ARFID - Eating Disorders Victoria

ARFID

This page defines avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and provides information on warning signs, the physical effects, and treatment and recovery options.

What is ARFID?

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a serious mental illness where a person avoids or only eats small amounts of certain foods based on factors such as their appearance, food group, texture, smell or past experience.

Identified by classifying foods as either ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’, ARFID can cause a person to become seriously ill because their bodies aren’t getting all the nutrients they need. Some people with ARFID will need to receive nutritional supplements or enteral (tube) feeding.

ARFID is similar to anorexia nervosa in that it is an eating disorder based around restricting food intake; however, the intent of ARFID is very different from anorexia. People with ARFID do not restrict food as a way to lose weight and it doesn’t affect the way they feel about their bodies. Rather, a person with ARFID has a relationship with certain types of foods that can prevent them from eating.

For example, a person may have had a bad experience, such as choking or vomiting, after eating something crunchy and now will refuse to eat anything crunchy in future. They might be sensitive to anything too hot or too cold, anything with a strong smell, of a certain colour or shape. Generally, there is a lot of anxiety or fear around food, which causes them to avoid it altogether. In some cases, the sufferer may simply be, or appear to be, uninterested in eating.

Warning signs of ARFID

Some of the more common signs and symptoms of ARFID are:

  • Appearing to be a ‘picky eater’ or being ‘phobic’ of certain foods
  • Not eating enough or skipping meals completely
  • No evidence of being preoccupied with body shape or weight but rather anxiety about the food itself
  • Very sensitive to certain aspects of foods, focusing on texture, smell, temperature or food group
  • Disinterested in food or forgetting to eat
  • Avoiding events where food will be served
  • Needing to take nutritional supplements
  • Anxiety and fear around food
  • Malnutrition

Need to have a chat? 

If you are concerned about yourself or someone you love, our team at the EDV Hub are here to help.

Call, chat or email the EDV Hub

Physical signs and effects of ARFID

ARFID can mirror the same effects as anorexia nervosa on the mind and body:

  • Brain – preoccupation with food/calories, fear of gaining weight, headaches, fainting, dizziness, mood swings, anxiety, depression
  • Hair and skin – dry skin, brittle nails, thin hair, bruises easily, yellow complexion, growth of thin white hair all over body (called lanugo), intolerance to cold
  • Heart and blood – poor circulation, irregular or slow heartbeat, very low blood pressure, cardiac arrest, heart failure, low iron levels (anaemia)
  • Intestines – constipated, diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal pain
  • Hormones – irregular or absent periods, loss of libido, infertility
  • Kidneys – dehydration, kidney failure
  • Bones and muscles – loss of bone calcium (osteopenia), osteoporosis, muscle loss, weakness, fatigue

Recovery and treatment

ARFID is diagnosed more often in children than adults. Many experts any have proposed other conditions, such as autism, anxiety disorders, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may be linked to ARFID.

Given ARFID occurs more commonly in children, a desensitisation approach — only in consultant with a GP or psychologist — can often be effective in treating ARFID. It’s important to seek proper medical help with this, as rushing or forcing a child to accept certain foods can cause even more fear and anxiety. Adults with ARFID benefit from seeing a psychologist to address the underlying anxiety and possibly trauma associated with this eating disorder.

If you’re worried about yourself or somebody you know, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible, as ARFID can lead to malnutrition if left untreated.

Eating Disorders Victoria has put together a step-by-step guide take if you are concerned that you may be experiencing ARFID. It also covers how to talk to family or friends about what you’re going through. Remember that you have the best chance of success if you include people you trust on your journey.

Visit my recovery journey
Was the page helpful?