What is Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

When we think of eating disorders, what springs to mind are usually well-known, well-documented habits, such as anorexia and bulimia. These disorders are covered heavily in the media, in personal stories, across Instagram and looking out for the signs of these are drummed into us at school and beyond.

While anorexia and bulimia are well-known, they are not the only kind of eating disorder out there. In fact, there are many! Today, we’re focusing on avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, more commonly known as ARFID.

 

What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?dermot

In a nutshell, ARFID is described as two things: avoiding certain foods or types of food, having restricted intake in terms of overall amount eaten, or both.

This basically means that a person may completely avoid eating foods with a certain type of texture, or smell for example. This may be because of a past traumatic experience, where they may have had a distressing experience with food, such as choking or vomiting which will lead them to develop feelings of fear and anxiety around food or eating.

In addition, some people may experience more anxiety about the ‘consequences’ of eating and so restrict their eating to what they regard as ‘safe’ foods. This could look like a person completely avoiding things that contain ‘fat’. So whilst this could be not eating chocolates and crisps – things that have a ‘bad’ high fat count – but also avoiding foods like avocados which do have a fat content, but they are generally seen as ‘good’ and are also packed with nutrients. Alternatively, someone could avoid all foods that they are not comfortable with, and may only eat a very limited, plain diet, such as french fries and chicken pieces, with no variety.

ARFID is different to anorexia and bulimia as a sufferer’s beliefs about weight and shape do not contribute to the avoidance or restriction of food intake. However, due to the worries about the consequences of eating, this can lead to severe levels of fear.

 

 

What Are The Consequences of ARFID?

It’s important to note that ARFID does not look the same from person to person. It includes a range of different types of difficulty. Nevertheless, all people who develop ARFID avoid or restrict food intake in terms of overall amount, range of foods eaten, or both.

Depending on what habit the individual has picked up, consequences of ARFID can include vitamin deficiencies from avoiding foods rich in minerals and vitamins. In some people, serious weight loss or nutritional deficiencies may develop, which need treatment. It can also have a huge effect on someone’s psychological wellbeing. A knock-on effect can be that a person suffering may find it hard to go out and socialise, as their eating difficulties may make social occasions difficult to manage.

 

What To Look Out For With ARFID

As above, this disorder does not look the same for everyone and it can be quite difficult to pick up – not just for other people, but even the person themselves! However, some common symptoms and signs of ARFID include:

 

  • Feeling full after only a few mouthfuls and struggling to eat more
  • Taking a long time over mealtimes or finding eating a ‘chore’
  • Missing meals completely
  • Sensitivity to aspects of some foods, such as the texture, smell, or temperature
  • Always having the same meals
  • Always eating something different to everyone else.
  • Only eating food of a similar colour
  • Attempting to avoid social events where food would be present
  • Developing nutritional deficiencies, such as anaemia through not having enough iron in the diet
  • Needing to take supplements to make sure nutritional and energy needs are met

 

If you think you might be suffering from ARFID, you should definitely make an appointment to discuss this with your GP. You can also contact the helpline on 0808 801 0677. If you are concerned that a family member or friend has ARFID, it is important to talk with them to support and encourage them to seek the right help and support.

 

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