Sad mid adult woman in the kitchen at home
Published On: Mar 12, 2024|Categories: Eating Disorder Information|

For the most part, many people are familiar with eating disorders, including the highly restrictive behaviors of anorexia. Bulimia and binge eating, too, are more common with significant data on how trends affect the overall population. 

One of the lesser-known eating disorders – but no less severe – is known as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), and has a devastating effect on both adults and children. 

What is ARFID? 

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder falls into the category of eating disorders, but tends to be different than anorexia or bulimia due to the initial motivations. Whereas bulimia, binge eating and anorexia tend to be caused by poor self-esteem and concerns about physical appearance, those who battle ARFID seemingly do not struggle with the same lack of self-image. Their restrictive eating habits are rooted in different motivations entirely.

Those battling ARFID often lack interest in eating food and will turn it down because of an aversion to a particular texture, smell or other sensory factor which causes displeasure or lack of appeal. They may be worried about the effect the food may have on their body, unrelated to physical appearance. 

Additionally, those struggling with ARFID often feel concerned about the risk of choking while eating, vomiting or having an allergic reaction to what they consume. To act preventatively and out of extreme caution, these individuals may create rituals around eating or eliminating certain food items entirely.

While ARFID sounds similar to just being a picky eater, the difference lies in that even picky eaters will still eat a wide variety of foods with unique tastes, smells, and textures. Those with ARFID will limit themselves to very few foods based on what they feel they can safely ingest. This inevitably leads to a huge lack of vitamins and minerals, resulting in nutrient deficiency. 

What are the signs of ARFID?

Most frequently, the signs of ARFID are mistaken as signs of picky eating since the avoidance of certain foods is very similar to the way picky eaters avoid the food items they find displeasing. This is why symptoms of ARFID in both children and adults can be overlooked. 

But if you have a loved one who seems overly picky, you may also notice certain signs that point to more than just picky eating. 

Some of the more common symptoms of ARFID that indicate a more serious problem is present include: 

  • Significant weight loss in adults
  • Lack of weight gain in children, and even overall stunted growth in children as a result of nutrient deficiency 
  • Displaying an intense or irrational fear of trying new foods
  • Only choosing to eat certain foods in certain ways (such as chopped or cooked in a particular manner) or at certain times of day
  • Not displaying concerns with one’s physical appearance, especially regarding weight
  • Having very specific routines/habits around food 
  • Having little to no interest in food
  • Expressing a sense of stress or fear about certain foods or eating behaviors, including fear of choking, vomiting or allergies
  • Choosing to avoid certain social situations as a result of restrictive eating behaviors
  • Complaining about dizziness or fatigue 
  • GI complications with no obvious cause
  • Muscle tremors 

While not every individual will display the same symptoms, knowing the common symptoms makes it possible to differentiate whether or not your loved one is being picky about their food or is truly struggling with food consumption as a result of ARFID. 

How to tell if your symptoms might be ARFID

When it comes to any mental health condition, it is always the best course of action to get in touch with a mental health counselor and work with them to come to a professionally determined diagnosis. But if your symptoms are cause for concern and you want to be able to present your symptoms adequately, the following questions might help. 

  1. Do you eat small portions of food at one time regardless of whether or not you like what you’re eating?
  2. Do you feel restricted and unable to participate in social events due to the habits you have around food?
  3. Do you feel a lack of interest in eating and find it easy to overlook meals?
  4. Do you have to take supplements to compensate for the lack of nutrients your body is experiencing as a result of not eating the proper amount of food?
  5. Are you often called a picky eater?
  6. Did a traumatic experience, like choking or vomiting, cause you to begin limiting foods?
  7. Do you have a fear of choking, vomiting or having an allergic reaction to certain foods? 
  8. Do you limit what kinds of food you ingest based on smell, texture, taste and appearance? 
  9. Does fear prevent you from trying new foods?

If you feel like a majority of these questions could be answered in the affirmative, it may be time to get in touch with a therapist who can help you rewire your thoughts and behaviors surrounding food and get you back to healthy eating habits.

Ready to begin?

If you or a loved one are seeking treatment for ARFID, or any eating disorder, Seeds of Hope is here to help. Reach out to us today by calling 610-644-6464 or contact us online to get in touch with a counselor and begin your journey to full recovery. 

Young woman addicted to technology. Fear of missing out concept - FOMO.Motivations, Signs and Treatments for ARFID
Close-up of man psychologist or psychiatrist sitting and holding hands palm of his woman patient for encouragement. PTSD Mental health concept,How Treatment for ARFID Works