What is ARFID?

Portrait of man with no appetite

What is ARFID?

ARFID or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder was previously referred to as “Selective Eating Disorder.” While ARFID is like anorexia in that it involves limitations on the amount or type of food consumed, it does not involve concern about body shape, size or weight.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition states that a diagnosis of ARFID is made when the following criteria are met:

  • An eating or feeding disturbance (e.g., apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food; concern about aversive consequences of eating) as manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs associated with one (or more) of the following:
    • Significant weight loss (or failure to achieve expected weight gain or faltering growth in children).
    • Significant nutritional deficiency.
    • Dependence on  enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements.
    • Marked interference with psycho social functioning.
    • The disturbance is not better explained by lack of available food or by an associated culturally sanctioned practice.
    • The eating disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and there is no evidence of a disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced.
    • The eating disturbance is not attributable to a concurrent medical condition or not better explained by another mental disorder. When the eating disturbance occurs in the context of another condition or disorder, the severity of the eating disturbance exceeds that routinely associated with the condition or disorder and warrants additional clinical attention.

There are many children that go through phases of picky eating, however, individuals with ARFID do not consume enough calories for proper growth and functioning. For children, this can result in the failure to gain weight and in adults it can lead to weight loss.

Signs and Symptoms of ARFID

As with other eating disorders, ARFID can be attributed to several risk factors including biological, psychological, and sociocultural. Research has noted that individuals with autism spectrum conditions are more likely to develop ARFID than those with ADHD or intellectual disabilities, and children with ARFID tend to have co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and are at a higher risk for other mental conditions.  Other signs and symptoms of ARFID can include:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Dramatic restriction of types or amount of food consumed
  • Fear of choking or vomiting
  • Lack of appetite or interest in food
  • Picky eating worsens over time
  • No body image disturbance or fear of weight gain
  • Constipation, stomach pains, lethargy
  • Will only eat certain texture food

Health Consequences of ARFID

ARFID denies the body essential nutrients that it needs for proper growth and development. Over time, the lack of nutrients causes the body to slow down normal processes to conserve energy, resulting in serious physical and medical consequences, such as:

  • Electrolyte imbalance (can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death)
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Anemia
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness
  • Dry hair and skin, hair loss
  • Growth of a downy layer of hair (lanugo) all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm
  • Impaired immune functioning
  • Sleep issues
  • Difficulties concentrating

How We Treat

Because ARFID can present differently in each client and has several contributing factors, a comprehensive treatment plan is vital to a successful recovery.  ARFID is often characterized by disturbances with eating patterns, so it is important to address this concern to correct nutritional deficiencies, impaired psychosocial functioning, inadequate growth, and/or weight loss.  The multidisciplinary team at River Centre works with the client and their families to customize a treatment plan to meet these concerns and other specific needs of the client. Combining evidence-based therapies with support and individual attention, helps clients address the underlying issues of their eating disorder.

Clinical treatment approaches include:

  • Enhanced Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Individual Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Nutritional Rehabilitation
  • Medical and Medication Services

We have extensive resources and a comprehensive spectrum of services devoted to treating eating disorders and co-occurring conditions such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, OCD, and trauma.

ARFID Treatment at River Centre

River Centre is here to provide the support and care needed to treat your eating disorder. If you or a loved one would like more information about ARFID treatment, call us today at 866.915.8577 or complete our contact form.  Our admissions team is here to assist you.

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