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Understanding ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder): What’s your relationship with food like?

Updated: Mar 14

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  • Do you have an extreme dislike of certain foods?

  • Have you had a scary experience with food, such as choking or an allergic reaction, which is still impacting you now?

  • Do you think eating is a chore and just don’t feel hungry very often?

 

You may be suffering from ARFID.  ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It is a formally recognized eating disorder characterized by limited food preferences, avoidance of certain textures, smells or colours of food, and a reluctance to try new foods. It is important to understand that someone with ARFID is not just “picky” or “stubborn”.  It is a diagnosable clinical condition, formally recognized in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. 


Unlike other eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, ARFID is not driven by concerns about body weight or shape. Instead, it is primarily related to the sensory aspects of food, as well as a lack of interest in eating or an aversion to the consequences of eating.

Individuals with ARFID may have a very restricted diet, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and impair their physical and psychological well-being. The disorder can occur in both children and adults, and its causes can be complex, involving a combination of genetic, sensory, and psychological factors.

 

Treatment of ARFID

The treatment of ARFID typically involves a multidisciplinary approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of the disorder. The goal is to expand the individual's food repertoire, improve nutritional intake, and address any underlying issues that may contribute to the avoidance of certain foods.

 

1.      Treating the physical side


This may include treatments to help with nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.

A registered dietitian or nutritionist may work with the individual to develop a balanced and nutritious meal plan that meets their dietary needs.  This may include;

-          Multivitamins (mineral supplements, e.g. zinc or iron)

-          medication to increase appetite

-          advice on alternative and ‘safe’ foods for the person to eat. This might help them avoid becoming nutritionally deficient

 

2.      Psychological treatments


Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

CBT may be used to address any underlying thoughts or beliefs that contribute to the avoidance of certain foods.

Cognitive restructuring helps individuals challenge and change negative thought patterns related to food.


Behavioural Therapy:

Behavioural interventions, such as exposure therapy, may be used to help individuals gradually become more comfortable with a broader range of foods.

Positive reinforcement techniques can be employed to encourage trying new foods and expanding the diet.


Food chaining

This involves finding a food that someone can eat and slowly introducing them to very similar foods. These foods will have similar sensory qualities. For example, if someone only eats chips, they might be introduced to a different kind of chip, then roast potatoes, and so on

 

It's important to note that the specific approach to treatment may vary based on the individual's age, severity of symptoms, and the presence of any coexisting conditions. The goal is to improve the individual's relationship with food, expand their food choices, and address any underlying psychological factors contributing to the disorder.  If you feel you may have ARFID or another eating disorder and would like to explore how to deal with it please get in touch.




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