Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Avoidant/Restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that affects about 3.2% of the population. This eating disorder is typically characterized by a low interest in eating and only having an appetite for certain foods. Since food is important in keeping our bodies thriving, this eating disorder can lead to several malnutrition-related complications, including poor nutritional status, weight loss, weakened bones, delayed menstruation, and more. ARFID can be difficult to overcome as it may cause an overwhelming fear of eating.
Common signs of ARFID present as more than just a lack of interest in food. Those who struggle with ARFID often have aversions to certain textures, smells, tastes, or temperatures of foods and beverages. The exact cause (like most eating disorders) isn’t known. This disorder can have genetic underpinnings, but sometimes psychological or even traumatic or triggering events can cause it. For example, if a person once choked or vomited after eating a certain food, they may have an aversion to foods similar to the one that made them sick. ARFID is also closely associated with OCD and anxiety disorders and those who suffer from sensory processing disorder or fall on the autism spectrum.
ARFID vs Picky Eaters
Many people confuse ARFID with “picky eating”. In fact, this eating disorder is often mistaken early on as simply being picky or not wanting to try new foods, especially in children. While they can appear to share many similarities, ARFID differs in that it negatively impacts an individual’s health and quality of life. ARFID is caused by an intense fear of eating at least one specific food, while picky eating is considered a general dislike of trying new or different foods. Because of this stigma, most experts believe that the actual rates of ARFID are much higher in the population than estimated since it is not frequently diagnosed. Additionally, more than half of picky eaters tend to outgrow their dislike for trying new foods, while ARFID does not have this same outcome.
Since ARFID is commonly confused with picky eating habits, many believe this disorder occurs more commonly in children. Though children are more likely to be diagnosed, ARFID affects people of all ages and genders. Often, people who have had ARFID since childhood do not get diagnosed due to thinking they are picky eaters. As a result, adults with this disorder are less likely to get treatment than children.
Since ARFID is a unique eating disorder, more research must be done to understand the external and internal causes. However, many treatment options are available for individuals who have been diagnosed. This would include nutritional therapy to work on goal-oriented improvements in food choices and eating habits, counseling to work through emotions surrounding the food aversions, and a therapist and a trained medical team to treat any physical complications from the eating disorder.