: And I think it really came from the vulnerability I was hearing from other people. And the way I was able to take other people’s stories, and maybe—So, I’ve always been somebody who really connects with people. I’m a huge extrovert, I love hearing people’s stories. And at first in treatment, I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I don’t relate.” But I think the shift came when I kept hearing people’s stories, I kept, you know, talking to the counselors, the therapists, and I was able to take like, “Wait, I do struggle with that. Oh, wait, I do struggle with that.” And I was able to piece together what was in my atmosphere to make, like, what I was struggling with that really outlined my problems, which, this sounds very abstract, but it was really through the vulnerability all around me that I was able to go, “You know what? I need to do something.” And the little piece inside of me, like, the outside connections where I thought, “I don’t wanna stay here. I have dreams, I have things I wanna do, and for that to happen, I need to make a change.” And it was a huge wakeup call. Because it’s an interesting transition when at first you’re like, “Nope, I don’t relate with that person. I don’t relate with that person,” and then you’re like, “Oh, but I do relate with that part of their story. Oh, that counselor had a really good tidbit of information,” and you bring it all together. And that’s where I was like, “This is my struggle and it doesn’t have to be like somebody else’s struggle,” which is, I think, something I really challenged with, or fought with. But when it all came together, that was my wake-up call. I was like, “Wow, OK.”

Ashley: Yeah.

Sam: Wow. You know, it’s such a great example of how everyone, no matter what diagnosis you’re coming in with, everyone’s recovery is unique. And the more you share with each other, you start to realize, “Wow, I relate to that experience.” I mean, there’s just so many human experiences that are part of eating disorder recovery and mental health in general, and it sounds like you started to just keep your ears open for…

Mia: Right. Yeah.

Sam: “What resonates with me,” and taking what makes sense for you and sort of leaving the rest.

Mia: Yeah. And I’d say another thing came through the form of validation. When I, you know, sat down with my therapist, my treatment team, and they said, “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with you, but there’s a name for what you’re struggling with.” Holy cow! Like, that was so validating because I thought, “Oh, like, ok, I’m not crazy,” you know? “There’s a reason and there’s nothing wrong. There’s nothing wrong with me that I’m struggling. That’s not a problem.” And I think when that all came together and they said, “You have ARFID, it’s Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder,” I thought, “Oh, my word. I’m not, I’m not crazy. I’m not in my head.” And I think that, too, was a huge turning point, was just the affirmation that, like, there’s a name for this. And if there’s a name, you can make a change, you can turn it around, and you can get help.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sam: Right. What a relief to have a label.

Mia: Huge relief! Absolutely.

Sam: Exactly.

Ashley: Mia, Sam and I did a couple of episodes earlier in this season on lesser-known eating disorders, and specifically we talked about ARFID, but we also said we’re going to interview someone, you know, in recovery from ARFID. And so we didn’t go into detail, but that is just one of the reasons why we did that particular, or those particular episodes, is because, I think, kind of what you were thinking similarly, in the past we’ve maybe in health class or even, like, seen on TV, right, only the information about Anorexia Bulimia, maybe Binge Eating Disorder, maybe not. It’s like a spectrum of stuff that people can deal with, right? And ARFID, right, like there is a name for what you were going through. And I am encouraged to hear that you said you felt validated because I just, I feel like, you know, being able to share this with the community now that there is a spectrum of this stuff, that other people will feel seen and heard as well.

Mia: Absolutely.

Ashley: And I have one more question about treatment, I’m just kind of curious. So, like, when you had your “Aha moment,” you were like, “OK, you know, I do have ARFID, like I’m experiencing ARFID, and I’m in this community and these people have been so vulnerable, and they’ve been sharing so much information,” I’m curious what that experience was like for you to be able to start putting words to your experience. Like, were you scared? Were you nervous? How was that, to be able to start expressing what you were experiencing?

Mia: Great question. I would say, there’s just such, like, power in vulnerability, and being in a space where it wasn’t seen as weird— just incredible! That’s all I got. I mean, it’s incredible to be able, yeah, to name the struggle, then start talking about it. And I think a lot of healing came from that. And yeah, just incredible.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sam: Well, what seems like is the root, is everyone there is conquering fear. No matter what you’re walking in the door with, it’s really about courage.

