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What is ARFID?

Updated: Jun 4

Understanding Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)


Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a complex eating disorder that affects children, adolescents, and adults. It manifests as a pattern of eating that avoids specific foods, limits food groups, or significantly reduces the amount of food consumed. Individuals with ARFID typically have a very narrow range of foods they feel comfortable eating and experience considerable anxiety when faced with new foods. Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is not driven by concerns about body image or a desire to lose weight.


Causes and Associations

ARFID often develops from sensory sensitivities, which are commonly linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It can also stem from a fear of negative outcomes related to eating, such as choking or vomiting. This disorder is frequently accompanied by anxiety and fear surrounding food, leading to restrictive eating patterns. ARFID can affect people of all ages, including children as young as two years old.


Safe Foods vs. Fear Foods

Individuals with ARFID categorise foods into "safe" foods, which they can eat comfortably, and "fear" foods, which they avoid. This classification is a key feature of the disorder and contributes to the limited variety of foods consumed.


Recognising the Signs and Symptoms

ARFID symptoms often start in childhood and can persist into adulthood if left untreated. The symptoms include both physical and psychological indicators:


Physical Signs:

  • Weight loss

  • Fatigue

  • Feeling full after eating only small amounts of food


Behavioural and Psychological Signs:

  • Food refusal

  • Eating slowly

  • Consuming a limited variety of foods

  • Anxiety or distress when trying new foods

  • Concerns about food safety

  • Overreactions to changes in food packaging or flavours


Children with ARFID are frequently labeled as "picky eaters." However, unlike typical picky eaters who generally meet their nutritional needs, those with ARFID struggle to do so, leading to potential long-term health consequences.


In adults, ARFID may present differently, often as fear-based food restriction and inflexible eating habits. These can include a refusal to try new foods, a need for very specific preparation of "safe" foods, and significant anxiety around food and mealtimes. It is important to note that weight loss or being underweight is not necessary for an ARFID diagnosis—individuals of any body size can be affected by this disorder.


Seeking Treatment

Effective treatment for ARFID involves a multidisciplinary approach under the guidance of specialists, including dietitians and psychologists. Since ARFID manifests uniquely in each individual, treatment plans are tailored to address the specific underlying causes and concerns of the disorder.


If you suspect that you or your child may be suffering from ARFID, it is crucial to seek help from healthcare professionals such as your GP, paediatrician, or a qualified dietitian. Early intervention can make a significant difference in managing and overcoming this challenging disorder.


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