Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
If you or your child have ARFID, you may have trouble eating certain foods or eating at all, but not because you fear gaining weight - generally, ARFID involves an aversion to certain foods or types of food, a dislike of food or eating in general, anxiety related to eating or swallowing, or issues with the textures of particular foods. ARFID may appear on its own, or it can be a precursor to the development of other eating disorders.
Many young children and adults have foods that they won't eat because they dislike them or are considered “picky eaters.” Some amount of “picky eating” is developmentally appropriate and normal in children. However, if you have ARFID the restrictions on your eating lead to significant disruptions in daily functioning and nutritional deficiencies that indicate your body isn’t receiving enough nourishment to thrive. In children, ARFID can result in delayed growth, weakness, vitamin deficiencies, and development issues. In adults, ARFID can affect your overall health, concentration, and relationships.
Symptoms of ARFID
ARFID can affect every aspect of your and your family’s life, but it is treatable. By becoming aware of the symptoms of ARFID, you can alert your doctor as soon as you notice it developing. Some symptoms of ARFID include:
- Considerable, rapid weight loss
- A lack of growth or failure to thrive in children
- Problems eating in public places like a school cafeteria or public restaurant
- A lack of appetite and disinterest in food
- Avoiding or banning certain foods - or specific colors or textures of foods - from your diet without a medical reason like a food allergy
- Refusing to eat food that has come into contact with or may contain elements of the banned foods for no reason
- Significant, unexplained nutritional deficiency
- Fear of eating after a traumatic event like choking or food poisoning
- Avoidance of social gatherings that involve food
- Extreme anxiety and fear about trying new or unfamiliar foods
Causes and Risk Factors for ARFID
Like most eating disorders, there is no definitive cause of ARFID. You or your child could develop this condition after a traumatic event or without any noticeable reason. Some factors that influence the development of ARFID are:
- Experiencing a traumatic event involving food or eating such as choking, force feeding, trauma/abuse, or hunger
- Having an autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or another neurological or developmental disability
- Having oral sensitivities or aversions to certain textures
- Having an anxiety, depressive, or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- A family history of eating disorders, anxiety, depression, or sensory disorders
- Anxiety related to a loved one’s medical complication / fear of health complications associated with certain foods or food groups
Treatment for ARFID
ARFID can be treated and managed using therapy, medication, and behavioral techniques. Your doctor can help you find the best treatment plan for you or your child. If you or your child are experiencing significant health effects like nutrient deficiencies, a higher level of care may be recommended as a way to stabilize medically while beginning targeted behavioral treatment for ARFID.
Medication: If you have ARFID, you may also have an anxiety disorder. Anti-anxiety medications can help you regain control of your fear of eating a new food. Medications that soothe digestive issues and relieve depressive symptoms may also be beneficial.
Therapy: A specially designed recovery plan that includes individual therapy, nutrition counseling, family therapy, group therapy, and other types of therapy can benefit you or your family. Learn more about therapy at the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.
Education: By learning more about eating disorders like ARFID and how they affect you and your family, you’ll be in a better position to recognize early warning signs and triggers of ARFID.
Support: Getting support for you, your family, and your child is an important part of overcoming the challenges that ARFID presents. Find a support group at Sheppard Pratt.