Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is sometimes characterised as ‘picky eating’, but it’s actually one of the newly categorised forms of eating disorder. A person with ARFID has issues eating certain foods, which leads to inadequate nutritional intake. Eventually, ARFID can lead to a dependence on supplements, or even a feeding tube.
Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is most common in childhood or infancy, although it can affect adults too. In adults, ARFID may cause weight loss, but in children and young people, it may simply mean they do not gain the weight they should. This can have a significant impact on health.

Academy for Eating Disorders info on ARFID

Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder ARFID is characterized by an avoidance of eating that leads to a failure to meet nutritional or energy needs(1). This avoidance may be due to concerns regarding uncomfortable consequences of eating, displeasure with the tastes and/or textures of foods, or a number of other reasons. Importantly, this avoidance must not be explained by a normal culture practice or a food allergy. The results of this avoidance may be that the individual loses a significant amount of weight, or for children, fails to gain weight as expected, experiences a deficiency in important nutrients, requires food supplements or special feedings, or experiences substantial impairment in his/her life as a result of the avoidance (e.g., is unable/unwilling to socialize with others if food is involved). Although many of these features may be present in anorexia nervosa, a corresponding fear of weight gain and disturbance in body image is not present in ARFID. Information on the prevalence of AFRID are not yet available; however, ARFID most commonly begins in infancy or early childhood(1). Although picky-eating in young children is not unusual, warning signs of ARFID include such “pickiness” leading to a failure to gain weight as expected or the necessity of administering nutritional supplements in order to avoid experiencing a nutritional deficiency. ARFID may negatively affect family functioning, especially around mealtime(1). Related psychological conditions include anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

Warning signs of ARFID:

  • Trouble eating or digesting specific types of food
  • Only eating very small portions
  • Eating very slowly
  • Avoiding particular types, textures, or colours of food
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fear of eating – can be caused as a result of choking or vomiting previously

If you think your child or loved one is showing signs of ARFID, it’s important to seek help straight away.