Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a type of eating disorder that restricts individuals. Which leads them eto eat smaller amounts of food or they will avoid certain food or even entire food groups. ARFID is not similar to bulimia and anorexia, even though it may seem like it. This type of disorder is not significantly based on weight or shape concerns or the fear of gaining weight.

It is often confused with anorexia because of the fact that weight loss and nutritional deficiency both occur in each disorder. But with ARFID the feeling of wanting to be thin and to lose weight doesn’t occur to them. It’s not associated with body image issues or any other insecurities related to how one would look at body shape or weight in general.

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Symptoms of ARFID

Like any eating disorder, there comes a lot of symptoms. But it’s important to know that not everyone will experience each one or the same one. A first sign could be that the individual is eating a range of foods from a specific food group, but still not having enough food that is needed to stay healthy. They may begin to feel full after a few mouthfuls or struggle to eat anymore. Considering eating a chore and trying to find ways around it. They may have a sensitivity to certain aspects of foods such as the texture, smell or the temperature of it.

They may start to get into a habit of having the same meals every day as they know they’ll be ok with that and are used to it. They won’t just restrict certain foods for the purpose of losing weight. They may start to eat foods that are a certain colour because they have a fear of eating food that’s a different colour. Weight loss is a massive symptom and they may experience nutritional deficiencies such as severe anaemia through lack of iron. They might end up having to take supplements to make sure that all their nutritional needs are met.

Behavioural and psychological symptoms could include, dramatic weight loss, constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, feeling very tired. Always having stomach upset or feelings of being full around mealtimes but having no cause as to why. Will only eat certain textures of foods, lack of appetite or interest in food altogether.

As for the physical symptoms these could include stomach cramps, menstrual irregularities, dizziness, feeling cold a lot of the time, lack of sleep, dry skin. Dry and brittle nails and hair, muscle weakness, wounds taking a lot longer to heal.

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Causes of ARFID

Many causes for this type of eating disorder are unknown, but there are a few that can be considered as one. Mostly including genetic factors, so it could be that someone in your family developed this certain eating disorder. It could be a psychological factor, which could mean you perhaps suffer from anxiety of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This could then lead to this disorder and the fact the individual is picky when it comes to certain foods.

It is known that those who suffer from ARFID suffer because of something called sensory sensitivity. This brings on a fear of negative thoughts or a lack of interest in eating that specific bit of food or eating in general. It can be anything from the texture of a piece of food, to the taste of it and even the actual appearance of it. It could also be stemmed from the fact they’ve had a traumatic experience with a certain type of food. Which could have caused them to choke or to vomit. This would then give the individual fear and anxiety around that specific food which would lead to them avoiding it.

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ARFID in children

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is very common in children because sometimes mealtimes can be a battle. Children sometimes lack the ability to try new food, which may have a negative impact on their eating overtime.

As a parent or a carer, it’s important to know that if your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms that you seek help. There are certain techniques you as a parent can do, but it’s best to always get more advice from a professional. One tip is to be a role model, try aiming to be a healthier one. Ensure that you promote not only a healthy body image in children but that you have one too. Avoid always putting yourself down and being negative about your weight. Instead, always talk about what your body is capable of and the positive attributes that come with it. Try to minimise the talk about good and bad foods and just focus on overall health instead.

Another tip would be to try and create regular exact family mealtimes, for your child if they’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder. It’s important to supervise meals as it’s a key part of recovery. But it is important to seek help from a doctor and you know your child best. Early treatment is the best possible way to recovery. It will take time and require a lot of patience, but children can recover from it.


ARFID is a fairly new diagnosis, but one that has many treatments that have proven to be successful. Some treatments could be correcting growth deficiencies and micronutrients, eating a larger range of foods, trying to become more comfortable eating in front of others, becoming less fearful of choking or vomiting. Try to increase the individuals’ interest in food and try to reduce the anxiety surrounding eating.

For younger children, a therapy called desensitisation therapy is often used to help very young children. It involves something known as the ‘playtime’ approach which tries to help the child feel comfortable with the feel, smell and sight of foods. Another type of therapy is known as exposure which is used to help remove the fear and anxiety attached to food.

This involves relaxation techniques, writing and talking about the avoided foods that generally seem to negatively impact the individual. Learning positive coping skills for the fear and anxiety surrounding food.

For older children, there is a therapy called cognitive-behavioural therapy which is a very common type of therapy in many disorders and mental health-related issues. For some people, having unhealthy thoughts and behaviour patterns are sometimes the root of where the eating disorder comes from. CBT helps individuals identify and change self-destructive patterns of thought and behaviour. Another therapy includes dialectical behavioural therapy is another form of talk therapy and is commonly used in ARFID treatment.

DBT helps people try to live mindfully and being able to cope effectively with negative sensations and emotions. Nutritional support is an important part of recovery, it does require a registered dietician to identify specific nutritional deficiencies.

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Getting help

If you yourself or you know someone that has been diagnosed with ARFID or you think you may be suffering from it. It’s vital to get help, reach out to your GP and then work with them on the next steps. Perhaps seeing a therapist would be beneficial as they can help with eating disorders and the anxiety that surrounds it. It’s a key part of recovery is to reach out and get the help you need and to not be afraid.


If you’re looking for any online counselling or walk and talk therapy whether you’re a parent and you’re looking for your children. You yourself need it or you’re a student or anyone that is struggling at this time, then please do not hesitate to contact Becky. You can access contact details here. Check out the website for more information and the services Becky has to offer specifically for eating disorders. 

Call Beat on helpline: 0808 801 0677 or email Youthline for under 18’s: 0808 801 0711 or email on help@beateatingdisorders.org.ukStudentline: 0808 801 0811.

MGEDT (Men get Eating Disorders Too)  email MGEDT2018@gmail.com.

Call Eating Recovery Centre on 877-711-1690



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