Is It Just Picky Eating? Understanding ARFID

What Exactly is  Avoidant / Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

By Jestine Argueza, RDN, LDN

Maybe you’ve always known your child was a “picky eater”. But now the list of foods he will eat without a struggle will fit on a small post-it note. His “picky eating” is taking a toll and interfering with family meals, not to mention your concerns about his nutritional needs.

Turns out, it really is a thing and there’s a name for it.  Avoidant / Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID, is an eating disorder diagnosis, newly and aptly named in 2013.  However, it’s quite different from other forms of eating disorders.

So, what IS it?

  • ARFID is sometimes referred to as “extreme picky eating”.
  • ARFID is related to eating or avoiding food based on sensation or texture. It is not connected to concerns about body size or shape.
  • Children may experience anxiety due to the fear of choking or vomiting.
  • Sometimes children will only eat food with certain characteristics, such as specific colors or textures.
  • Children may experience weight loss and/or nutritional deficiencies, putting then at risk for many health complications.

Treatment for ARFID is completely unlike what is used with other eating disorders.  Research has found exposure therapy is a highly effective treatment option for ARFID.  A trained clinician (usually a registered dietician or licensed therapist) will systematically guide children through small “exposures” to feared foods. As they work through underlying anxieties, food intake, variety and nutritional adequacy begin to increase.  With treatment, recovery from ARFID, and a peaceful family dinner is possible!