What is ARFID?
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is characterized by a persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs as a result of eating or feeding disturbances such as an apparent lack of interest in food, avoidance due to the sensory qualities of food, and/or concern over adverse consequences of eating food. These disturbances are not associated with distorted body image or body dissatisfaction, but are associated with significant weight loss or faltering growth/developmental patterns (in children and adolescents); dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements; and/or marked interference with psychosocial functioning. These disturbances cannot be better explained by a lack of food, cultural practices, or a concurrent medical condition or mental disorder. Individuals with ARFID may experience extreme emotional dysregulation and anxiety around meal times, have a fear of vomiting or choking, and/or undergo thorough testing for chronic abdominal pain with no satisfactory findings.
What Causes ARFID?
Like all eating disorders, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to and, despite common misconceptions, families and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to ARFID that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime. The mean age of diagnosis is 11 years; however, symptoms may present in infancy or early childhood.
Malnutrition-Induced Changes in Physiological Processes & Altered Hunger and Fullness Signals
Experiencing a Traumatic Event
Genetic Predisposition & Societal Pressures (e.g., Drive for Thinness)
Abnormal Brain Circuitry & Weakened Food-Related Reward Pathways
What to Look For
Being familiar with the signs and symptoms can help you champion early intervention and recovery through ARFID treatment. Watch for dysregulated emotions around meal times, significant weight loss, and a failure to meet nutritional needs and growth trajectories. Associated disorders, or “comorbidities,” include anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and cognitive disorders.
- Weight Loss & Nutritional Deficiencies
- Failure to Meet Growth Trajectories
- Emotional Dysregulation & High Anxiety around Meal Times
- Chronic Abdominal Pain Lacking an Apparent Cause
- Fears or Phobias around Illness, Choking, or Vomiting
- Neutral or Positive Body Image
Risks of ARFID
ARFID can have extreme medical and physiological consequences that may or may not resolve completely during recovery.
- Cognitive Impairment
- Delayed Puberty or Dysregulation of Reproductive Hormones
- Impaired Brain Functioning and Signaling
- Weakened Food-Related Reward Pathways
- Chronic Abdominal Pain, Fatigue & Headaches