Definition: ARFID, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, is a type of eating disorder that involves severe restrictions or avoidances around food.
People may have an aversion or fear of certain foods, these may be due to certain textures, tastes, smells, and/or colours. Previously known as selective eating disorder, ARFID is a serious eating disorder that can lead to health complications.
Anyone can be impacted by ARFID. People from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, abilities, and more can and do struggle with this illness. It can also commonly occur with other conditions such as OCD, autism, and others.
People with ARFID will experience symptoms in different ways. This doesn’t make anyone’s journey anymore or less valid, it’s just important to remember that your own journey is unique to you.
- Only eating ‘safe’ foods
- Fear of certain foods or food groups that may cause severe anxiety if presented
- Lack of interest in food and/or eating
- Decreased appetite
- Social withdrawal
- Fear of something happening while eating, such as choking or vomiting
- Rigid rules around eating, such as what order a meal is eaten in, time of meal, etc.
- Aversion to certain foods due to textures, tastes, smells, colours, etc.
ARFID has three main subtypes:
- Aversive - Leads to an individual having an aversion to foods due to fear of choking, vomiting, or other reactions
- Avoidant - Related to avoiding certain foods due to tastes, textures, appearance, smells, etc.
- Restrictive - Characterised by having little to no interest in food and/or eating, and a restricted group of foods that are ‘safe’
People may experience some or all of the above symptoms. In some individuals, there may be additional symptoms including anxiety, depression, and others.
It’s important to note that having ARFID, or any eating disorder, doesn’t have a ‘look’. Weight loss and changes in appearance are side effects and are not part of the disorder itself. If you’re struggling with disordered eating urges, habits or thoughts, you ARE sick enough and deserve proper care and support.
Eating disorder recovery entails working both on one’s physical and mental health and each journey will be unique to an individual. Treatments can include:
Some individuals may benefit from certain medications, such as antidepressants, to help with symptoms. In some cases, weight restoration may need to be the first step of recovery. This helps an individual to get to a weight that is healthy for their body and prevents any further physical damage. This then can lead to further treatments, as mentioned above.
It’s best to talk to your health team when looking at treatment options. They can recommend and guide you through what could be the best fit for you and your well-being.
I have a loved one experiencing ARFID, how can I help?
If you have a loved one who is struggling, having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. For example, asking how you can best support them on their journey. You could offer to help with chores, send them a message to let them know you’re thinking of them, be patient when trying fear foods, etc. Simply being a friend can often be the best thing to do. Maybe even working on a well-being plan with your loved one that may be useful to both of you.
Understanding this condition is also immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through. Realising that their eating disorder is an illness and not them can also be useful to both of you. It’s equally important to also remember to take time out for yourself for self-care.
It’s important for those struggling to know that you can fight and recover from ARFID. You can find ways to heal from it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.
Voices of Hope wants you to know that your life has value and you are deserving of the help, care, and support you need. You can fight ARFID and you can heal from it and live the life you want. We understand how difficult mental illnesses can be, but you are worthy, and you are strong. You can get through this. Reach out and keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. We believe in you. And remember that there is ALWAYS hope.
Resources and Links:
- NZ Eating Disorders Clinic - ARFID
- Love Your Kite
- Cleveland Clinic - ARFID
- ARFID Dietitian on Instagram
- WebMD - What is ARFID?
- Bite Back by Sarah Harry
- The Mighty - ARFID
- ED.org - Getting Help
- Eating Disorder Hope
- The Body Love Society
Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.
If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, or need advice for someone in your life that is at risk of immediate harm to themselves, please contact your local emergency services.