What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

by | 26 Feb 2024 | Eating Disorders | 1 comment

As Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2024 begins, I wanted to put out a little information about the Eating Disorder that is of focus this week – Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).  I think more and more people have heard this term, but I am aware that beyond understanding it is a diagnostic label for an Eating Disorder, often very little is widely known about it.

So, let’s start with the basics:

ARFID is a diagnosable eating disorder that was first formally recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition.  It may include challenges such as avoiding certain foods (perhaps due to sensory sensitivities or fears), struggling with mealtimes, experiencing anxiety around food, and exhibiting patterns of restricted eating leading to potential weight loss and nutritional deficiencies.

Beat currently suggest that ARFID accounts for approximately 5% of all eating disorder cases in the UK.  However, I suspect the actual prevalence is much higher, as many cases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

More Than Just Picky Eating:

ARFID is sometimes referred to as ‘extreme picky eating’ but it is actually a lot more complex than this.  The anxiety and fear experienced by those affected is often manifested as an intense fear and avoidance of certain foods or food groups, perhaps associated with sensory challenges (such as those seen in ASD) or even past traumas related to eating experiences.  It’s not just about not liking veggies; it’s about genuine distress.

Adults can have ARFID:

While ARFID is often associated with childhood, it can persist into adulthood.  Many adults struggle with ARFID symptoms but have not received a diagnosis or support.  This can lead to feelings of shame, isolation, and difficulty seeking help.  So, here is your reminder that  Eating Disorders don’t discriminate based on age.

Key Difference from Anorexia:

It is not uncommon for people (especially adults) with ARFID to get misdiagnosed with Anorexia – but there are key differences.  The main one to highlight is the underlying motivation (or mechanism) – Individuals with Anorexia typically fear weight gain and have distorted body image perceptions, leading them to restrict their food intake.  In contrast, those with ARFID are less concerned with weight loss but rather experience the afore-mentioned extreme anxiety or discomfort around certain foods and / or eating.

Is this information new to you?

As we navigate Eating Disorder Awareness Week, let’s ensure that ARFID gets the recognition and understanding it deserves.  One way you can help is by sharing this blog or any other reliable content you see on the topic this week (and beyond).

1 Comment

  1. Caren

    For how many years was I told I had anorexia, until a brilliant clinician (who I know that you trained Kel) was able to get the correct diagnosis for me and set me on the road to recovery, thanks you for your continued ‘banging of the drum’ for Eating Disorders.


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Kel O'Neill

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