Common Symptoms of ARFID

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, also known as ARFID, is an eating disorder or feeding disturbance that affects young children and adolescents as well as adults. ARFID symptoms vary widely and can evolve with the developmental context of the individual. Common symptoms may include avoidant sensory triggers, restrictive eating habits and fear-based eating experiences.

Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of ARFID is an important first step in seeking care for this type of eating disorder.

ARFID Symptoms in Adults

Inflexible eating behaviors

When it comes to identifying ARFID symptoms in adults, one common warning sign is inflexible eating behaviors, which can be categorized as one being extremely “picky” with food selection. There is a clear distinction between food preferences in healthy adults versus inflexible eating behaviors found in ARFID-diagnosed individuals, including refusing to try different or new types of food, extremely specific preparation of food choices, and sensitivity to the sensory one perceives from a food, whether physical or emotional. These ARFID symptoms evoke inflexible eating behaviors that can cause attitudes of anorexia nervosa or bulimia [1].

Fear-based food restriction

Another common symptom of ARFID in adults is fear-based food restriction. Individuals who experience distress about certain foods can have an emotional or physical reaction due to thoughts of an allergic reaction, choking or vomiting [1]. This can cause individuals to avoid certain foods and/or textures, depleting the individual of nutritional value. Fear-based food restriction can also result in low body weight due to anorexia nervosa behaviors and increased anxiety around food [2].

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5086050/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151474/

ARFID Symptoms in Children

Lack of interest in food

Although ARFID can affect individuals of any gender or age, this eating disorder can be more common in children and adolescents. One warning sign of ARFID is the lack of interest in food.

Fear-based food restriction

Children who show symptoms of ARFID might avoid certain foods out of fear of texture, smell or appearance [3], or construct feelings of fear that a certain food may cause them to vomit/feel sick or choke.

Limiting food intake

Children who experience ARFID can generally limit their food intake for an array of reasons. As explained above, this can be due to a certain fear of food, but it can also come in the form of fasting behaviors[4].

[3] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/more-picky-eating%E2%80%947-things-know-about-arfid
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6281436/

Types of ARFID

Unlike other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, individuals who experience symptoms of ARFID are typically not focused on body image or size. ARFID can affect individuals of any age, gender, background and sexual orientation. There are many different types of this condition, including Avoidant, Aversive, Restrictive, ARFID “Plus” and Adult ARFID.

Eating Recovery Center experts define the ARFID subtypes by these categories:

Avoidant

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.

Aversive

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.

Restrictive

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.

Adult ARFID

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.

ARFID "Plus"

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.

More Information and Other FAQs about ARFID

Seek Help for ARFID Symptoms

If left untreated, ARFID symptoms can build in intensity and seriousness, which is especially concerning for children and adolescents going through the most developmentally important stages of their life.

If you or a loved one are in need of care for ARFID, connect with a master’s-level clinician today. Please call us at 866‑438‑8756 so we can discuss the symptoms you are observing, help with a diagnosis and discuss your treatment options.

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