What is ARFID? Your guide to symptoms and treatment for ARFID sufferers

by ARFID Tips

Do you want to find out more about ARFID? Are you concerned you or someone you know has the condition?  

This guide tells you all you need to know about the causes of ARFID. The symptoms to look out for and the best treatment options. 

ARFID isn’t fussy eating

Because the condition isn’t well known, ARFID is often dismissed as fussy eating, even by medical professionals. But the key difference is that while fussy eaters choose not to eat certain foods, ARFID sufferers don’t have a choice.

In fact, if you have ARFID you might go to such great lengths to avoid ‘unsafe’ foods that there are profound consequences for your quality of life. ARFID sufferers can face serious health problems as a result of not getting the nutrients they need. The condition can impact your mental health and can leave you anxious, withdrawn and depressed.

What is ARFID?

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, formerly called Selective Eating Disorder (SED) is an eating disorder that’s only recently been recognised by the medical community.

ARFID sufferers can only eat a very limited range of foods. Whole food groups such as vegetables or dairy may be off-limits. Sometimes sufferers need foods to be prepared in a certain way or maybe it’s eating a potato that’s mashed but not baked or fried.

Although ARFID is most common among children and young people, it can affect anybody at any age. Adults with ARFID tend to have experienced symptoms for a long time. Consequently, these have become more severe as they’ve got older.

Unlike other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, ARFID sufferers aren’t limiting what they eat because they’re afraid of gaining weight. They’re limiting what they eat because they’re afraid of food.

ARFID can actually be described as a phobia of food. If you have ARFID, the prospect of eating an ‘unsafe’ food will make you feel panicky. So this could make you retch or vomit.

ARFID isn’t attention-seeking

Sometimes people assume ARFID sufferers are avoiding food to get attention. In reality, ARFID sufferers dread the attention their condition can bring.

While most people are familiar with other phobias like the fear of flying or the fear of confined spaces, the phobia of food isn’t as well understood. If you have ARFID you might avoid eating in front of people because you’re worried about being judged.

The condition can lead to limited social interaction, as so many social activities involve eating. For example, birthday parties, after-work socialising and dating all involve food. In this way, ARFID can hinder school and college progress and limit career progression.

What causes ARFID?

ARFID is usually caused by a traumatic or stressful event in the past that’s made you associate food with a threat. As a child you might have choked on food. Or you might have become ill (or witnessed someone else become ill) after eating.

Avoiding these ‘unsafe’ foods only reinforces the belief that they’re dangerous. So, while a past event may have first triggered the fear. It certainly can get worse over time.

If you’re a parent of a child who suffers from ARFID you might feel you’re to blame. However, there’s no evidence that parenting causes ARFID. Your child’s condition isn’t your fault, but you are in a good position to get your child help.

Signs and symptoms of ARFID

If you suspect you or someone you know suffers from ARFID there are some symptoms to look out for.

This list is intended as a guide rather than a diagnosis. Not all ARFID sufferers will have all these symptoms. But if some of them sound familiar it could indicate you have the condition:

• Feeling fear and revulsion at the prospect of eating ‘unsafe’ foods
• Only eating a very narrow range of foods (usually less than 20 foods)
• Not having much appetite
• Avoiding social situations where food is present
• Only eating food that’s a certain colour, texture or is cooked in a certain way

In addition to the symptoms listed above, ARFID sufferers might experience some of the following symptoms:

• Being withdrawn, anxious or depressed 
• Very sensitive to the flavour and texture of food
• Lack of energy
• Being overweight or underweight
• Nutritional issues like high cholesterol or an illness related to vitamin deficiency.

Treatment for ARFID Sufferers

If you’re worried you or someone you know has ARFID. The good news is, it’s a treatable condition.

Currently, there’s limited understanding of the condition even among some medical professionals. Some treatments offered can extend for months at a time. But there is a fast and effective option.

It’s a gentle approach that works by changing your perception of food, so you can eat without fear and because it addresses your automatic reactions it works very quickly. Usually, clients overcome the condition after just one session.

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Anthony Tait, Selective Eating Disorder

Anthony Tait

Seasoned therapist specialising in Selective Eating Disorder (SED), also known as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)


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