Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Just the facts
Am I a fussy eater or is it something more serious?
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (also known as ARFID) is an eating disorder where a someone avoids eating certain foods because they are scared, not interested or sensitive to how it feels (or a combination of these reasons).
ARFID isn’t about gaining weight or worrying about body image, like other eating disorders.
Possible reasons for ARFID can include:
- Not eating food because of the smell, taste, texture or brand of food
- Had a bad experience with food that was upsetting, for example, choking or being sick after eating something
- Not feeling hungry or just a lack of interest in eating, which may mean that you do not recognise when you are hungry
There can be more than one reason why someone develops ARFID.
How do I know if I have Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?
It is normal to have preferences when it comes to food. ARFID is different, it can affect your brain and your overall health. According to BEAT Eating Disorders, some signs of ARFID include:
- Finding it difficult to recognise when hungry
- Developing nutritional deficiencies, for example anaemia through not having enough foods containing iron
- Feeling full after only a few mouthfuls
- Eating different types of foods but overall having much less food than is needed to stay healthy
- Eating is a daunting task
- Only eating food of a similar colour
- Don’t like going social events where food would be present for example, out with friends for dinner
- Being very anxious at mealtimes (Click here for support on managing anxiety at mealtimes)
There may be other symptoms not listed. Remember, people can display different symptoms to others.
How is ARFID diagnosed and treated?
ARFID can be diagnosed by a medical specialist, such as a Doctor or Psychiatrist. They will assess your eating habits, the reasons for avoiding certain foods and the impact this is having on your life. Treatment for ARFID will depend on your needs as everyone is different. Different medical professionals are involved in ARFID treatment to help support all your needs. Most treatments include exploring physical needs, establishing regular eating, having a greater variety of foods and managing anxiety.
Some of the helpful therapies for young people with ARFID can include:
- Individual sessions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Therapies that support carers to help the young person, e.g. Family Based Therapy
What should I do if I am worried about myself?
You can seek further information and support from ARFID specific or wider eating disorder charities such as Beat, ARFID Awareness and First Steps (depending on your location). Click here to see more helpful websites and other useful resources.
If you are worried that you may be showing signs of ARFID, speak to your GP. Your GP will ask you about your eating patterns, any history of weight change and may ask to check your physical health (this may include the GP checking your height, weight, blood pressure and pulse). They may also suggest you have a referral to CAMHS.
It is very important to seek urgent help if you have rapidly lost weight for longer than a few weeks, lost weight over three months, think your eating is out of control or you are struggling with your mental health. Speak to your doctor (GP) as soon as possible if any of these are happening to you.
If you’re in need of urgent help, for example if you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 999 or the Samaritans on 116 123.
How to get help
If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your school nurse.