Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

WHAT IS ARFID?

ARFID – standing for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – is an eating disorder characterised by an extreme avoidance of food due to disliking the sensory experiences of eating. This can result in significant weight loss and other health conditions.

ARFID was only recently designated its own status as an eating disorder diagnosis. As a result there is less understanding around what causes ARFID, however it often develops due to an extreme sensitivity to the taste and texture of food, or because of negative experiences around eating (for example, choking or vomiting).

ARFID or Anorexia? 

Someone with ARFID and someone with Anorexia may have similar presentations and so it can be easy to confuse the two. Both disorders result in a significant restriction of food intake and sometimes fear around food. Due to this chronic restriction of food, people with ARFID or Anorexia may experience similar symptoms.

ARFID differs from Anorexia in that the motivations for avoiding food are not surrounding body image, body size or self-esteem. In fact, someone with ARFID may wish to gain weight but find they cannot, due to their adverse reaction to eating or swallowing.

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WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ARFID

The main distinguishing factor of ARFID is an avoidance of food and eating, which may range from  an apparent lack of interest to an extreme fear and total avoidance of eating. This is due to disliking the sensory characteristics of food. 

This ongoing avoidance results in weight loss and nutritional deficiencies, as well as other physiological symptoms such as:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Digestive issues
  • Unbalanced thyroid function
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Feeling cold – especially in the hands and feet 
  • Dry hair, skin and nails 
  • Hair loss 
  • Weakened immune system 
  • Swollen feet

People with ARFID may also have behavioural symptoms, such as:

  • Dressing in many layers to conceal weight loss or keep warm
  • Drastic restriction in the types or amount of food they’ll eat
  • Avoidance of social occasions involving food and eating
  • Fear of vomiting (Emetophobia) or choking

People with ARFID often suffer from anxiety around eating, or general anxiety.

WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO HAVE ARFID?

ARFID can develop as a result of gastrointestinal issues, food allergies, a history of vomiting or choking or aversion to the sensory qualities of food. The reasons for developing ARFID are as unique to the individual as the individual is themselves.  

  • You may feel confused or stuck in your behaviour and not able to change, despite wanting to.
  • You may feel trapped by your aversion to the sensory experiences of eating or fears of vomiting or choking
  • You may be avoiding eating as a fear response

ARFID can often develop at a young age. As a child, emotional disturbances and negative experiences are difficult to process and express. When we are young, we are rarely taught how to label, process or talk about how we are feeling. 

What might begin as slightly ‘picky’ eating can develop into a way of expressing an emotional difficulty. 

As an adult, ARFID can also be a way of dealing with unresolved difficulties. A difficult internal struggle can often be expressed in unexpected ways, this is often a process that occurs outside of our conscious awareness.

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ARFID TREATMENT

We can support you in recovery from ARFID using a range of psychological, physiological and nutritional approaches.

PSYCHIATRY ARFID TREATMENT

  • Conduct a thorough psychological assessment to determine your best treatment plan
  • Assess if you have any other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or OCD that may be influencing your condition
  • Prescribe medication to help your build your appetite or manage your anxiety around eating

DIETITIAN ARFID TREATMENT

  • Conduct a thorough health and nutritional assessment to locate any deficiencies or imbalances that may be undermining your health
  • Create a personalized meal plan to help gradually increase the variety and quantity of food in your diet
  • Prescribe nutritional supplements if necessary

PSYCHOTHERAPY ARFID TREATMENT

  • Resolve unhelpful habits and beliefs around food and eating
  • Understanding the emotions you may associate with food
  • Exploring the origins of unhelpful thinking patterns, feelings and behaviours around your relationship with food 
  • Processing experiences or events from your past that have influenced your relationship with eating

Please book a call with our friendly and experienced assessment team, and we explore the best treatment options for your experience of ARFID.