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ARFID - Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder | Balance

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID, is a relatively unknown eating disorder that can have serious consequences on an individual's physical and mental health.


It is characterized by the avoidance of certain foods or types of food, restricted intake in terms of the overall amount eaten, or both.


This article will explore the various aspects of ARFID, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options, aiming to increase awareness of this condition.


Woman struggling with mental health

What is ARFID?

ARFID, first introduced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013, is an eating disorder that involves avoiding specific foods or consuming very little food.


Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is not related to body image or the desire to lose weight. Instead, it is often trauma-based and can result from early life experiences that create a fear or anxiety around food.


This disorder can lead to nutritional deficiencies, delayed growth, and weight gain problems, as well as difficulties in social situations and relationships.


Sensory-Based Avoidance

One of the reasons behind ARFID is sensory-based avoidance, where individuals are highly sensitive to the taste, texture, smell, or appearance of certain foods.


They may only be able to eat foods at specific temperatures, leading to a restricted range of foods they are willing to consume.


Concern about the Consequences of Eating

Another reason for the development of ARFID is a distressing experience with food, such as choking, vomiting, or experiencing significant abdominal pain.


This can cause individuals to develop feelings of fear and anxiety around food or eating, leading them to avoid certain foods or textures. Some people may have more general worries about the consequences of eating, which they find difficult to express, and restrict their intake to what they consider 'safe' foods.


Low Interest in Eating

In some cases, individuals with ARFID may not recognize hunger or have a poor appetite. Eating might seem like a chore rather than an enjoyable activity, causing them to struggle with consuming enough food.


The Impact of ARFID on Physical Health

ARFID can have a negative impact on an individual's physical health. When a person does not take in enough energy (calories), they are likely to lose weight.


In children and young people, this can result in a failure to gain weight as expected and affect growth, causing a slowing in height increase.


A restricted diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies and impact the person's ability to function daily. In some cases, severe weight loss or nutritional deficiencies may develop, requiring treatment or even tube feeding if the physical risk is high.



The Impact of ARFID on Psychological Wellbeing and Social Life

Individuals with ARFID may experience significant difficulties in various aspects of their lives, such as at home, school, work, and social situations. Their mood and day-to-day functioning can be negatively affected. They may find it hard to go out, attend social events, or go on holiday.

A person in distress

Eating difficulties can make social occasions challenging to manage, and establishing new friendships or close relationships may be hindered as social eating is often a part of these processes.


Diagnosing ARFID

ARFID usually presents in infancy or childhood and may persist into adulthood. It may initially resemble picky eating, a common childhood behavior. However, picky eating patterns usually resolve within a few months without causing problems with growth or development.


A child may have ARFID if the eating problem is not caused by a digestive disorder, food shortage, cultural food traditions, or another eating disorder such as bulimia.


Parents should schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional if their child is showing signs of ARFID. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to address both the medical and psychosocial aspects of this condition.


Treating ARFID

ARFID is a treatable condition when working with a knowledgeable professional. Treatment requires understanding trauma to tissue and avoiding food exposure methods that may increase symptoms. It is essential to find a practitioner experienced in treating ARFID, as treatment for other eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating may not be effective for this condition.


Treatment for ARFID typically involves therapy, nutrition counseling, and psychiatric care. Progress may be slow, but with consistent treatment, individuals can gain weight, expand their diet, and improve their overall wellbeing.


Advice for Parents

Parents should avoid guilting or shaming their child into trying new foods, as this can exacerbate their anxiety and fear around food. Instead, provide support and understanding while seeking professional help for their child. Familiarize yourself with the diagnostic criteria for ARFID and be persistent in finding a practitioner who is knowledgeable about the condition.


Conclusion

ARFID is a relatively unknown but severe eating disorder that can have lasting effects on an individual's physical and mental health. By raising awareness and understanding of this condition, we can support those affected by it and help them seek appropriate treatment.


If you suspect that you or someone you know may be struggling with ARFID, seek professional help right away to ensure the best possible outcome.


Reach out to organizations like BEAT or BodyWhys to achieve the further support you or your loved one requires.

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