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Published On: Mar 18, 2024|Categories: Eating Disorder Information|

Recovery can feel especially intimidating for individuals battling an eating disorder, especially if the disorder they face is less common. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder have been studied and treated for many years, but ARFID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder) fails to be as common. 

Those battling ARFID should not despair, however, for even though statistics may be less fleshed out, treatment options are not. Adults and children alike can find recovery from ARFID by working with their therapist to build out a personalized treatment plan guaranteed to help them flourish in recovery. 

What is avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)?

ARFID is oftentimes based on a deep-rooted fear which inhibits the individual from eating. ARFID is not motivated by a desire to change one’s physical appearance, nor a lack of self-esteem or a similar sense of low self-worth. ARFID instead comes from a severe abhorrence of the taste, texture, color and smell of food. 

Those battling ARFID may also be afraid of the effect food has on their body, unrelated to physical appearance. This may include the risk of choking, vomiting or having an allergic reaction. To avoid these situations, a person may remove entire food groups or ingredients from their diet, or craft rituals around their eating habits.

Some may classify ARFID as picky eating, especially when seen in children, but the truth is ARFID is more than picky eating. While those who classify themselves as “picky eaters” eat a wide variety of food and simply choose to avoid the ones they dislike, those with ARFID are not open to trying new things, will only eat small amounts of what they know they like and will, therefore, significantly decrease their nutrient intake. 

ARFID is most common in childhood and, with the proper treatment, can be addressed and recovered from as the proper coping methods are learned and pursued.

Who is at risk for ARFID?

Not everyone is susceptible to ARFID as the majority of adults and children who struggle with the disorder have had some form of negative experience that has impacted their relationship with food. Those who battle ARFID have likely had one or more of the following experiences: 

  • A traumatic situation involving food, including choking, force-feeding or insecurity
  • Being repulsed by certain textures 
  • Having a fear of what food may do to you or your body
  • Struggling with a mental health condition like ADHD, depression or anxiety which impacts neurological functioning
  • A family history of eating disorders

Not everyone is guaranteed to develop an eating disorder after experiencing one of the above, and many will be able to return to healthy eating habits on their own after some time. But for those who cannot, and for those who do develop symptoms of ARFID, help is available. 

What is treatment like for ARFID? 

Treatment for ARFID focuses on helping you gain and maintain a healthy weight through learning to expand and improve nutrient intake; preventing further complications to your health which is often negatively impacted by limited vitamins, minerals and protein; and learning to redirect harmful thought patterns to improve your relationship with food. 

This is all accomplished through the creation and implementation of a personalized recovery program which you and your therapist work to develop during the initial stages of recovery.

Recovery programs are likely to include treatment modalities including: 

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – Where you learn to recognize unhealthy thought patterns, stop them in their tracks and redirect them with healthy, positive thinking; 
  • Acceptance commitment therapy – Where you “begin to accept [your] hardships and commit to making necessary changes in … behavior, regardless of what is going on in [life] and how [you] feel about it.”
  • Dialectical behavior therapy – Designed for those who deeply feel emotions, it helps you learn to accept both the positive and negative aspects of life while giving you the tools you need to make necessary changes and address unhealthy behaviors;
  • Narrative therapy – Where individuals are empowered to “make changes in their thought patterns and behavior and “rewrite” their life story for a future that reflects who they are, what they are capable of, and what their purpose is, separate from their problems.” 
  • Motivational interviewing – Where you learn to recognize ambivalent attitudes about recovery and restructure them into motivated courses of action to foster an internal desire for change. 

In addition, treatment includes holistic practices like yoga, meditation and art, music and dance therapy to help promote an entire body/mind healing and recovery. By focusing on all aspects of the person, recovery is not only obtainable, it is sustainable.

Ready to begin? 

If you are seeking recovery from ARFID or any other kind of eating disorder, Seeds of Hope is here to help. Contact our office today by calling 610-644-6464 or contact us online anytime to begin the intake process and get started towards recovery today. 

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