Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder characterized by extreme limitation of food consumed resulting in malnutrition and extreme weight loss.
Although similar to anorexia in terms of physical effects, that’s where the similarities end. The motivation involved in ARFID is maintained by negative thoughts involving the direct action of food consumption. Unlike anorexia, there is no evidence of severe dissatisfaction and obsession over physical size and/or body weight.
Thoughts that drive ARFID:
- Sensory characteristics of food (e.g., taste, temperature, texture, smell)
- Possible choking or vomiting of food post-consumption
- Extreme lack of interest in the activity of eating
Symptoms of ARFID:
- Absence of appetite
- Extreme weight loss
- Intense picky eating that worsens over time
- Avoidance of particular food groups
- Preference of certain sensory characteristics of food (e.g., texture)
- Fear of choking or vomiting due to eating
- Interest or use in replacement of oral consumption (i.e., nutritional supplements or tube feeding)
- No evidence of dissatisfaction of body image/weight
Because ARFID ultimately causes the failure to meet nutritional or energy requirements of the body necessary for proper functioning and growth, as with anorexia, such malnutrition causes many harmful effects both short-term and long-term.
Symptoms due to malnutrition:
- Constantly feeling cold
- Immune deficiency
- Problems with concentration
- Gastrointestinal issues (e.g., stomach cramps, constipation, acid reflux)
Many mental illnesses do not have a definite cause due to the complex nature and combination of biological, social, and emotional factors that contribute to their appearance. As with all mental illnesses, however, there are certain risk factors that allow some to be more likely to develop ARFID than others.
Risk factors of ARFID:
- Extreme picky eating as a child that is never overcome.
- Children who have autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and intellectual disabilities.
- Children who experience anxiety disorders, as they typically occur along with ARFID.
Treatment of ARFID:
The first priority in treatment of ARFID is helping the individual return to healthy weight and proper intake of food to meet bodily needs. However, this only solves the physical symptoms of ARFID, and not the actual disorder.
To maintain bodily needs being met, the motivations of the individual restricting food intake need to be targeted. This can be done through cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed professional to figure out why such negative thoughts about food and/or oral consumption exist and create safe coping skills to relieve them.