What is ARFID?

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that involves restrictions in the amount and/or type of food eaten.  This restriction can be based on sensory elements (such as not liking the smell or texture of food), concerns about negative consequences of eating, or a general lack of interest in food. A key component of ARFID is that individuals are not distressed about body image or weight. There is an increased risk of ARFID in individuals who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and/or anxiety disorders.

Lots of children will have a level of fussy eating throughout childhood. However, ARFID is an extreme form of fussy eating that children do not ‘grow out of’. The limited variety of food can lead to failure to thrive, dependence on nutritional supplements and difficulties eating socially.

Diagnosis of ARFID is associated with at least one of the following:

  1. Significant weight loss (or failure to achieve weight gain/physical growth in children);
  2. Significant nutritional deficiency;
  3. Dependence on tube feeding (supplying nutrients directly to the gastrointestinal tract) or oral nutritional supplements;
  4. Marked interference on an individual’s psychosocial functioning (e.g., impacts on daily activities).

Warning signs 

  • Fear of consequences associated with eating/feeding
  • Appearing to be a ‘picky eater’, is fearful of, or has a phobia of certain foods
  • No evidence of being preoccupied with body shape or weight
  • Avoiding events where preferred food won’t be available
  • Anxiety and fear around food and/or eating
  • Sensory sensitivity
  • Overly sensitive to certain aspects of foods, focusing on taste, texture, smell, temperature or food group
  • May feel prematurely full while eating
  • Lack of interest in eating or food
  • Not eating enough or skipping meals entirely
  • Malnutrition

Medical risks

Individuals with ARFID often struggle to get the nutrition they require due to the limited variety and/or amount of food eaten. Often, children with ARFID will be significantly below the expected weight and height for their age.

Medical complications can include:

  • Headaches, fainting, dizziness, mood swings, anxiety, depression
  • Poor circulation, irregular or slow heartbeat, very low blood pressure, cardiac arrest, heart failure
  • Low iron levels (anaemia)
  • Constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal pain
  • Irregular or absent periods, loss of libido, infertility
  • Loss of bone calcium (osteopenia), osteoporosis, muscle loss
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What next?

Recovery from ARFID is possible, whether it is a recent or long-term concern. The path to recovery can be challenging and it is important to have the right team of health professionals around you – that’s where we come in.

If there are any warning signs of an eating disorder, we recommend making an appointment with your GP as soon as possible for a medical check-up.

Information on this page was collected from the below sources. If you would like more information, we recommend visiting these helpful sites.

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