Like other eating disorders and disturbances, there is no singular cause of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). Parents and caregivers of patients who are exhibiting symptoms of ARFID may contribute their condition to being extremely picky about their food choices. But studies show that a major cause of ARFID could be biological . The evolving scientific research about ARFID suggests that this pattern of disordered eating can develop from a complex interplay between genetic, psychological and sociocultural factors.
Understanding the cause of ARFID guides treatment, however, a course of action for patients experiencing ARFID will also be based on their individual symptoms.
ARFID Symptoms and Warning Signs
The symptoms of ARFID, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, vary widely and may evolve with the developmental context of the individual, especially in children and adolescents. The symptoms of ARFID can generally be categorized into the types of ARFID, which will guide individual treatment approaches. We explore the different types of ARFID to help you identify potential symptoms and warning signs.
Types of ARFID
Like other eating disorder conditions, there are several different types of ARFID, depending on the symptoms the individual is experiencing. The types of ARFID include: Avoidant, Aversive, Restrictive, Adult ARFID and ARFID “Plus.”
One common type of ARFID is Avoidant. In this condition, individuals simply avoid certain types of foods in relation to sensory features, causing a sensitivity or over stimulation reaction. These patients may feel sensitive to the smell of foods; textures, including soft foods or fruit and vegetables that have prickly or defined textures; or general appearance, including color.
Another type of the ARFID eating disorder is Aversive. Individuals whose food refusal is related to the Aversive type may experience on fear-based reactions. Aversive ARFID evokes a fear of choking, nausea, vomiting, pain and/or swallowing, forcing the individual to avoid the food altogether.
Individuals who experience Restrictive ARFID may show signs of little-to-no interest in food. Restrictive ARFID can make one forget to eat altogether, show signs of a low appetite or get extremely distracted during mealtime. Another symptom of Restrictive includes extreme pickiness of foods, resulting in limited intake.
Symptoms of ARFID not only take place in children and adolescents; in fact, many adults can show signs of ARFID. Individuals with ARFID in their adult years may still have symptoms that were experienced in their adolescent years and can be categorized as Avoidant, Aversive or Restrictive types of ARFID. ARFID symptoms in adults can include selective or extremely picky eating, food peculiarities, texture, color or taste aversions related to food.
Individuals who are experiencing more than one type of ARFID can begin to develop features of anorexia nervosa, including concerns about body weight and size, fear of weight gain, negativity about fatness, negative body image without body image distortion and preference for less calorie-dense foods. This combination of symptoms is categorized as ARFID “Plus,” a co-occurring eating disorder.
ARFID Health Risks
There are a number of serious health risks associated with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), including:
- Weight loss or being severely underweight
- Nutritional deficiencies (e.g., anemia or iron deficiency) and malnutrition that can be characterized by fatigue, weakness, brittle nails, dry hair, hair loss, difficulty concentrating, and reduction in bone density
- Growth failure in adolescents or an increased risk to not thrive; stunted growth or falling off growth curves for weight and height
ARFID vs. Anorexia
ARFID is often confused with anorexia nervosa because weight loss and nutritional deficiency are common shared symptoms between the two disorders. However, the primary difference between ARFID and anorexia is that ARFID lacks the drive for thinness that is so common for individuals with anorexia.
At Eating Recovery Center, treatment for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) begins with a comprehensive assessment to determine the type of eating disorder and other core issues. Medical stabilization, psychiatric stabilization, nutritional rehabilitation and weight restoration (when appropriate) are all provided.
Are you or a loved one suffering from the symptoms of ARFID? Learn more about this condition and the symptoms you or your loved one is experiencing by taking Eating Recovery Center’s ARFID quiz.
Seek Highly Specialized Treatment for ARFID
Eating Recovery Center offers specialized treatment for children, adolescents and adults struggling with ARFID. Please call us at 866-753-3817 to schedule an assessment by one of our Master’s-level clinicians. Eating Recovery Center is the nation's only health care system dedicated to the treatment of ARFID at all levels of care including inpatient treatment, residential treatment, partial hospitalization treatment and intensive outpatient treatment.