Mia: Yes. A lot of courage.

Sam: You know, whether it’s a fear of food, or fear of talking about emotions, or fear of vulnerability, really that’s at the root. And I’m a big believer that if we can target the avoidance of fear, so many other things get resolved in mental health.

Mia: Yes!

Sam: Mia, do you feel like conquering fear was a part of your journey?

Mia: Yes. 100%! I realized that, you know, I wasn’t actually fearing the food, right? The food was the umbrella, you could say. It took the inner work, the emotional work, to heal the issues that had been created with food. Like, I wasn’t— nobody, I think, is inherently scared of food. There is something that’s making you scared of the food or scared of what the food is gonna do. And so, my issues attacked, you know, what was in front of me, something tangible, something I could control. I think the inner work, the emotional work, sitting down, talking about my feelings, being honest with my therapist, having people speak into me and attack that fear, that’s what healed me. Like, that’s what transformed my relationship with food, and transformed my relationship with my body, with my mind. It all came from that work that you do when you’re sitting with your emotions, when you’re tolerating your emotions, and really dissecting them and seeing, “Why am I feeling this way? What is this fear telling me? What’s connected to this fear?” That’s, I think, I mean, it’s hard work, but that is the work I think that’s transforming in recovery.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sam: Wow.

Ashley: So, you were able to do that at Renfrew, in the recovery, in the treatment center. So, I’m curious, what was that like treatment— or not treatment wise, but like still kind of overcoming that fear when you stepped out of treatment. Like, when you went home, when you talked to your family, to your friends, were you able to be vulnerable there? Kind of what was that, and/or how could they support you, right? You know, kind of all of those questions.

Mia: Yeah, sure. So, there’s a couple sides to things. So, when I left treatment it was a really hard transition. I think, you know, you’re kind of in a bubble, you step out and you’re like, “Oh, wow. Like, I need to do this for real.” Yeah. At first it was really difficult, but I think I had an advantage? So, this is gonna sound weird, but an advantage of the stigma, right? Because I understood what it was like to not be validated, to not have a name, and then I had the perspective of what it felt like to be affirmed. So, I was able to bring the two sides together and have grace with my family and friends, but infiltrate that grace into, like, sharing with them. Like, I just was really passionate about telling them what I had seen, and I think— so, their side, like, it’s all these different pieces, you know, that come together. I think of, like, a puzzle. And some of the things they did to support me were, they would sit with me. That was a huge thing. Like, I just wanted support. Because when you go from having people all around you, I was so scared of feeling alone again. Because I worked so hard to not be alone so, you know, having family and friends just sit with me and me be able to share with them and just have them listen was huge. I mean, because it’s just, it’s such a heavy thing, right? And so yeah, it would just— yeah.

Ashley: Yeah, the sitting and the validating!

Sam: The power of validation.

Mia: Right, that’s something I would definitely go off of. Validation is so, so big, like, and I think that’s what made my transition home okay, was me taking the lesson, “t’s okay to be vulnerable,” and then having people who were then educated, be able to be vulnerable with like, “Hey, like we didn’t know you were struggling with this.” And once again, just that whole, that puzzle frame where it’s like all these different pieces just come together. And it shows you that it really does take a village, but it takes a lot of inner work too.

Ashley: Yeah, I mean, it really, like, we are kind of encouraged, taught if you will, that like we have to start speaking our experience and our needs with the people that love us and support us so that they can understand and better be able to love us and support us.

Mia: Right, right. Yeah.

Sam: This part of your story is so important, Mia, because it’s helping folks understand out there that eating disorder recovery is so much more than just facing fear foods. I think there’s such a misconception that eating disorder recovery is all about food and just getting the person to eat.

Mia: Yes!

Sam: Right?!

Mia: Yes.

Sam: Yeah. And the deeper emotional work, it’s hard to sort of wrap your mind around how it’s all connected, but it really is.

Mia: It’s so connected. Every part, every part.

Sam: Yeah. And so, there’s that deeper work that really got you to a place of healing.

Mia: Yes.

Sam: Yeah.

Mia: Yes, definitely.

