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Published On: Mar 5, 2024|Categories: Eating Disorder Information|

When people hear the term “eating disorder,” most assume anorexia. And while anorexia is certainly one of the most common, most severe eating disorders, it is not the only one a person may suffer from. 

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a lesser-known eating disorder, but still one which should raise concern. While a substantial amount of data on ARFID does not exist at the current moment regarding the impact of this condition on overall populations, certain signs and symptoms, as well as behaviors allow us to learn much about what ARFID is. 

What is ARFID? 

Whereas anorexia or bulimia eating disorders circle motivations and causes like poor self-esteem and concerns about physical appearance, those who battle ARFID seemingly do not struggle with a lack of self-image or self-esteem in this way. Their restrictive eating habits are rooted in different motivations entirely.

Those battling ARFID tend to have an overall lack of interest in eating food. They may shy away from food due to texture, smell or other sensory factors which cause displeasure or lack of appeal. They may be worried about the effect the food may have on their body, unrelated to physical appearance. 

In addition to displeasure regarding food’s sensory aspect, those struggling with ARFID are also concerned about the risk of vomiting, choking while eating or having an allergic reaction. To avoid these situations, individuals may create certain rituals around their eating habits or eliminate certain ingredients. 

ARFID is not the same as being a picky eater because even picky eaters will choose to eat a wide variety of foods with differing tastes, smells and textures. Those with ARFID will limit themselves to select food items they can tolerate, and consequently significantly decrease their nutrient intake. 

What are the symptoms of ARFID?

If you have a loved one battling ARFID, they may not admit to fear being a factor in their limited food intake. They may not realize there is a significant problem present at all, as their mindset is self-preservation and avoidance for the sake of preventing something worse from happening (i.e. choking, vomiting, allergies, etc). 

As an outside observer, however, you are likely to notice some of the more significant negative impacts of ARFID.

Extreme selectiveness 

It may seem like those with ARFID are just highly picky eaters, but they have an even more limited ingredient list than those with food preferences. Picky eaters still can receive all of the nutrients they need as they continue to consume a normal array of food, while those struggling with ARFID do not, and therefore do not maintain proper nutrition.

Refusal of food as a response to threat

Those with ARFID turn down certain food options because they perceive it as a threat and a potential cause of choking or vomiting. Those who have had an allergic reaction to food may also show signs of ARFID to protect themselves from having another reaction ever again. This self-preservation, however, has detrimental long-term effects.  

Lack of interest

ARFID often causes an overall disinterest in food. Individuals may turn food down simply because they do not have any desire to eat; they are often prone to forgetting to have meals as food is not a priority in their minds. 

Significant weight loss

While picky eaters maintain their weight by still consuming a wide variety of foods they do tolerate (and even enjoy), a common sign of ARFID is sudden weight loss due to nutrient deficiency and lack of food in general.

If you have noticed these signs in a loved one, or have been experiencing them in your own life, it might be time to get in touch with a treatment center to help prevent further nutrient deficiency and increase overall physical and mental wellness.

How is ARFID treated?

Oftentimes, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is not easily overcome on one’s own, and professional intervention is needed to help address and reverse these behavioral patterns. 

Talk therapies are often the most effective methods of treatment, including close work alongside a dietician and physician to help address all the sides of ARFID (physical, mental, and nutritional). 

Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) help individuals to recognize and understand the mental processes involved in ARFID behaviors, and then work to reshape those thought patterns. Family therapies involve close members of the family to help promote and foster healthy eating habits in the home itself. 

By slowly working to reverse the mental processes involved in ARFID, clients can begin the process of breaking avoidant restrictive eating habits and reincorporating healthy eating behaviors with the help of the right professionals

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 by contacting us online to get in touch with a counselor and begin your journey to full recovery. 

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