8-Year-Old's Rare Disorder Makes Her Afraid of Food: 'Couldn't Be in the Same Room' When Family Was Eating

Hannah, 8, tries a new food every day on social media to share what it's like to live with the difficult disease ARFID


Hannah's ARFID Journey/Instagram

Hannah, 8, shares her ARFID journey.

A third-grader from Los Angeles tries a new food every day as a therapeutic way to overcome ARFID, a mental illness and form of disordered eating that makes someone afraid of food — and she’s documenting the results on her Instagram page.

On @myarfidlife, Hannah, 8, shares videos of herself trying different types of foods — from snacks to entrées — to varying degrees of success, classifying the food as “safe” or putting it “on the fear list.”

Chicken-flavored rice, for example, scored a 7/10 — but yogurt-covered raisins earned a grimace, a 4/10, and a declaration that “They look kind of like pills.”

Short for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, ARFID can be triggered by “fear and anxiety about food or the consequences of eating, like choking,” the Cleveland Clinic says, pointing out that unlike anorexia, bulimia, or other, more well-known forms of disordered eating, ARFID isn’t “caused by a negative self-image or a desire to change your body weight.”

Treatment includes exposure to feared food — which is why Hannah continues to try new food, and document her thoughts about its texture, smell, and taste.

On her Instagram, Hannah also talks about anxiety, sharing that some people pick their skin or chew on their shirts when they’re anxious, which she explains to her young followers “is the feeling of worry about something.”

“I used to bite my nails but now I just cry when I’m anxious,” she said, adding that she'll manage her anxiety by playing with slime or fidgets.

Related: Tallulah Willis Shares Raw Post About Eating Disorder Recovery: 'Romanticizing Unhealthy Times'

Her mother Michelle told ABC News that they knew Hannah's struggle was deeper than her just being a picky eater when her daughter went to get her physicals at the pediatrician.

“Her growth was not increasing at the rate that it was supposed to. She ended up falling off of the growth chart eventually. That’s when we got concerned,” she told the outlet.

In a video on their YouTube channel, @MyArfidLife, Michelle shared that Hannah has two older brothers; the eldest, who has autism, was a “typical picky eater” who did feeding therapy to overcome his refusal to eat food. Now, he’s “a pretty healthy eater” but “is pretty particular with the stuff he likes.”

Their middle son, however, “will eat just about anything.”

But it was during a visit to Chick-fil-A when Hannah opened up about her food fears, telling her mom, “Every time you talk about food it makes me really anxious,” Michelle recalled.

“Often times she couldn’t even be in the same room with us when we were eating.”

An Internet search helped lead Michelle to ARFID, which was only officially recognized in 2013.

Originally, Michelle says the Instagram account was just intended as a way to educate friends and family who make comments about Hannah’s aversion to eating.

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“People don't understand, and we bring our own bag of her safe foods and everybody starts asking questions like, ‘Why don't you try this? Why don't you try that ?’ And just saying that alone would make you very uncomfortable.”

“I thought if we do this platform on Instagram for friends and family, maybe they'd have a better understanding as to why she is the way she is and maybe they would think twice before they would make any comments like that to her.”

Instead, she says “we went viral” — with stars like Demi Lovato and Rosie O'Donnell leaving messages for Hannah, as well as others who struggle with ARFID chiming in with their own experiences. And the outpouring of support has helped encourage Hannah to keep on trying new foods, her mom said.

Related: 30 Stars Who Battled Eating Disorders — and Came Out Stronger

"She's very happy to prove to herself and prove to everybody else that's watching her that she can do it, that she can overcome these challenges."

And as Hannah told ABC, the Instagram page "motivates me" to overcome the disorder.

"Whenever I'm trying a food," she told the outlet, "I think about all the people that I'm helping."

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