Ashley: I was just sitting here thinking, Sam, when you were saying that, we honestly really haven’t talked about food too much at all. It’s mostly been about that deeper emotional education, that emotional knowledge, being vulnerable, learning how to speak your needs. That’s really a lot of what the eating disorder work is.

Mia: Yeah.

Sam: Yeah, exactly. And of course, you know, exposure work with the food is part of it.

Ashley: Yes, definitely.

Sam: You know, I was curious, Mia, you know, there’s so many different parts of treatment with ARFID, you know, there’s the exposure work, usually with an occupational therapist, then there’s the emotional work, there’s family work, there’s even just work that happens in the community that you don’t even realize is part of the work, you know, opening up to community members. What was, you know, what were the transformative parts of treatment for you? What was most helpful that moved you forward in recovery?

Mia: A couple of things. So, I would say the largest, like, most helpful thing was the exposure work.

Sam: Yeah.

Mia: At first—so, with OT, the first time they sat me down for an exposure, I was like, “What do you mean? Like, what is this?” I was like, “Why on earth would you literally expose me to what I’m absolutely terrified of?”

Sam: Right?

Ashley: Wow.

Mia: And I still remember my first exposure, like, she gave me the exposure and I literally was, like, so confused. But I would have to say exposure work— life changing.

Sam: Wow!

Mia: I’d never heard of it before, I did not understand the concept at all. But once it was explained to me and I really, you know, tolerated those hard emotions, that was transforming. Like, absolutely. So that was incredible. I really loved the one-on-one therapy; you get into those deeper issues. I loved… the different groups I thought were great, because as we mentioned, like, I had only ever heard of a couple of eating disorders, and so the groups where we were taught about all these different aspects were fantastic because that’s how everything came together for me. I loved… art therapy was incredible for me, that was so amazing. And I just really love, like, the hands on helping me, like, see my emotions in these different groups, was just amazing. The whole therapeutic atmosphere was nothing I’d ever experienced before. And so I love, like, at Renfrew, there was all these different pieces, and there was all this different space I could walk into, but all the different spaces were helping me with the one goal, which was recovery and getting better. So, I honestly— there were so many, like, I couldn’t name just one part of treatment that was really, really helpful. Those are just a few. I mean, it just all came together and was life changing.

Ashley: That’s incredible, Mia.

Sam: Art can be so powerful. It’s, you know, we don’t think of all— you know, when we think of therapy, I think many people just think of talk therapy, and art therapy is a totally different way to express your emotions, using a completely different part of your brain, and it can be so powerful. I’m glad you found that so helpful.

Mia: Yeah. Lots of learning. Lots of learning, but really beautiful.

Sam: Did your family—

Ashley: So, Mia—

Sam: Did your family have to do work too?

Mia: Yes. 100%. Yeah. I mean, there was a huge family aspect. I mean, I’m so thankful they put in the work because I have heard so many stories, you know, where there’s not that support. I was so blessed to have that family support. But it was rewiring, honestly, if you go down to the base of it, rewiring, because they didn’t know about ARFID either, you know. So, yeah, they, we did, like, family therapy through Renfrew, I think the education that came from the team was just incredible. They provided my family with resources, outpatient resources, and really prepared my family for when I came back home. And a big part of that was education, which I feel like a lot of this conversation is coming back to, like, that validation, that education piece, you know.

Ashley: Well, families don’t know. I mean, if you’ve never been in this experience before, right? Like, you legit have no idea how to move forward with this. So, the educational component is so imperative, not only for you as the person that’s in treatment, but also for that— whoever your support system is, because they’re, you know, you’re being inundated in treatment, Mia, like constantly, you know, information is flying at you. Your family is not, though. And so making sure—

Mia: Right! They’re on the outside.

Ashley: Right, exactly. Making sure that they are getting those educational components, having those family therapy sessions with you, reading some outside resources, like, that’s so helpful, and I’m thankful that your family was able to do that as well.

Mia: Yes, so helpful, so important, just such a large aspect of learning, you know. And you just, you have to be willing and you just, there’s just so much out there and it’s just, I’m just so passionate about it that people need to know! People need to be educated. Because otherwise there’s so many people who are going to struggle if we keep this mindset of, like, there’s only this issue and this issue, you know? We need to name things. I’m just so thankful, yeah, that I have that support system around me.

