What is ARFID? Understanding Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Do you or someone you know have an extreme aversion to certain types of food or refuse to eat them altogether? This may be a sign of a little-known eating disorder called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID. ARFID is a condition that affects both children and adults and can have serious consequences if left untreated.

ARFID is not just picky eating or a lack of interest in food. It is a complex disorder that can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, and other health issues. People with ARFID may avoid certain foods due to their texture, taste, smell, or appearance, and may experience anxiety or fear around food.

In some cases, they may limit their food intake to just a few items or food groups, leading to a restricted diet that lacks essential nutrients.

If you or someone you know is struggling with ARFID, it is important to seek professional help. With the right treatment, including therapy and nutritional counselling, people with ARFID can learn to overcome their fears and expand their food choices, leading to a healthier and happier life.

Definition and criteria

ARFID, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, is a relatively new eating disorder that was added to the DSM-5 in 2013. It is a persistent and often severe avoidance or restriction of food intake, which results in significant weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and impaired psychosocial functioning.

To be diagnosed with ARFID, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Significant weight loss, nutritional deficiency, dependence on supplements, or failure to gain weight or grow as expected
  • Marked interference with psychosocial functioning
  • No evidence of a disturbance in body image or fear of weight gain
  • No evidence of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa
  • No evidence of a medical or gastrointestinal condition that could explain the symptoms

Symptoms and diagnosis

The symptoms of ARFID vary widely from person to person, but some common ones include:

  • Avoidance or restriction of certain foods based on texture, smell, taste, or appearance
  • Extreme pickiness or selectiveness about food
  • Refusal to eat entire food groups (e.g. fruits, vegetables, meats)
  • Fear of choking, vomiting, or other negative physical reactions to food
  • Limited range of preferred or acceptable foods
  • Sensory sensitivity or aversion to certain textures, temperatures, or smells of food

To diagnose ARFID, a thorough medical and psychological evaluation is needed. This may include a physical exam, blood tests, and a psychological assessment. A registered dietitian or nutritionist is also involved in assessing nutritional status and providing food counselling.

It’s important to note that ARFID is a serious condition that can have significant physical and emotional consequences if left untreated. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of ARFID, it’s important to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), there are several approaches to managing the condition. Here are some strategies that may help:

Treatment

There are several treatment approaches that may be effective for managing ARFID. These can include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors related to food and eating.
  • Exposure Therapy: This approach involves gradually exposing you to foods that you may find challenging to eat, in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Family-Based Treatment (FBT): This approach involves working with your family to help you overcome your food aversions and establish healthy eating habits.

Dietary strategies

In addition to therapy, there are several dietary strategies that may help manage ARFID. These can include:

  • Working with a registered dietitian or nutritionist: They can help you create a plan that meets your nutritional needs while also taking your food aversions into account. You work together to overcome barriers with eating.
  • Trying new foods in a safe environment: This can involve gradually introducing new foods and textures, and experimenting with different preparation methods.
  • Making small changes to your eating habits: This can include eating smaller, more frequent meals, or incorporating more nutrient-dense foods into your diet.

Support and resources

Managing ARFID can be challenging, but there are resources available to help.

Here are some options:

  • Support groups: These can provide a safe and supportive environment to share your experiences and connect with others who are going through similar challenges.
  • Online resources: There are many websites and forums dedicated to ARFID that can provide information and support.
  • Professional help: If you are struggling to manage your ARFID symptoms on your own, consider reaching out to professionals who specialise in eating disorders – like us. Check out mine and the teams 1-1 nutrition therapy and therapy support.

Remember, managing ARFID is a process that takes time and patience. With the right support and strategies in place, it is possible to overcome your food aversions and establish a healthy relationship with food.

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