What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?

When people think of eating disorders, the two most common conditions that come to mind are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. However, these are not the only eating disorders that exist. There are actually several conditions that all fall under the umbrella of eating disorders. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is one of these conditions, and a disorder that many people may not be familiar with.

Individuals with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder or ARFID are not incapable of digesting food, nor do they have a distorted body image, but rather they avoid certain types of food for other reasons, such as negative experiences in the past.  It is important to understand how ARFID differs from other eating disorders, and how you can recognize the symptoms.

Defining ARFID

Unlike anorexia or bulimia, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder has nothing to do with body image or fear of gaining weight. Individuals with ARFID are often averse to certain foods because of taste, texture, color, or other features, or may have difficulty digesting specific types of food therefore struggling with gastrointestinal issues. They may also have had a negative experience related to food such as choking or vomiting, so now they are hesitant to eat solid foods.

ARFID is diagnosed based on several criteria including:

  • Experiencing significant weight loss or failure to gain weight
  • Developing serious nutritional deficiencies due to lack of a healthy diet
  • Being reliant on nutritional supplements or enteral feedings to support health
  • Disruption of psychosocial function
  • Cannot be associated to lack of adequate food supply
  • Not related to distorted body image or fear of gaining weight
  • Not caused by another medical condition such as chemotherapy treatment for cancer or bipolar disorder.

Many people do not have a high enough caloric or nutritional intake to maintain an appropriate weight for their age and build, and these deficiencies can interfere with growth and development. ARFID therapy helps to identify underlying issues and support individuals in overcoming them so that they can develop a healthier relationship with food and provide their body with the nutrition it needs to stay strong.

How to Identify Symptoms

It is estimated that around 5 percent of children in the U.S. alone struggle with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Without proper ARFID treatment services, this condition often carries over into adulthood. Recognizing the symptoms of ARFID early on can lead to individuals receiving the care they need for lasting recovery. Symptoms include:

  • Being highly selective about the food eaten, especially in regard to taste, texture, smell, or color.
  • Having little to no interest in eating.
  • Fear of choking, vomiting, or pain associated with food consumption.
  • Avoiding situations where food is served or forgetting to eat.

Once again, the person does not have concerns about how food will affect their weight or appearance, but rather they have issues with the food itself, or psychological conditions that interfere with their eating. The exact cause is still unknown, but ARFID is believed to have genetic, environmental, and sociocultural factors that contribute to its development.

It’s Not Just Being Picky

Some children tend to be picky eaters, but they often move past this as they progress into adulthood and eat a wider variety of foods. Individuals with ARFID don’t “outgrow” it. Their struggles with eating stay with them throughout their lives unless they engage in avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder treatment. Their food aversions can impact their ability to perform well in work and school and to have the energy and focus necessary for engaging with family and friends. Poor eating and nutrition can also affect organ health and contribute to risk of cardiac problems, kidney or liver failure, anemia, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal issues, and more.

Dealing with Your Eating Demons

However, studies into proper treatment for ARFID show that recovery is possible. ARFID treatment services can be provided as part of an overall eating disorder recovery program. Individuals are guided in building a healthy relationship with food and increasing diversity of food options to overcome avoidant or restrictive behaviors. ARFID therapy can also include mental health treatment such as addiction or obsessive-compulsive disorder care to support individuals in managing co-occurring disorders.

Whatever the cause of your avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, know that you are not alone, and help is available. Recognizing eating disorders and seeking treatment from a reputable and trusted provider like Crossroads is key. Eating disorders – ARFID included – should not be taken lightly as they can quickly become life-threatening. If you are in need of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder treatment, contact Crossroads today.

[cta]Interested in joining our Eating Disorders Treatment team? Contact us today or explore our Careers page.[/cta]