Ashley: Yeah. So, I’m curious, what does recovery look like, Mia? What does life look like for you now?

Mia: It is so beautiful! I love—I always get so emotional when I think about, like, my time and treatment, the hardest times versus now, because these are the days that I dreamed of. I mean, I would sit at Renfrew, I’d be journaling, you know, talking about how I had this exposure, that exposure. And then I’d be like, “But I really can’t wait to do this. I really hope one day I can do that.” And now I’m here and it’s, like, it’s incredible. I love it, you know. I love social gatherings, I love advocating, I love using my experiences as a launch pad. I, it’s just, it’s so beautiful and so fun when your mind is not focused on, like, scary food. I don’t know how else to say it. Like, it is so freeing to realize that this is an important part, sure, but it is such a small part in the scope of like how big life is, how much opportunity is out there. So yeah, I just, I am a busy gal, I love to keep things, you know, fun, and fresh, and do a ton of things. But I’m just so grateful, like, recovery gave me all of this. It’s letting me study something I love in college, it’s letting me have these healthy relationships, you know, travel, be involved in my community, and it’s just incredible. Like, I now love life. There was a time I was just in a bubble of so much fear, never thought things were gonna change, wanted them to change but was scared. And it’s just, it really makes my heart full to see that it is so possible to have a life that you love, and to have a life that you’re not scared of, you’re not, you know, controlled by something.

Ashley: Yeah.

Mia: It is just a really beautiful thing to feel free. And I’m just so thankful that recovery gave me that freedom.

Ashley: Ahh, I love that!

Sam: That warms my heart!

Ashley: I feel like a round of applause!

Sam: Mia, there are people probably out listening to this episode and they’re struggling silently with ARFID. What do you think they need to hear?

Mia: It is okay to struggle. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a bad person, you’re not broken. This is just one little part of your story. And if you can have, you know, that 30 seconds of courage to pull somebody aside and say, “Hey, I’m really struggling with this. It’s really, you know, hindering me, it’s not helping me. I’m scared of this, I need help with this.” Don’t be afraid. It is really scary. But if you can just— or if you can get help yourself, you know, go on the internet, do a quick Google search, you know, NEDA, Renfrew. If you, if this resonates with you, there is help out there. You are not alone. I know everybody says it, but you truly, there are so many people who can help you, so many different avenues that can make your life easier. And you 100% can learn to grow past this fear, to channel this fear, and make a change for your life. It’s absolutely possible, and it’s hard now, and it might be hard for a while, but you absolutely can make a change. You can get help. That’s what I would say. That’s what I know, that’s what I needed to hear. But really wanna emphasize it is okay to struggle. That is okay. It’s okay if these things are scaring you, it doesn’t always have to stay that way.

Sam: That’s beautiful. Thank you so much, Mia for telling your story on here. I think that you are gonna help so many people. Thank you for your vulnerability.

Mia: Absolutely. Thank you guys so much for having me!

Ashley: Yeah, Mia, I just want to say too, thank you. Like, you know, it’s just, it’s wonderful. Sam and I are both clinicians and we both started out at Renfrew as clinicians, and it is, you know, like, you’re the reason we exist, you know? Like, thank you so much and just, you know, kudos to you for really, like, stepping into that fear. It is big and it can feel overwhelming and scary, and the change is absolutely possible.

Mia: Yes, thank you! And thank you guys. It’s people like you who helped me so much. So, thank you for the work that you do. It does not go unseen.

Ashley: Thank you, Mia.

Sam: Thank you, Mia.

Ashley: And to our listeners, thank you all so much for listening to this episode of All Bodies. All Foods. with Mia. We really appreciate having you here and we hope that you got some information, both on ARFID, and also just encouraged, being encouraged and hopeful by listening to Mia’s story. And thank you again, Mia, for sharing. So, if you liked this episode, you can support us by subscribing, rating, and leaving a review, and sharing this with others. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok at @RenfrewCenter. For free education, events, trainings, webinars, resources, and blogs, you can head to our website at www.RenfrewCenter.com. And any comments or questions you would like us to answer in future episodes, you can send them to [email protected]. Thank you all again so much!

Ashley: Thank you for listening with us today on All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders.

Sam: We’re looking forward to you joining us next time as we continue these conversations. 

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

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