Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is an eating disorder that is especially common among children and adolescents. Although the condition has only recently began to be diagnosed, it is a term for the formerly diagnosed selective food disorder. Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is considered highly treatable, although it can be dangerous if left unchecked.
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is a newly diagnosed eating disorder. In the past, this disorder was commonly referred to as selective eating disorder. You may often see avoidant restrictive food intake disorder shortened to restrictive food disorder or ARFID.
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is often compared to anorexia nervosa. Both disorders cause a person to limit the amount of food or calories they ingest. However, anorexia is caused by a fixation on gaining weight. ARFID does not involve any fixation or fear of weight gain or caloric intake.
ARFID is often portrayed as a condition of picky eating. While some people are naturally picky eaters, especially children, someone suffering from ARFID will eventually experience severe nutrient deficiency and stunted growth if the disorder is developed in childhood.
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is one of the rare eating disorders that is more common among males than females. It is also more likely to be found among children or adolescents, although cases can carry into adulthood. ARFID is incredibly common, with 3.2% of the total population suffering from symptoms. Additionally, up to 22.5% of children being treated for eating disorders are treated for ARFID.
The symptoms of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder are dependent on the type a person has. There are different types of ARFID based on the types of food that are being avoided and the reasons why. Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder can present itself as a lack of interest in food, in which the person may either simply not want to eat or become full quickly.
Avoiding food for sensory reasons, such as texture, color, temperature, or smell, is common in people with this disorder. People may feel afraid or disgusted by the idea of eating foods with a specific sensory characteristic or multiple different characteristics. People with sensory avoidance may be fine eating all other types of food except those within the particular group.
ARFID may also present itself as a fear of consequences that could occur when eating. Examples of these consequences could include choking or becoming sick from contaminated food or allergies. In all likelihood, these fears will be irrational to the current situation.
However, an example of a consequence that does not count for this disorder is a fear of gaining weight. Avoidance of food out of fear of weight gain is a sign of anorexia and not associated with avoidant restrictive food intake disorder.
If gone untreated, ARFID can cause stunted growth and weight in children. It is also common for someone to experience nutrient and vitamin deficiencies based on the foods they are avoiding.
While there is no cure for ARFID, it is considered to be effectively treated using psychotherapy and specialized care. The most critical aspect of ARFID treatment should be finding ways to get someone the nutrients they need in a non-stressful manner.
Sensory issues may continue during and after treatment. However, the key is that someone can be introduced to new foods without feeling anxiety or stress and that any sensory issues that do remain are not preventing proper nutrient ingestion.
Due to the prevalence among children, family therapy options are considered one of the best ways to treat avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. ARFID can cause a lot of stress between parents and children. Children may often view meals as a combative time due to their avoidance issues, and parents will likely be stressed and afraid their child is not receiving the nutrients they need.
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