What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) categorizes Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) as a condition in which individuals do not meet the criteria for any currently diagnosable eating disorder yet still experience struggles with food and eating habits. A person diagnosed with ARFID is typically not able to meet proper nutritional needs due to an eating or feeding disturbance that causes physiological or psychological suffering. Typically ARFID affects children, but adults can also be affected. The following are criteria that may lead to a diagnosis of ARFID:1
- An eating or feeding disturbance that persistently prevents the intake of the proper amount of nutrition and is associated with one or more of the following factors:
- Significant weight loss or failure to meet expected weight gain
- Significant nutritional deficiency that is detrimental towards a person’s overall health
- Dependence on nutritional supplements
- Impaired psycho-social functioning
- The disturbance is not caused by a lack of food availability or a cultural custom
- Symptoms are not due to Anorexia or Bulimia
- There is no body image issue
- The disturbance is not due to an underlying medical condition
People with ARFID will often avoid certain foods or have designated “safe foods.”1 They may exclude entire food groups from their diet. These exclusions are based on certain characteristics such as temperature, color, and texture. For example, a person suffering from ARFID may not eat any hot foods. There are no obvious physical characteristics of people with ARFID; some are able to maintain a healthy body weight. Children with ARFID may lose weight or not gain the weight expected for their age group. One of the only visible signs of this condition is a possible avoidance of eating in public. Those suffering from ARFID may avoid going out to eat with friends because of their anxiety surrounding foods. Symptoms are usually contained in childhood, although in some cases the condition has consistently progressed to adulthood.
Although a fear of gaining weight is not a cause of ARFID as it is for other eating disorders, this condition can have similar and mutually severe psychological implications. Food phobias are one of the causes of this disorder. Food phobias can lead a person to experience extreme anxiety and distress over certain foods which will force them to completely exclude those foods from their diet. Developmental disorders such as autism can also result in ARFID symptoms. A bad experience with food, such as choking or vomiting, can cause a person to exhibit ARFID symptoms. The person will avoid the specific food or food group due to anxiety associated with the memories about that food.
Long Term Effects
If a person with ARFID does not seek medical help and/or their symptoms do not disappear over time, they may be subject to serious health hazards. The person can become malnourished which can lead to a number of health effects such as anemia or weakened bones. ARFID can develop into another recognizable DSM-5 eating disorder if not properly treated. For example, the person might develop anorexia or bulimia if the condition is left untreated.
Treatment for ARFID typically depends on the individual’s circumstances. If the patient is a child, the medical professional may use family therapy to address the child’s issues. They also may choose to counsel the parents and provide them with techniques to help their child. In other cases, the doctor may choose to use behavior modification techniques to help the patient overcome their food aversions. Cognitive behavior therapy, exposure therapy, and hypnotherapy can also be effective treatment approaches.2
An individual may be diagnosed with ARFID if they experience an eating or feeding disturbance that persistently prevents the intake of the proper amount of nutrition and is accompanied by one or more of the other associated symptoms of ARFID. If left untreated, ARFID can develop into another DSM-5 recognized eating disorders, which could have serious negative health implications.
- “Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) .” Avoidant / Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.
- “Avoidant/restrictive Food Intake Disorder.” Eating Disorder Hope RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.
Last Updated: 8 May 2016.