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What is ARFID?

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder or feeding disturbance that can affect young children, adolescents and adults. It is characterised by a pattern of eating that avoids specific foods, limits food groups or reduces the amount of food eaten. Typically, people with ARFID eat a very limited range of foods and will experience significant anxiety when trying new foods. ARFID is classified as an eating disorder however, unlike other eating disorders, the individual is not concerned with body image and the intention is not to lose weight. ARFID can develop from sensory sensitivities, commonly associated with ASD and ADHD or from a fear of negative consequences of eating such as choking or vomiting. It is often associated with anxiety and fear around food which leads to restriction. It can affect anyone at any age, including children as young as two years old. People with ARFID will often describe “safe” foods as those they can comfortably eat and “fear” foods as those they will avoid. Signs and Symptoms Symptoms of ARFID typically begin in childhood and if left untreated, these symptoms can persist well into adulthood. Symptoms can include physical signs such as weight loss, fatigue and feeling full after eating only a small amount of food. Behavioural and psychological symptoms are also present and involve food refusal, eating slowly, eating a limited variety of foods and feeling afraid or upset of trying new foods. There can also be concerns regarding food safety and disproportionate responses to unexpected changes in food packaging or flavours. Children with ARFID are often thought of as “picky eaters”, however picky eaters will likely meet their nutritional requirements, whereas those with ARFID will struggle to and as a result, experience negative health consequences in the long-term. As an adult, ARFID symptoms can look different and may present as fear-based food restriction and inflexible eating habits. These behaviours may include refusing to try new foods, requiring extremely specific preparation of safe foods and anxiety around food and mealtimes. Weight loss and/or being underweight is not a requirement for an ARFID diagnosis. People in any body of any size can be struggling with ARFID. Treatment Treatment for ARFID takes place under the supervision of a specialist team including a dietitian and a psychologist. ARFID occurs differently for each individual, and as a result, treatment will also differ but will always aim to address the underlying causes and concerns of the eating disorder. If you think you or your child may be suffering from ARFID, please reach out to your GP, Paediatrician or Dietitian.

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