Just what is ARFID? Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is not a term widely recognised by most parents, however when we start to delve into the subject some alarm bells might start to ring with parents!

Before jumping to some conclusions, ARFID is a disorder that needs to be assessed and diagnosed, it will not refer to all picky eaters!

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), also known as “extreme picky eating,” is an eating disorder characterised by highly selective eating habits, disturbed feeding patterns or both. It can sometimes result in nutrition issues and also lead to a child’s inability to gain weight or sustain weight.

Studies show that it may affect up to 5% of children, with boys being at greater risk for developing ARFID, according to Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Overall, an estimated 3.2% of the general population suffers from ARFID, including 14% to 22.5% of children in pediatric treatment programs for any type of eating disorder (Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment).

What are the main symptoms of ARFID?

For some children it could be they avoid smells, colours, textures or even eating at a very slow pace. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Extreme pickiness in choosing food to eat
  • Anxiety when given with new foods
  • Not being able to gain weight
  • Avoidance of particular foods, based on texture, colour, taste, smell, food groups, etc.
  • Frequent vomiting or gagging after being exposed to certain foods
  • Difficulty chewing food or being extremely slow with chewing and swallowing

How can I tell the difference between ARFID and just a plain old picky eater?

Weight loss and gains

The strongest tell tale sign is weight fluctuations.

A child with ARFID is more likely to lose a lot of weight quickly, where as a picky eater tends to keep weight at a stable level as they will eat more of the foods they do enjoy. Picky eaters are generally still able to get enough nutrition and calories to maintain growth within their expected ranges on growth charts, or maintain a healthy weight.

Children diagnosed with ARFID generally fail to meet standard developmental weight targets.

What should I do if I am concerned about my child’s eating

Firstly remember, ALL children go through picky eating stages and it’s extremely normal to have children turn their nose up at one food on a Monday, and then devour it the following Friday. Children will always challenge and test us as parents when it comes to eating healthy, nutritional food.

However, if you do have ongoing concerns or have noticed a significant issue with weight loss then your first step is to consult you doctor. Your GP may refer you on to a child psychologist like the team at Spencer Health.

Psychologists are trained to use a variety of different methods to help minimise symptoms and help develop healthy relationships with food.

If you have any concerns, get in touch with our friendly team who will help work through the process with you.